The big problem with the Prisoner X story is the damage we are causing to ourselves (as usual) because of it. This is separate from the damage that he very likely sought to cause (for those who forgot), according to foreign reports.
It must be noted, firstly, that the story hasn't resonated abroad, even if some of my colleagues want to present it that way. Yes, the story received a lot of coverage in Australia, specifically in the Melbourne press. In other countries, we haven't seen sensational headlines about the matter. And the world, as we know, doesn't pass up on "made in Israel" stories that shed a negative light on this country.
Whoever thinks that American or French intelligence agencies coordinate with the media every time they detain someone suspected of endangering national security is kindly requested to come back down to Earth. Even in enlightened Western democracies intelligence agencies lawfully assume broad powers.
But those who rushed this week to compare us to Argentina of the 1970s forgot perhaps that the judiciary system, Zygier's family and primarily the Australians themselves were aware of what was happening. Zygier had, if I counted correctly, at least four lawyers.
I spent a lot of time in Melbourne last summer, where I had been invited to give a series of lectures. A warm and welcoming Jewish community greeted me there. I returned home with many new friends. Even then, I heard their complaints regarding the Mabhouh story. Not about the use of Australian passports (according to foreign reports), but about how the news media in their country didn't highlight the nature of Mabhouh's activities.
I spent last night speaking with my friends from Australia, some of them highly important officials. "If he was arrested, surely there was just cause, and in any case, the Australians knew about it," they said. If, according to reports, Zygier transgressed, then the way he was recruited into the Mossad and how he managed to kill himself in a guarded cell needs to be examined. But is this the first time ever that an intelligence agency recruited someone who was not equal to the job? In this case, the agency must form an internal commission of inquiry to examine this specific failure. As a veteran journalist I won't be offended if I'm not invited to the meetings.
Israel can't seem to go very long without a new media storm. ABC Australia provided it this week with a thriller about "Prisoner X." Journalistically, the story is a fascinating one, even if tragic, and not just for the late Ben Zygier. The Israeli press, so infatuated with media storms and self-flagellation, was quick to compare itself to dark regimes where people rot away in prison cells without anyone knowing about it.
It appears that there is another tragedy in this story, the media's. Zygier's arrest wasn't coordinated with it in advance. Perhaps this is why many are calling for a commission of inquiry.
God help the country in which the rule of law is not sovereign. The rule of law is an important element of Israel's strength, no less than the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and the Mossad. But despite our deepest wishes, Israel is still not a normal country. Alas, it doesn't yet have agreed upon borders and has many neighbors who not only don't recognize its existence, but would prefer if the country disappeared. This is a fact.