Bar-Joseph, Uri. “The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel”, translated by David Hazony, Harper Collins, 2016.
Ashraf Marwan, Egyptian Spy for Israel
As the son-in-law of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and a close advisor to Anwar Sadat, Nasser’s successor, Ashraf Marwan had access to the deepest secrets Egypt’s government. Marwan also had a secret himself— he was a spy for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. Using the codename “The Angel,” Marwan gave Israel very important and classified material. By letting the Mossad know in advance about the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur, he saved Israel from a devastating defeat. Yet I find this a bit troubling. If the Mossad knew in advance that war was coming, why were the armed forces not alerted to this earlier?
Uri Bar Joseph has pieced together Marwan’s story by drawing on meticulous research and interviews with many key participants. We see some new facts about Middle Eastern history. We also see the discord within the Israeli government that brought down Prime Minister Golda Meir.
Marwan was able to elude Egypt’s secret services for many years, but then somebody talked and five years later, in 2007, his body was found in the garden of his London apartment building. Police suspected he had been thrown from his fifth-floor balcony and Bar-Joseph having discovered new evidence is able to reveal what really happened, why happened and who was responsible for Marwan’s death. His death was really no surprise but what lead to his death was quite a mystery for some time. Perhaps it was suicide, perhaps he was trying the two men that witnesses claimed to have seen on his balcony, and perhaps he was murdered. If indeed Marwan was murdered there were several ways to look at it.
Marwan was involved in many shady business deals. Then there were possibly hit men from Egypt, the country he had betrayed for thirty years as a spy for Israel. Scotland Yard investigated but was unable to solve the case and it is still unsolved. Bar-Joseph could not solve it yet he has put together many important facts and intimate details about Marwan’s life that it almost impossible to read and think that with all he knows, he is unable to solve the murder.
Marwan was perfectly placed to deliver information to the Israelis. In the years leading up to the Yom Kippur war of 1973, he gave them specific Egyptian war plans and material on Cairo’s weapons deals with the Soviet Union. He had numerous meetings in London over the years with his Mossad handler, a partnership that lasted until 1998.
Marwan had his reasons for committing treason—he was a narcissist, he was bored and he wanted to live a life filled with luxury something he was unable to do on his government salary from Egypt. He might also felt retribution for his father-in-law, Gamal Nasser who didn’t fully trust his son-in-law and often tried to cut him out of important decision-making. Here is where I find it difficult to understand how Israel could have been caught so unready when the Egyptians and Syrians launched a surprise attack on Yom Kippur? We want to know why so many soldiers were fasting and in synagogue that year, why all of Israel’s military reserves mobilized had not been mobilized. Bar-Joseph stares that this was because there were elements in Israel’s security apparatus that felt sure that “the Angel” was a double agent sent from Cairo to sell disinformation. There were also many who believed that Sadat would never attack until Egypt was able to close its military gap with Israel.
Bar-Joseph discounts the double-agent theory and claims that the villain is Major General Eli Zeira, Israel’s director of military intelligence at the time of the 1973 war. Zeira never thought Marwan was credible, and Bar-Joseph says that it was this led to Israel’s military being so unprepared. Bar-Joseph has synthesized the voluminous Israeli government information about Marwan and searched for any kind of turn that would explain this better. Marwan’s funeral was attended by a host of Egyptian elite. President Hosni Mubarak, who was in Ghana at a summit, issued a statement that lauded Marwan “a true patriot of his country.” At that point, Marwan’s deceit was well known inside Egypt’s government, but it was a source of such deep national embarrassment that he was buried a hero. Not only was his life was a lie, but so was his death.
Marwan was an intelligence disaster that almost doomed Egypt. His story is a suspenseful tale of a dangerous life and a mysterious death. Marwan changed the course of history in the Middle East and we see how little we actually know about something we thought we understood. Ashraf Marwan was the most valuable source the Mossad had ever recruited and we are just leaning his story now.