As the thin man strode into the café, the newspaper reader sitting next to the
window glanced up, then down at the small photograph on the table before him.
Four years had made a difference, but the resemblance was clear. Looking out the
window, he nodded to a figure waiting across the street. The latter entered and
approached the table where the thin man was sitting. “Mr. Marwan? I’m pleased to
meet you. My name is Misha.”
Marwan rose to shake his hand.The
two were soon engaged in lively conversation. The man at the window folded his
newspaper and walked out, not looking in the direction of the Mossad minders
posted on the street.
Thus began one of the most astonishing spy stories
of the 20th century.
Revelations about Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian who
spied for Israel in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War, have been
putting bread on the tables of a number of journalists and authors in recent
years. However, these anecdotal, sometimes fanciful, accounts describe
twodimensional figures viewed through a heavy mist. An epic third dimension has
now been provided by a former IDF intelligence analyst, Uri Bar-Joseph, in
Hamalach (The Angel), a book based on hitherto inaccessible archive material and
on interviews with senior Mossad officials and others.
It is a tale of
paradox piled on paradox, in which every fantastic turn is overtaken by another
For years after that initial encounter in a London
café, Marwan would provide Israel with Egypt’s deepest secrets – not just
information on the military but actual protocols of meetings of the Egyptian
general staff, not just political assessments but actual protocols of cabinet
He would transmit thousands of documents, many of them
specifically requested by Israeli intelligence. When Egypt’s political
leadership debated how to cajole more weapons from their Soviet sponsors or
discussed the inner dealings of the Arab world, the Israeli leadership followed
attentively. As Egypt prepared for war, its operational plans for crossing the
Suez Canal, regularly updated, became available to the IDF General Staff almost
in real time.
Rarely, if ever, has a country been so well informed about
an enemy it was preparing to meet on the battlefield.
Rarely, if ever,
has a country so badly bungled the intelligence advantage it was thus
For the generation of the Yom Kippur War, “mehdal,” blunder, was
the word that symbolized the country’s stunning lack of readiness to meet the
Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur. In light of the revelations about Marwan
another superlative will have to be invented to describe the enormity of that
blunder – to have known virtually everything there is to know about the enemy
and yet be surprised.
For reasons that can only be guessed at, a member
of Egypt’s elite had delivered his nation’s political and operational secrets to
his country’s mortal enemy. For reasons even more unfathomable, a senior IDF
officer in effect dumped these secrets into the garbage can.
In both the
case of Marwan and of chief of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira – he of
the garbage can – the one substantive mystery that remains from that traumatic
period is the workings of the human mind. In Bar-Joseph’s fascinating
Hebrewlanguage book we see how each man set himself apart from those around him,
each operating from a worldview that defied prevailing norms. These
characteristics would still be relevant more than three decades later when
rejection by one of these men of the central code of his profession would be
linked to the death of the other, although the two had never met.
WAS not a literal “walk-in” as has generally been portrayed – someone who walked
into the Israeli Embassy in London and offered his services. Nor was he someone
who made contact, as alleged by a New York Times columnist, through a Harley
Street doctor to whom he gave documents to be passed on to the embassy. He was,
however, a walk-in in the sense of initiating contact.
Bar-Joseph, Marwan telephoned the Israeli Embassy in London in 1970 and asked to
speak to an intelligence officer. Transferred to the military attache’s office,
he was told that the relevant person was not in but that he could leave a
message if he wished. Marwan’s message was succinct. Identifying himself by
name, he said he wished to work for Israeli intelligence. He declined to give
his telephone number but agreed to call again later in the day. When he did, the
official had not yet returned. This time Marwan left the number of his
By chance, a senior Mossad executive, Shmuel Goren, was visiting
London this day and learned of Marwan’s call. Unlike the officer who had
received it, Goren knew who Marwan was – the son-in-law of Egyptian president
Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Marwan, 26, had in fact already been identified as a
potential Mossad recruit. A would-be playboy, he was in financial trouble
because he was kept on a tight leash by the abstemious Nasser, who would not
permit family members to accept bribes. What made him a target of interest was
his employment in the president’s office, making him privy to state secrets. The
Mossad had begun to assemble material on him, including a picture from an
Egyptian newspaper showing Marwan, the son of a general, at his wedding to
Nasser’s daughter, Mona, four years before.
