Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has commented publicly for the first time on the so-called Prisoner X affair, saying that he completely trusts Israel's security forces and warning that "over-exposure of security or intelligence activities is likely to do serious damage to state security."
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu stressed that Israel's security agencies were under the oversight of absolutely independent judicial authorities.
"They operate with unending dedication and devotion to ensure that we can live in this land. I also completely trust law enforcement agencies in the state of Israel," Netanyahu said.
"Within this combination of preserving security and observing the law, freedom of expression is also preserved, but overexposure of security-related activity and intelligence activity can be harmful, sometimes severely, and in the reality in which the State of Israel exists it has to be a central interest.
"We are a democratic state where the rights of those under investigation and individual rights are protected no less than in any other country. At the same time, we are not like other countries. We are also more threatened and more challenged, and so we must make sure that out security forces are able to work in a sound manner.
"Therefore, I am asking of everyone, let the security forces continue working in quiet so we can go on living in security and peace in Israel," Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, Israeli Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein is considering allowing publication as early as this week of a decision made a month and a half ago by Rishon Lezion Magistrates' Court President Daphna Blatman-Kedrai into the so-called Prisoner X story. After a prolonged investigation, the judge ruled that Ben Zygier definitely committed suicide in his cell in the Ayalon Prison in December 2010. He was being held in a "suicide-proof" cell at the time.
A senior judicial source said on Saturday night, "The Justice Ministry will favorably consider publishing this decision relating to the circumstances of the prisoner's death, subject to the censure of details in the text of the decision that could harm national security."
The same source said, "The attorney-general last week initiated, in the face of opposition of the security agencies, the two decisions to circumscribe the gag orders in this case." Last week, the gag order was lifted on the fact that Judge Blatman-Kedrai had passed on the file to the attorney-general about six weeks ago so that he could examine possible negligence in the case.
"The state attorney is currently examining whether an indictment should be served for negligence in the case of the prisoner's suicide," a senior judicial source said last week, "The prisoner was jailed under a false name in accordance with his wishes so that his safety could be safeguarded, as well as that of his family and national security. When he was arrested, his family was notified. He was represented by lawyers, an indictment was served against him, which was approved by the highest levels in the justice system, and a regular criminal trial was carried out against him in a district court. Unfortunately, the prisoner committed suicide during the trial."
On Saturday, a senior official involved in the affair denied that the State of Israel had given Zygier's family compensation after his death.
"The state did not give the family of the prisoner any sum of money and it is not clear that the state will ever compensate his family, especially when it hasn't been decided whether there had been any negligence in his death," the official said.
At the same time, a different senior Israeli official told an Australian newspaper that "the Australian government knew about the arrest of Ben Zygier and therefore has not asked for additional information in the case since the story broke last week on the Australian ABC network."
"With every day that passes it is possible to see how deeply they [the Australian authorities] were involved," the official said. "They investigated him, they were suspicious of him. They knew a lot of things. It's clear that they knew a lot of things before he died. When the coffin was repatriated to Australia, they knew he wasn't a tourist who got lost."
The Israeli source indicated that Zygier had been trapped between two intelligence organizations. "The Mossad believed that he was on the verge of transmitting information to the Australians," the official said.
Australian journalist Jason Koutsakis, who conversed with Zygier before his arrest, claimed in an interview with Channel 10 on Saturday that one day after his conversation with Zygier, he found the door to his office open. He said he was always careful to keep the door closed and he believed the Mossad had broken into the office. In an interview with Channel 2 he said he had reached Zygier with the help of a source in Australian intelligence, who gave him information about Zygier and two other Israelis with Australian citizenship who were suspected of working for the Mossad.
"There was a blunder that necessitated taking steps by the organization in question and by our system, under complete supervision, and with the proper exercise of judgment," Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon (Likud-Beytenu) said on Saturday night on Channel 2's "Meet the Press" television program.
"Those people in the country who needed to know about this knew. In cases where lives are at stake, we are forced to take extreme steps of this nature," Ya'alon said.
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) has asked for an independent external official to investigate the affair. On Saturday, Cabel wrote on his Facebook page that "it is absolutely forbidden that a feeling become entrenched in the society that the system is doing terrible things that can reach the point of making people disappear, and that this incident is a matter of course."