Israel's man in Cairo.

Author:Raviv, Dan


Uri Bar-Joseph

HarperCollins 2016, pp. 384, $28.99


Nine years have passed since the mysterious death of Ashraf Marwan, the senior Egyptian government official who volunteered to spy for Israel's Mossad. Marwan remains at the center of a bitter controversy over why the October 1973 attack that launched the Yom Kippur War took Israel by surprise.

The key question about Marwan is this: Did he give Israel all the information it needed to protect itself, or was he a double agent, loyal above all else to Egypt as he pulled the wool over the Israelis' eyes?

Uri Bar-Joseph's The Angel, which uses Marwan's Mossad code name for its title, hails him as "one of the most important spies the world has seen." Bar-Joseph, a professor at the University of Haifa who formerly worked for Israeli intelligence and now is an independent expert on it, makes a convincing case that Marwan not only never misled the Israelis, but was actually astoundingly valuable to them.

Ashraf Marwan was the son-in-law of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led a coup in 1952 and became Egypt's second president and a pan-Arab hero. Yet Marwan stunned Israeli intelligence when, in 1970, he offered to provide secret documents and insights from deep within the top leadership in Cairo. It was almost too good to be true. Marwan was the chief aide to the new president, Anwar Sadat, and the Mossad ultimately decided that Marwan had seen a golden opportunity to cash in.

The spy was usually paid $10,000 each time he met with his Israeli handler, a Mossad official he had taken a liking to. He handed over copies of high-level reports and seemed happy to explain, at length, how Sadat planned to restore Egypt's honor after its crushing defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967.

Throughout 1972 and 1973, Marwan repeatedly cautioned the Israelis that Sadat was absolutely determined to go to war. Because several of Marwan's warnings proved to be false alarms--he explained this by saying that Sadat frequently changed his mind--some Israeli intelligence officials stopped taking his reports seriously. Instead of preparing for a possible war, the Israelis clung to their theory that the Arabs would never attack because they had no chance of winning.

A climactic moment came on October 5, 1973, at an urgently arranged meeting in London, where Marwan told the head of the Mossad that Egypt and Syria would strike Israel the next day. Israel's military intelligence chief rejected the report, and...

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