Marwan had mentioned to the
embassy that he was flying home the next day.
Given his unique
importance, Goren decided to set aside the Mossad’s strict rules for recruiting
agents and to make direct contact with him immediately. Marwan was notified that
a meeting was being set up and told to remain in his hotel room until contacted.
A café not far from the hotel, easily observable from the street, was chosen. A
relatively new agent named Dubi, who happened to be at hand, was chosen to meet
the Egyptian. A few other available agents were assigned to secure the area
around the café.
At the meeting, Marwan told “Misha,” as Dubi called
himself, about his connections in Cairo and the importance of his job. When Dubi
asked whether he had access to documents, Marwan opened the briefcase at his feet and extracted a
large brown envelope. “Here’s a sample of what I can give you,” he said. “I’m
not asking for anything now, but I expect to be compensated at our next
meeting.” He would be returning to London, he said, in a few weeks.
parting from Marwan, Dubi walked up the street and was joined by the man with
the newspaper, Shmuel Goren. They took a cab to the embassy and together with
the Mossad station chief examined Marwan’s documents.
“Material like this
from a source like this,” said Goren to his colleagues when they finished, “is
something that happens once in a thousand years.”
THE FACT that Marwan
had volunteered his services raised the possibility that he was a double agent.
The Mossad would invest considerable energy over the years checking that out,
including trailing him when he was abroad to see whom he met and subjecting him
to regular lie detector tests. There were never indications that he was playing
a double game and almost all the information he gave over the years would check
out as accurate.
Money was clearly a major incentive for Marwan when he
began his spying career. Over the years he would be paid more than $1 million,
says Bar-Joseph, a modest figure for the information he provided. Marwan’s anger
at Nasser for trying to persuade Mona to divorce him may also have been an
incentive. After Nasser died, however, when Marwan became independently wealthy,
it would become clear that psychological forces were at play in his continued
work for Israel.
Among possible motives suggested by Bar-Joseph, a
professor of political science at the University of Haifa, were a need to
identify with the strong party, the need for titillation by walking on the edge,
the need to burnish his ego by doing what his peers would not
Whatever the motive for his treason, Marwan would apparently prove
faithful to Israel to the end.
Before parting from Dubi in the cafe,
Marwan told him that in the future he wanted to meet only with him. The
involvement of other persons, he feared, would endanger his security. However,
while the personable Dubi had succeeded in establishing trust, he was not an
experienced case officer – a combination of psychologist, priest, and
stern-but-loving father – nor did he have the expertise in Egyptian military and
political affairs that would enable him to fully exploit Marwan’s capabilities.
It was only after considerable pressure that Marwan agreed to have another
person sit in periodically on their sessions – the head of the Egyptian desk in
Military Intelligence, Lt.-Col. Meir Meir.
The first meeting with Meir
took place in a fashionable apartment in London’s Mayfair district. Marwan, with
a whiskey glass at his side, did not rise from his seat when the dark-visaged
Meir approached to shake his hand.
“He looked at me,” he would recall,
“as if a cockroach had just entered the room.” The arrogance disappeared as Meir
began asking questions that revealed his intimate knowledge of the Egyptian
Marwan admitted he did not have all the answers, but said he
would bring them the next time they met. At the end of the three-hour session,
Meir, whose previous doubts about Marwan’s reliability had not been entirely put
to rest, asked him if he could also bring two documents: Egypt’s order of battle
– a listing of all units in the armed forces – and the operational plans for
crossing the Suez Canal.
At their next meeting, Marwan produced both. The
order of battle gave the structure of the Egyptian armed forces, including units
and commanders, the kinds of weapons wielded by each unit, the number of planes
in each air force squadron, the bases at which they were located and myriad
other details. The document authenticated much of what Military Intelligence had
put together on its own over the years and enabled it to fill in gaps. By
confirming what Israel knew, it also firmed up Marwan’s credibility.
other document spelled out plans for the simultaneous crossing of the canal by
five divisions which would seize a strip up to 10 kilometers inland. The
document included the sites of the bridgeheads, the units that would construct
the pontoon bridges, the order in which the infantry units would cross and the
length of the preliminary artillery bombardment (38 minutes).
securing a foothold in Sinai, Egypt would send across two armored divisions
which would push toward the Sinai passes, the next step toward its reconquest.
