Mystery of Israel's Australian Double Agent 'Prisoner X'

Ben Zygier Committed Suicide in High-Security Israel Prison

Spy Drama: Why was an Australian man known as Prisoner X held in secrecy by Israel for months? And why doesn’t Israel want anyone to know about the case.
australia broadcasting corp./youtube
Spy Drama: Why was an Australian man known as Prisoner X held in secrecy by Israel for months? And why doesn’t Israel want anyone to know about the case.

By Reuters

Published February 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

An Australian man committed suicide in a high-security Israeli jail in 2010 after being held for months in great secrecy, Australia’s ABC channel said on Tuesday, throwing new light on a case that has rattled Israel.

The unsourced ABC story named the man, known previously only as “prisoner x”, as Ben Zygier. It added that it “understood” the 34-year-old from Melbourne had been previously recruited by the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

There was no official comment on the story in Israel.

However, within hours of the report surfacing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office summoned Israeli editors to ask them not to publish a story “that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency”, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said.

“The emergency meeting was called following a broadcast outside Israel regarding the incident in question,” Haaretz said, giving no further information.

Shortly afterwards, all reference to the Australian report vanished from Israeli news sites – including Haaretz itself.

Such a gag order is highly unusual in Israel, where state military censors normally allow local media to quote foreign sources on controversial incidents – such as an alleged attack on Syria last month by the Israeli airforce.

ABC said that Zygier’s imprisonment was so secret that not even his guards knew his name. However, word got out at the time of a mysterious prisoner and human rights groups wrote to the state to demand more information.

“It is insupportable that, in a democratic country, authorities can arrest people in complete secrecy and disappear them from public view without the public even knowing such an arrest took place,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote in June 2010.

When Israel’s Ynet website wrote about the case that same month the story was quickly removed because of a gag order.

ABC said Zygier had moved to Israel 10 years before his death and changed his name to Ben Alon. It gave no reason for his imprisonment, speculating only that it would have had to concern espionage and sensitive state secrets.

Funeral notices from Australia show that Zygier’s body was flown back to Melbourne at the end of December 2010 for burial.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.