Prisoner X: The Facts, The Fallout

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Today’s Top Stories

1. The Prisoner X affair spread like wildfire in Israel, Australia, and Big Media. More on the emerging facts and fallout below. See also Simon Plosker’s Thoughts on “Prisoner X.”

2. Was Iran involved in the North Korean nuclear test? Analysts told the Jerusalem Post it’s a good bet:

“The most disturbing question is whether the Iranians are using North Korea as a backdoor plan for their own nuclear program. The Iranians didn’t carry out a nuclear test in Iran, but they may have done so in North Korea,” Levkowitz said. “There is no official information on this… but Iran may have bypassed inspections via North Korea. If true, this is a very worrying development.”

Time also comments on the Iran-North Korea nuclear tie-in.

3. Upping the pressure on Hezbollah, Bulgaria demanded Lebanon to extradite the two Burgas bombing suspects. Officials in Sofia also gave the suspect’s names to Europol. AP quoted one Bulgarian official:

. . . “so far there are no signs of possible cooperation from Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, Ambassador Michael Oren in the Wall St. Journal (click via Google News) and Matthew Levitt (CNN)weigh in on Hezbollah’s Bulgarian blues.

Prisoner X Affair

First off, if you haven’t watched the full ABC News report on Prisoner X, here you go.

  It turns out that the Aussie government knew that Ben Zygier was imprisoned. Raising questions of what Canberra knew and when, The Australian writes:

Senator Carr says he was acting on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice when he told the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program this week that the government knew nothing of Mr Zygier’s detention until after his death in 2010.

But Senator Carr says DFAT told him today that some officials were aware of it much earlier.

“The department has today come back and said some officers of the department were in fact aware of his detention,” a spokesman for Senator Carr told AAP.

Senator Carr subsequently ordered DFAT Secretary Peter Varghese to review the case.

Australia was investigating Zygier before he disappeared. The issue? Forged Australian passports. Jason Koutsoukis, who covered Israel for Fairfax Media at the time, confronted Zygier in early 2010. He denied any Mossad ties or passport improprieties in early 2010. The Age writes:

At the time, ASIO would not comment on the case. On Wednesday, the agency again refused to comment . . .

It is understood the ASIO investigation into Mr Zygier and the two other men began at least six months before the January 10, 2010, assassination of senior Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, widely believed to have been carried out by Mossad using Australian and European passports.

Three of those suspected of taking part in the assassination were travelling on Australian passports, using the names of dual Australian-Israeli citizens, authorities in Dubai confirmed.

There is no suggestion that the three Australian names linked to Mabhouh’s assassination are connected to Mr Zygier or the other men investigated by ASIO.

The NY Times and LA Times focused on the now-failed gag order, a mishap best-summed up by Matthew Kalman on Facebook:

After blogging in 2010 that Israel’s Prisoner ‘Mr. X’ is Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Abducted by Mossad, Richard Silverstein explains that the error wasn’t really his fault. Sheesh:

A word now about the error in my own reporting.  My source was told by an Israeli intelligence official that the dead man was Ali Reza Asgari. In hindsight, it appears this was a ruse designed to throw the media off the scent of the real story. A similar thing happened recently with the Fordo story, which also turned out to be a diversion to cover up Israel’s planned attack against Syria. The Asgari red herring was a particularly dumb diversion since it elicited a furious response from Iran, which threatened to bring the matter before the United Nations. In fact, Yossi Melman was furious with me for my role saying I’d endangered the security of Israel by drumming up needless hostility with Iran. What he didn’t know was that it was an Israeli intelligence source who’d done this and was to blame.

Australian Jewish News: The Jewish community Down Under, as well as Zygier’s family, is keeping “tight-lipped.” The prisoner’s uncle, Willy Zygier, was quoted in YNet:

“I have no idea what is true, what isn’t true,” he said. “All I know is there’s a family tragedy. Every suicide is a tragedy. That’s all I’ve got to say,” he said.

For more on the scandal and fallout, take your pick of the Jerusalem Post, Sydney Morning Herald, a Melbourne Herald Sun staff-ed, and Shmuel Rosner.

On the next page

  • Good news or bad news? State of the union barely addresses Mideast conflict.
  • Iran continues to excel at lousy propaganda photoshopping.
  • Syrian rebels seize usable fighter jets. Now what?

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