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Israel owes us an explanation on Zygier: Carr

Date

National security correspondent

View more articles from David Wroe

Ben Zygier.

Ben Zygier.

Israel has still not provided Australia with a ''comprehensive accounting'' of the circumstances that led to the arrest, imprisonment and suicide of the Mossad agent Ben Zygier, Foreign Minister Bob Carr has said.

Speaking outside the White House, where he had just met US Vice-President, Joe Biden, Senator Carr said his department had ''asked [Israel] for all information relevant to Australia's concerns on this and we will continue to do that''.

''Australia has a clear interest, a distinct point of view on this – an objection to Australian passports being used by Australian citizens or dual citizens who are off working for foreign intelligence agencies,'' Senator Carr said.

''I am not aware there has been a comprehensive accounting for what has happened, for what gave rise to his arrest, his detention, his suicide.''

He said such activities could create a risk for all travelling Australians. Senator Carr said he had not yet made his concerns clear personally as he had been concentrating on his duties in America. But Israel was aware of his concerns due to his previous public statements.

His comments come after the opposition on Monday called on the Gillard government to demand an immediate explanation from Israel as to whether Mossad misused Australian passports in its employment of Mr Zygier.

Julie Bishop, the Coalition spokeswoman on foreign affairs, said on Monday that Senator Carr should ask Israel whether Mr Zygier was using his Australian nationality as cover when he was working as a Mossad spy.

''If Mr Zygier was using his Australian passports while working for Mossad, and that use was approved, I would expect the Australian government to be registering a protest with the government of Israel,'' she said.

Ms Bishop was responding to reports in Fairfax Media and German news magazine Der Spiegel that Mr Zygier was assigned to infiltrate European companies doing business with Middle Eastern nations hostile to Israel.

After he was recalled to a desk job for poor performance, Mr Zygier attempted to recruit as a double agent an Eastern European man with close links to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Instead, the man persuaded Mr Zygier to give up the names of top Israeli informants in Lebanon as a way of proving he really worked for Mossad. Those informants were subsequently arrested and jailed.

Mr Zygier, known as Prisoner X, killed himself in his Israeli prison cell on December 15, 2010, after being arrested on serious national security charges.

Ms Bishop said what she called the lack of action on the Zygier affair contrasted sharply with the 2010 expulsion of an Israeli diplomat after Mossad used fake Australian passports to carry out an assassination in Dubai.

Deakin University international relations expert Damien Kingsbury said it would be ''clearly … overstepping the mark on the bilateral relationship'' for Israeli intelligence to use Australian passports.

A former intelligence officer, who did not want to be named, said the reports raised further questions, such as how Mr Zygier actually made it as far as he did.

''How did [Mossad] keep him that long? There's got to be more to the picture.''

with Nick O'Malley

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