Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed on Sunday for the public spotlight on Israel’s Mossad spy agency to be turned off after news of the jailhouse suicide of a reported Australian recruit.
The affair was kept under wraps for two years until it emerged last week with an Australian television expose that identified the dead man as 34-year-old Ben Zygier, a possible Mossad operative detained on suspicion of security offences.
Using court gag orders, military censorship and direct requests of news editors, the Netanyahu government has tamped down reporting on the case in Israel.
That has done little to douse demands at home and in Canberra for the Israelis to come clean about the circumstances of Zygier’s imprisonment and how he was able to kill himself in highly supervised isolation cell.
Without citing any specific case, Netanyahu told his cabinet he “absolutely trusts” Israel’s security services and what he described as the independent legal monitoring system under which they operated.
“We are an exemplary democracy…but we are also more threatened, more challenged, and therefore we have to ensure the proper operation of our security branches,” he said in remarks aired by Israeli broadcasters.
“Therefore I ask over everyone: Let the security services continue working quietly so that we can continue to live in safety and tranquility in the State of Israel.”
The few Israeli officials who spoke about the case have not denied it centred on Zygier nor that he was linked to Mossad, which in early 2010 was accused by Dubai of using Australian passport-holders to assassinate a Palestinian arms procurer in the Gulf emirate.
That has prompted media speculation that Israel suspected the Melbourne-born Jew of betraying Mossad missions, perhaps to Australia’s security services, as they probed passport fraud.
Civil liberties groups and some Israeli lawmakers have also demanded to know whether Zygier’s rights were violated by his months of incarceration under alias.