The document was a copy of that kept in the safes of the Egyptian divisional
commanders involved. After examining the two documents, Meir relinquished all
doubts about Marwan’s value.
So insightful into the mind-set of the
Egyptian hierarchy were Marwan’s reports that Mossad chief Zvi Zamir decided to
distribute them in raw form directly to the prime minister, defense minister and
chief of General Staff, who normally get their intelligence reports in digested
To stoke Marwan’s ego and motivation, Zamir agreed to meet with him
from time to time. On these occasions, “the general” – as Marwan referred to him
– asked few questions aimed at eliciting information. Instead, he engaged Marwan
in a broad tour d’horizon of the Middle East and expressed interest in his
opinions. The Mossad even attempted to help Marwan deal with his domestic
troubles, when it became clear that he was having problems with Mona. Zamir
ordered his men to purchase a diamond ring in Tel Aviv for Marwan to give her, a
move that apparently helped restore domestic tranquility.
The death of
Nasser in September 1970 raised fears in the Mossad that Marwan would be removed
from his insider’s listening post. However, in the bitter internal power
struggle that followed, Anwar Sadat drew Marwan close to him, partially at least
to enhance his own legitimacy by alliance with Nasser’s son-in-law. Sadat and
his wife also harbored personal affinity for the talented and charming young
man. Sadat not only left Marwan in the presidential office but appointed him its
head, despite his relative inexperience. In addition, Marwan became a diplomatic
troubleshooter for Sadat, traveling to meet Arab leaders. He was now able to
provide his handlers high-grade insider information and verbal
The removal of his father-in-law’s restraining hand enabled
Marwan to cultivate his talent for acquiring wealth. State-sponsored deals for
the import of cars and equipment which he helped expedite carried a substantial
cut for him. His position alongside Sadat made him a powerful political figure
in Cairo and his social status rose accordingly. From his position at the nerve
center of the Arab world, he served Egypt’s interests efficiently at the same
time that he was betraying its secrets.
After Sadat went to Moscow in
1971 to request arms, Marwan provided Dubi with a protocol of the meeting with
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. At prime minister Golda Meir’s insistence, the
protocol was passed on to the CIA, providing it with a rare view of a live
dialogue between the Soviet leadership and its principal Arab client. CIA chief
Richard Helms sent a message to Zamir congratulating him on the Mossad’s ability
to achieve such high-grade intelligence. There would now be a greater willingness in
Washington to let Israel have Phantoms, which would become the mainstay of the
THE EGYPTIAN government had set for itself two conditions for
embarking on war. If its army attempted to move beyond the 10-kilometer-deep
strip on the eastern bank of the canal, which was protected by anti-aircraft
missile batteries on the western bank, it would be vulnerable to devastating air
attacks. To neutralize the threat, Cairo sought from the Soviet Union, without
success, long-range fighter-bombers that could carry out a preemptive attack on
IAF bases the way that had been done to Egypt in 1967. Egypt also wanted Scud
missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv so as to deter a strike at its
However, on October 24, 1972, a year before the war, Sadat
assembled his senior military leaders and announced a dramatic change in policy.
Egypt would no longer wait for new weapons. Instead it would go to war with what
it had. In a brilliant insight, Sadat had concluded that the army did not have
to advance beyond the 10-kilometer zone to achieve his strategic aim. Once he
had gained a firm foothold under the protection of the existing surface- to-air
missile (SAM) batteries west of the canal, the international community would
intervene and force a diplomatic solution. Which is what would
Marwan promptly informed Israel of Sadat’s new policy and of his
intention to send his army across the canal in January.
His report had no
impact on Zeira, who remained convinced that Sadat would not attack before he
had long-range bombers and missiles. The Egyptians did not attack in January,
but Zeira was right for the wrong reason. Sadat’s generals had told him they
were not ready.
