x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Prisoner X' sabotaged spy mission to recover Israeli bodies: report

Australian-Israeli Mossad agent Ben Zygier unwittingly sabotaged a top secret spy operation aimed at bringing home the bodies of Israeli soldiers missing in Lebanon.

SYDNEY // Australian-Israeli Mossad agent Ben Zygier unwittingly sabotaged a top secret spy operation aimed at bringing home the bodies of Israeli soldiers missing in Lebanon, a report said today.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which broke the story in February of Zygier's arrest, detention and suicide in a Tel Aviv jail, said his recklessness forced the Mossad to abort the sophisticated mission.

The Israeli government went to extreme lengths to cover up the existence of Zygier, known as "Prisoner X", and the reason for his imprisonment. German magazine Der Spiegel previously claimed he passed secrets to Hizbollah.

ABC said Israel gagged his existence due to the sensitive nature of the operation he compromised.

The mission would have meant closure to a 30-year campaign for the return of the remains of three tank crewmen who were captured and killed by Syrian forces during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, it said.

They were identified as Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman, who died in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

Recovering the remains of soldiers killed in action is of extreme national importance to Israel with only six servicemen still missing from all the conflicts they have been involved in, ABC said.

The broadcaster interviewed a Lebanese man, Ziad Al Homsi, a former commander of Lebanese forces in the Bekaa Valley, who said he was recruited by Mossad in 2007 after being lured to China for a convention.

In Beijing, he was contacted by a Syrian named George Attar, who claimed his brother in Europe was working to return the remains of missing Israeli solders.

Mr Al Homsi said he suspected the Mossad was involved, which was confirmed over five trips to Thailand to meet other operatives.

"After one year of meeting with them, at the last meeting they informed me about the location of the corpses, exactly where they were," he said.

The agents wanted Mr Al Homsi to arrange to dig up the remains and leave them for someone else, according to the report, which also cited a former Mossad agent.

But before this happened, the mission was exposed after Lebanese intelligence sources were told Mr Al Homsi was an informer.

The broadcaster said Zygier, who was raised in Melbourne but moved to Israel about a decade before his death, was responsible for blowing his cover.

It said that in 2008 he was desperate to please his spy masters and embarked upon a rogue mission to make contact with a Hizbollah agent.

His aim was to recruit the Lebanese man as a double agent but to prove his Mossad credentials Zygier handed over the name of Mr Al Homsi.

Mr Al Homsi was arrested by Lebanese special forces and accused of spying for Mossad.

He was jailed for 15 years but released after three, and now claims he was a double agent working for Lebanon which wanted to find the remains to use them as bargaining chip with Israel over the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Zygier was arrested in January 2010 by Israel's internal security service Shin Bet and found dead in his supposedly suicide-proof cell in December 2010 at the age of 34.