Mahmoud al-Mabhouh
Mahmoud al-MabhouhIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Just who was the alleged spy Ben Zygier after all? What was he doing in an Israeli prison, and why did the court put a gag order on the case for nearly three years?

Speculation has been running rife in Israel, Australia, and other places in recent days, after the Australian ABC television network ran an expose on the story of Zygier's imprisonment in an Israeli cell, where he allegedly killed himself. No credible theories have yet been presented on what the story was all about, however.

Until Thursday, when a report in a Kuwaiti newspaper theorized that Zygier was involved in a major spy case – and was prepared to endanger many Israeli agents who were also involved. According to the story, based on Western “sources familiar with the case,” Zygier had been involved in the murder of top Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. According to the report, he tried to sell the names of other Israeli agents involved in the operation to police in Dubai, and in exchange, received cash and protection from authorities there.

However, he was tracked down by Mossad agents, who removed him from Dubai and brought him back to Israel, where he was to be tried for traitorous activities and spying. The case was kept under wraps, to the extent that even his name was unknown to all except a few in the security community. He apparently committed suicide before he could be tried.

The story is unsourced, and the Kuwaiti paper did not present corroborating evidence, other than the anonymous testimony of those quoted in the story.

On Wednesday, after long hours of silence after the story was broadcast on Australian television earlier this week, Israel admitted that to the existence of “Prisoner X,” identified as Zygier in the Australian report. A Petach Tikvah court released for publication that the prisoner's death in a high-security Israeli prison in 2010 was due to suicide.

In a statement, the Justice Ministry said that the individual's identity had been kept secret for security reasons, but that his family had been informed of his death immediately.