Our mysterious man on the Nile

Why would Marwan Ashraf become a Zionist agent? A new book creates an insightful third dimension into the mind of the superspy.

Marwan funeral 521 (photo credit: AP)
Marwan funeral 521
(photo credit: AP)
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 outrageous revelation.
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 meetings.
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 handed.
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.
MARWAN 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.
According to 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 hotel.
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.
After 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 dare.
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 military.
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.
The 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).
After 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 form.
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 assessments.
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 air force.
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 interior.
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 happen.
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 prepare.
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 alarmist.
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 everywhere.
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 way.
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.
A few 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 operational.
These assurances effectively shut down the Israeli leaders’ internal alarms.
IT WAS Ashraf Marwan who turned them back on. He had left for Paris a few days before Yom Kippur with an Egyptian delegation.
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 war.
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 of attack.
Marwan had not mentioned any of them, which presumably meant that he had something less than a concrete warning to offer.
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.
Soon 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 runway.
Going into his bedroom, Marwan made several calls to Cairo. When he emerged, he told his friend that the war would start tomorrow.
Zamir 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 go back.”
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 after dark.
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 unambiguous.
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.
Asking the 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 p.m.
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 Zeira.
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.
Zeira did 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.
The 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 story.”
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 secret.
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.
Zeira 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 identity.
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 hero.
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 history.
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 University.
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 beings.”
Ashraf Marwan was buried in his family plot in Cairo, the last casualty of the Yom Kippur War. ■
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The writer is author of The Yom Kippur War.