In April, Marwan and other intelligence sources warned
that Egypt was going to war in mid-May in conjunction with Syria. Zeira again
dissented. “A logical analysis of the situation,” he said, “will show that the
Egyptians would make a mistake if they went to war.” He was overruled by chief
of General Staff Lt.-Gen.
David Elazar. The IDF did not mobilize its
reserves, but large sums were expended on creation of new tank units and other
steps that would prove vital when war did break out five months later. But war
did not break out in the spring. The Egyptian army was ready, but in a secret
meeting Syrian president Hafez Assad had told Sadat he needed more time to
Zeira had once again proven right for the wrong reasons, and his
status rose sharply.
The burnishing of his analytical credentials would
prove catastrophic. Elazar would in the coming months hesitate to challenge
Zeira’s optimistic assessments for fear of being perceived as an
Arab war preparations became pronounced in early September,
when Syria began building up its forces opposite the Golan Heights. Toward the
end of the month the Egyptian army began a major exercise along the Suez Canal.
Zeira attributed the Syrian buildup to an air force clash early in the month in
which 12 Syrian planes were shot down. The Syrian army, he said, was bracing for
an IDF ground attack. As for the Egyptian exercise, there were such exercises
every year, he noted.
The buildup on two fronts was therefore
coincidental and signified nothing.
But red lights were now flashing
Jordan’s King Hussein met secretly with Golda Meir near Tel
Aviv to warn her that war was imminent. Deputy chief of General Staff Yisrael
Tal warned that the Syrian army was in emergency deployment that permitted it to
launch an attack without warning. War warnings were being received from several
credible sources abroad.
Soldiers on the Israeli bank of the Suez Canal
could hear trucks entering the Egyptian lines opposite every night to unload
equipment. Bulldozers were cutting openings to the canal bank, and Egyptian
soldiers were preparing descents to the water. Rubber boats were spotted across
the canal and groups of Egyptian officers could be seen with maps and binoculars
studying the Israeli lines. One of the most alarming signs picked up by
intelligence was an order by the Egyptian command to soldiers to stop fasting
during Ramadan now upon them. To many this was a clearer signal of imminent war
than even the tanks now appearing in large numbers across the
Despite all these signs, Zeira, with breathtaking self-assurance,
insisted that there would be no war and that Israel should not mobilize. The
reserves constituted two-thirds of the army but also a sizable portion of the
civilian workforce. We can’t drive the country crazy and strangle the economy by
mobilizing every time the Arabs have a military exercise, he said.
days before Yom Kippur, Elazar asked Zeira whether he had activated “special
means,” reportedly listening devices in neighboring countries that could be
depended on to provide indications of war preparations if they were under way.
The devices were meant to be activated only when a crisis was at hand since,
once turned on, they were bound to be exposed before long. Zeira’s response was
to assure him that the special means were producing no warning signs. In fact,
says Bar- Joseph, the “special means” had not been activated since Zeira did not
believe they were at a crisis point.
On the morning of Friday, October 5,
the day before Yom Kippur, Dayan asked Zeira the same question and was given a
similar reassurance even though the devices had still not been made
These assurances effectively shut down the Israeli leaders’
IT WAS Ashraf Marwan who turned them back on. He had
left for Paris a few days before Yom Kippur with an Egyptian
Late Thursday night, October 4, he telephoned Dubi from
there. He began by telling him about a Libyan plan to down an El Al plane in
Paris with a shoulder- held missile. Only then did he mention that he would be
coming to London the next day and would like to meet “the general” in the
evening to discuss chemicals.
It was the first time he had ever sought to
initiate a meeting with Zamir. Chemicals was the code word for
Zamir was wakened at 2:30 a.m. by a call from his assistant, Freddy
Eini, passing on the message. Zamir’s reaction was initially muted. The
“chemical” code was supposed to be accompanied by mention of one of three kinds of chemicals, each suggesting a different level of urgency or type
Marwan had not mentioned any of them, which presumably meant
that he had something less than a concrete warning to
Nevertheless, Zamir decided to fly to London in the morning. A few
moments later the phone rang again. It was Eli Zeira, the first time the
intelligence chief had ever called Zamir at home. Zeira informed him that the
Soviets had begun an emergency airlift of the families of their advisers in
Egypt and Syria. It was the first development in the current crisis for which
Zeira did not have an explanation and it worried him.
