Israeli intel officer who died mysteriously in jail charged with crimes against state security, army says

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The Israeli army cleared for publication Monday that the intelligence officer who died under mysterious circumstances last month after being taken to military jail had been charged with severely harming state security.

According to the army, “the investigation uncovered suspicions that the officer, who served in a technology unit in the Intelligence Corps, knowingly took actions that severely harmed state security.” According to the military, “the officer cooperated during his investigation and confessed to many of the deeds that were attributed to him.”

The officer acted from personal reasons, and had no nationalistic, ideological or economic motive, the army said. It added that he had acted independently. The investigation found that he was aware of the potential damage to national security posed by his actions and tried to conceal them. The specific charges against him and his identity remain under a gag order. 

The military also lifted the gag order on the conditions of his detention and the circumstances of his death. He was initially placed in the military prison known as Prison Four before being transferred to the newly opened Neve Tzedek military prison, where he shared a cell with two other people. Security cameras monitor all public areas in the facility, except for toilet stalls.

On the evening of his death, shortly before he collapsed and lost consciousness, the officer told his cellmates that he felt sick and vomited. He collapsed and his cellmates called for help. He was transferred to a hospital at around 1 A.M., where he was pronounced dead. His relatives received notice of his death at 5 A.M., and when they arrived at the hospital they were told that his body had already been taken for an autopsy at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv.

The autopsy was conducted in the presence of a pathologist representing the family and a representative of the military’s information security department, who collected the findings. The pathologist ruled out a violent altercation as a possible cause of death and no bruises were found. There was also no evidence of suicide by hanging or any other injury. Toxicology results, which could indicate death by suicide, have yet to be released.

The Israel Defense Forces prosecutor requested on Sunday that the military court partially lift the gag order banning Israeli media from reporting the name of the officer and the circumstances of his death. However, the reason for his arrest and further details of the case itself will remain barred from publication.

The prosecution said that their request follows reports in the foreign and Israeli press over the past few days that did not abide by the gag order. “Some of them present misleading information, and presenting that misleading information has consequences on the [national] security level,” the prosecution’s statement said. In addition, it added, some provide “inaccurate information, to say the least,” regarding a deceased military officer.

The officer’s family – from whom the details of the investigation have also been blocked – filed a request earlier Monday morning to delay any lifting of the gag order by the court. They claimed that the military prosecution must inform the family of the investigation’s findings before the details of the case are made available to the general public.

The family’s lawyer, Benny Kuznitz, said on Monday morning that “This is an attempt to create a narrative.” He added, “They made the decision to release a few paragraphs and hide other things. Besides for the indictment, we have entire binders full of material from the investigation. I’m sure they can find a page or two for his parents, to put it mildly.”

The hearing on the prosecution’s request to release the information is currently being held at the military court in the IDF’s Tel Aviv headquarters. If it is granted, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav is expected to release the information later the same day in order to quell the speculation about the case that has spread across social media.

The officer was found in his cell two weeks ago in serious condition, nine months after an indictment against him has been filed, and died later in a hospital. He was buried in a civilian cemetery, with the military saying this was because he had been discharged while in detention.

Last week, the military court allowed the media to report that the deceased officer had not been indicted for espionage or treason, and that he had never had contact with a foreign agent.

The officer’s family is furious about the army’s handling of the affair, saying it had taken extreme measures to keep information about the case from the public – as well as from them. They claim that most of the officer’s social media presence since 2018 has been deleted.

“The family expects that they will receive all the information regarding the investigation into his death, as opposed to the security incidents attributed [to him],” Kuznitz said at the beginning of Monday’s hearing. “We assume that there are things we do not know, and are waiting for a meeting with the prosecution.”

Kuznitz said, “At the end of the day, this is a young officer, a good kid, a genius, a guy I knew to be very, very modest and did not exactly understand the significance of his actions. He had objections to the things he was accused of; these things cannot be clarified now in a court of law. We hope we can get additional details after the hearing today.”

“We’re angry about the effort to erase a man who died in military prison,” said one relative. The family has yet to receive the results of the officer’s autopsy. “We don’t know anything. To this day, no one has told us anything,” the relative said. “The army’s conduct looks like an attempt to cover up its failures. How can you try to erase a man like this?”