JERUSALEM: Exposure of intelligence activities can "badly damage" state security, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday in his first remarks on the arrest and death of a jailed Australian-Israeli with Mossad links.
In remarks to his outgoing cabinet, the Israeli prime minister insisted that the security forces be allowed to "quietly" get on with their jobs in his first remarks on the mysterious spy saga which has dominated the headlines in Israel and Australia.
"Overexposure of security and intelligence activities can damage, and damage badly, state security and that is why in every debate we must not underestimate the security interest," he said in remarks communicated by his office.
"And in the reality in which Israel lives, it must be a central interest," he said in a thinly veiled criticism of the media frenzy sparked by the exposure last week of the identity of Prisoner X -- an Australian immigrant called Ben Zygier who worked for Israel's Mossad spy agency.
According to a story broken last Tuesday by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Zygier was found hanged in his cell in Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv in December 2010, in a case Israel went to extreme lengths to cover up.
Israel imposed a total media blackout on the case, but was forced to ease the restrictions after the story made headlines across the world, rendering the local gag order ineffective.
Until now, the government had said nothing on matter, although Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon on Saturday insisted that Israel abided fully by the law, even in the case of security prisoners.
"I ask everyone: let the security forces continue to work quietly in order that we can carry on living in peace and security in Israel," Netanyahu said.
"We are an exemplary democratic state and safeguard the rights of those under investigation and the rights of the individual no less than any other state.
"But we are also facing greater threats and challenges and therefore we need to ensure that we protect the normal working of our security branches," he said, expressing "complete trust" in Israel's security forces and legal system.
Zygier, who immigrated to Israel in around 2001 and at some point joined Mossad, is understood to have been arrested in February 2010 on charges which remain subjected to a tight gag order.
Three months later, Israel's Ynet news website briefly ran a report about a prisoner held in top secret conditions whose identity and alleged crime were not known even to his jailers, but it was quickly taken offline under a gag order.
In December 2010, Zygier was found hanged in his cell despite the fact it was under 24-hour electronic surveillance, sparking a welter of criticism and conspiracy theories in both Israel and Australia.