Zamir told him he
was leaving for London in a few hours to meet Marwan and might have an answer
when he returned.
Bar-Joseph writes that Marwan did not in fact have a
specific answer when he arrived in London. He apparently intended to offer only
a general warning that war would break out within a few days. It is not clear
whether he had learned this in Cairo before leaving or picked it up by phone
while in Paris. Sadat was keeping his war plans close to his chest and even his
division commanders would be given only three days’ notice of D-Day.
after he checked into the luxurious Churchill Hotel, there was a knock on the
door of Marwan’s suite. It was a friend from Cairo, Muhmad Nussair, a technology
tycoon who had learned that Marwan was staying at the hotel. Nussair related
that he had just met the London branch manager of EgyptAir, a mutual friend, who
told him that all Cairo flights had been ordered to divert to Libya. Did Marwan,
as head of the president’s office, know the reason for this? Interviewed on
Egyptian television in 2008, Nussair said that Marwan had risen to his feet and
said, “This means war.” Egypt’s war plans, he explained, called for the national
airline to shift its planes abroad to avoid their being destroyed on the
Going into his bedroom, Marwan made several calls to Cairo. When
he emerged, he told his friend that the war would start tomorrow.
and Dubi arrived in the Mayfair apartment shortly before 10 p.m. A few minutes
later Marwan knocked. The social pleasantries were brief. “I’ve come to tell
you,” said Marwan, “that he [Sadat] intends to go to war tomorrow.” Zamir was
taken aback. He had understood that Marwan wanted to pass on a warning of war
but not that it would break out the next day.
“On what basis do you say
that?” he asked.
Marwan told him of his calls to Cairo that afternoon
after learning of the EgyptAir incident.
Zamir pressed him repeatedly on
the possibility that Sadat might change his mind as he had in the spring. “Do I
know?” Marwan burst out at one point. “He’s crazy. He can go forward and he can
THERE WAS a disturbingly soft edge to Marwan’s message. He had
not brought this warning of imminent war from Cairo but had picked it up, by
chance, a few hours before by phone from London. And he left open the
possibility, however slim, that Sadat might change his mind. Zamir knew that if
he sent to Tel Aviv an unqualified message of war, scores of thousands of
reservists would begin to be collected from synagogues in a few hours and an
awesome cycle initiated. But to render Marwan’s message ambiguous would be
disastrous if it failed to trigger necessary action.
The attack, Marwan
indicated, would be carried out according to the plans he had already delivered.
H-Hour would be at dusk, when light would linger long enough for an Egyptian air
strike but not for an IAF counterblow.
The crossing of the canal would be
Here Marwan erred. He did not know that two days before,
while he was still in Paris, Egypt’s war minister had flown to Damascus to meet
with Assad. Syria’s General Staff was demanding that the attack be at dawn when
the sun was in the eyes of the IDF troops on the Golan and not at dusk. The
compromise agreed upon was 2 p.m.
It was close to midnight on Yom Kippur
eve when the meeting in London ended.
Marwan returned to his hotel, from
which he would fly back to Cairo the next morning.
Zamir and Dubi
proceeded to the home of the Mossad station chief. As several agents looked on,
Zamir drafted a message to Eini using the terms of a business letter they had
agreed upon that morning when Eini drove him to the airport. Zamir chose to be
The two parties, he wrote, had agreed to the terms
previously discussed and they would arrive together to sign the contract on
Saturday before dark. They would come without other partners.
international telephone operator to connect him with Israel he was told that it
was a Jewish holiday and people there weren’t answering the phone. He told her
to try nevertheless. When a drowsy Eini answered, Zamir said “Put your feet in
cold water,” a move aimed at ensuring that he was completely awake. When Eini
had done it, Zamir dictated to him the message. Eini redrafted it into plain
Hebrew: There will be a two-front attack this day by Egypt and Syria according
to the plan previously supplied by Marwan. Zero hour was given as 6
Eini transmitted the message first to Zeira, then to the military
aides of Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and chief of General Staff Elazar. By 4:30
a.m., the leadership knew that a two-front war would be upon them by 6 p.m. In
fact, they had four hours less than they believed.
