Reports about the Mossad often have the unfortunate trait of reading like a John le Carré novel. We hear of spies assuming false identities and injecting poison into the ears of Israel’s enemies, or of a Mossad director beginning his weekly meetings with the question, ‘Who are we going to assassinate today?’ Unfortunately, most of these stories are true. As well as enhancing the agency’s notoriety, the Mossad’s outlandish methods serve to distract from their less exciting but more consequential activities. They also obscure the more worrying truth about intelligence agencies: they are run by ordinary people, and ordinary people make mistakes.
A number of such mistakes are evident in the story of Ben Zygier, the Australian–Israeli man who recently died in an Israeli jail under mysterious circumstances. Zygier grew up in Melbourne, found Zionism, and moved to Israel to work for the Mossad. A few years into his career, however, he was arrested on unknown charges and secretly held in isolation in an Israeli prison, where he committed suicide on 15 December 2010.