Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Prisoner X Intrigue Reaches New Apex

A report sheds light on the mythical story

Print Email

Last month, many were spellbound when a story broke about Ben Zygier, forever known now as Prisoner X, whose young life ended by suicide in a supermax cell in Israel in 2010. Writing for Tablet, Elissa Goldstein chronicled how the revelation of Zygier’s demise had not only rocked his hometown of Melbourne, where his family is prominently involved in the Jewish community, but much of the world as the details of the shadowy tale emerged.

The story has all the hallmarks of a classic spy novel: forged passports, espionage, information suppression, and accusations of treason. But the tale of Prisoner X—who died under mysterious circumstances in 2010 in solitary confinement, having allegedly hanged himself in the maximum security cell built for Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin—is not only riveting for its John Le Carré flourishes.

At the time that Zygier’s identity was revealed, all the narrative pieces fit into a mosaic that, while constructing a biography and a mystique, failed to bring into focus a more important understanding: why? That picture has become clearer following a report by Der Spiegel, which claims that Zygier–following a demotion of sorts–had mistakenly given up the identities of some of the most high profile Israeli spies in Lebanon while trying to establish new contacts and prove himself to the Mossad.

In the process he came in contact with Hezbollah supporters, Spiegel said, and while trying to convince them to work for Mossad, disastrously spilled highly sensitive information.

This included the names of Lebanese nationals Ziad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh, who were arrested in May 2009 on charges of spying for Israel and later sentenced to several years of hard labour.

The report said Israeli security authorities had told Zygier after his arrest that they wanted to make an example of him and demanded a prison sentence of at least 10 years.

At the time, it was considered one of the biggest setbacks in the history of the Israeli intelligence community. According to the report, it was believed that Ziad al-Homsi, a prominent figure in Lebanon, was so treasured an asset that the Israelis believed he could lead them to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

herbcaen says:

disastrously spilled highly sensitive information…. if this is true, then Israel was right to confine him. Tragic that he benefitted Hazbollah

Poupic says:

You must admit that your journalistic integrity is questionable. You have no way of checking this story spread by another Journal with even less journalistic integrity. Why is that only when it comes to Israel the standards of journalism go out the window?

    Reptilian2012 says:

    Because readers don’t care if a story is genuine as long as it concerns the Jews and Israel.

    This is the same story that was widely reported in the newspapers in Australia (where he was from).

      Poupic says:

      Did Desmond Tutu visit Australia lately? This probably could explain it. After you are both in the same hemisphere.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Prisoner X Intrigue Reaches New Apex

A report sheds light on the mythical story

More on Tablet:

Facing Death

By Jenny Diski — ‘I don’t believe in you, “salvation,” I never have and I never will. And very soon I won’t even be.’