It was not until 9
a.m. at a meeting in Meir’s office that mobilization of the reserves –
two-thirds of the entire army – was ordered. This left only five hours before
the Arab attack. That, however, together with the few hours the high command had
after Eini’s wake-up calls to begin thinking through the options, would save the
Golan Heights. The Syrians broke through that night in strength and headed at
first light toward the main army base at Nafach. It was a reserve tank brigade,
the first that arrived on the Golan after rapidly fitting out, that stopped the
Syrians at its gates. More reserve units were soon pushing up other roads to the
Golan. Had they been mobilized a few hours later, they would have found them
blocked by Syrian tanks.
MARWAN’S WARNING had saved the Golan. He spent
the war doing his bit for Egypt by carrying out diplomatic missions on Sadat’s
behalf. Later, he would be intimately involved with US secretary of state Henry
Kissinger’s efforts to achieve a cease-fire.
Marwan’s public service
ended two years later. At a ceremony in March 1976 marking Marwan’s departure
from the president’s office, Sadat bestowed upon him one of Egypt’s highest
decorations. In doing so, he made special mention of Marwan’s contribution to
the war effort, particularly his role in arranging the transfer to Egypt before
the war of Mirages purchased by Libya.
Marwan moved with his family in
1981 to London, where he settled comfortably into the role of business tycoon,
with interests ranging from real estate to armaments.
His stormy business
career won him notoriety in England and Egypt, but his extraordinary life as a
spy would have remained a secret forever had it not been for Eli
The existence of a spy who tipped Israel off about the coming Arab
attack in 1973 was first mentioned in the Agranat Commission’s report in 1974
but went almost unnoticed in the general trauma. The story was revived and
provided a new dimension by Zeira in his book Myth Versus Reality: The Yom
Kippur War, published in 1993.
The spy, he wrote, was in fact a double
agent who was the most important factor in the Egyptian deception that caught
Israel by surprise. The spy had twice warned of an Egyptian attack (in January
and May) that did not take place, with the intention of having the next warning
dismissed as a false cry of “wolf, wolf.” The agent, he wrote, had delivered his
war warning to the Mossad less than a day before the Arabs attacked, knowing
that it took two days to mobilize the reserves. He had also given the wrong
H-Hour, 6 p.m. instead of 2 p.m.
The Agranat Commission had called for
Zeira’s dismissal from his intelligence post for his grave misreading of enemy
intentions in the runup to the war. Blaming an Egyptian agent for the colossal
intelligence failure was widely dismissed as a transparent attempt to shift
blame from himself to the Mossad, which had recruited the spy.
not give Marwan’s name in the first edition of his book, but he provided certain
details that suggested his identity. The book was published only in Hebrew and
the hints passed without public notice.
However, a few years later
several writers and journalists who interviewed Zeira adopted his claim and
wrote that the spy was a double agent who had deceived Israel.
agent’s identity first became public knowledge in December 2002, almost a decade
after Zeira first alluded to it. Dr. Aharon Bregman, an Israeli writer living in
England, published a book, Israel’s Wars, in which he identified the spy as a
close relative of Nasser and noted that he was referred to in Israel as “the
son-in-law.” This time, Egyptian journalists were on the case. When one
contacted Marwan, he dismissed the report as “an absurd detective
A reporter for the Cairo newspaper Al-Ahram called Bregman to ask
if he had been referring to Marwan.
Bregman confirmed that he had. He
would later say that he made the revelation in order to defend his reputation as
a historian in view of Marwan’s dismissive remark about “a detective story.” He
had not “outed” Marwan in Egyptian eyes, he said, because Marwan had in fact
been a double agent who performed great service for his country, the view
promoted by Zeira.
In a second edition of Zeira’s book published in 2004,
the former intelligence chief actually named Marwan as the double agent. By this
time, Marwan had been mentioned in two other books (whose authors had also
interviewed Zeira) and Zeira could claim the name was no longer a
Zeira’s exposure of Marwan, whom he had never met, infuriated
former Mossad chief Zamir. In a television interview in September 2004, he said
that his former comrade-in-arms had violated the first commandment of the
intelligence community – never to reveal the identity of sources. Zamir called
for Zeira to be put on trial for harming the security of the state.
promptly sued for libel. Instead of airing the sensitive subject in open court,
the two retired soldiers agreed to put the matter to an arbitrator, retired
Supreme Court justice Theodore Or.
An Israeli academic, Ephraim Kahana,
told Or that Zeira had revealed Marwan’s name to him in an interview in 1999 but
that he, Kahana, had refrained from publishing the agent’s identity for obvious
reasons. To Bregman, the reasons were not obvious. Asked why he had revealed
Marwan’s name to Al-Ahram, Bregman said there were several journalists working
on books that would reveal the spy’s identity. “It was important for me that I
be the first.” He denied receiving Marwan’s name from Zeira but said he had
deduced the identity from Zeira’s book.
In his ruling published on June
7, 2007, Or dismissed Zeira’s libel charge on the grounds that Zamir had spoken
truth – namely, that Zeira had indeed been responsible for revealing Marwan’s
Three weeks later, Marwan fell, jumped or was pushed to his
death from his fourth-floor balcony in a posh London neighborhood. Scotland Yard
investigated but could come to no firm conclusion. Bar-Joseph notes that four
business colleagues who were scheduled to meet Marwan in an office building just
across the street from his home had seen him pacing on his balcony and even
waved to him and called him on his cellphone because he was late for the
meeting. At one point, two of them saw him suddenly climb on something and leap
from the balcony. Another witness reported seeing two men in suits and “of
Mediterranean appearance” emerge onto the balcony after Marwan jumped, look down
and then reenter the apartment.
Bar-Joseph conjectures that Egyptian
security officials had made Marwan an offer he could not refuse: Either jump
from the balcony or we will throw you. If you jump, no harm will come to your
family or reputation.
Why in 2007? Zeira had first pointed in his
direction in 1993. It can be assumed that Egyptian intelligence had read his
book back then. But Marwan continued to visit Cairo after that, mixing with the
elite of his country as in days of yore. Even when reports began to appear in
Egyptian newspapers after 2002 about allegations of spying activity on behalf of
Israel, it appeared to have no impact on his standing, as if it were too absurd,
or too disturbing, a suggestion to consider.
One of Marwan’s sons was a
close friend of Gamal “Jimmy” Mubarak, president Hosni Mubarak’s son and heir
apparent. Marwan’s other son was married to the daughter of Amr Moussa, head of
the Arab League and a former Egyptian foreign minister who was a razortongued
critic of Israel. That Moussa’s daughter might be married to the son of an
Israeli superspy was too outlandish to contemplate. Egyptian society was all too
happy to welcome the double-spy scenario which rendered Marwan a
Bar-Joseph believes the Or ruling was the turning point. Here, for
the first time, was an official finding by a jurist of standing, not by a
journalist. It shattered Zeira’s credibility and, by extension, his version of
Marwan as a double agent. This left Marwan exposed as someone who served the
enemy during one of the most critical periods in Egypt’s modern
Marwan’s “diplomatic” exit permitted the Egyptian establishment
to continue embracing him as one of its own without having to examine the dark
allegations about his past. Among those attending his funeral were Gamal
Mubarak, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and the country’s highest-ranking
religious leader, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, grand sheikh of Al-Azhar
President Mubarak chose to elevate the dead man to the
national pantheon: “Marwan,” he told reporters, “carried out patriotic acts
which it is not yet time to reveal.”
In the retirement home in which he
lived, Zamir also expressed sorrow at Marwan’s death. “He had a family,” said
the former Mossad chief. “He was a human being.
We’re all human
Ashraf Marwan was buried in his family plot in Cairo, the last
casualty of the Yom Kippur War. ■
The writer is author of
The Yom Kippur War
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