Was Egyptian Spy Ashraf Marwan A Double Agent For The Mossad?

The attorney general of Israel is expected to close the case that has baffled the Israeli intelligence services for 40 years. Ronen Bergman revisits the still-unsolved mystery and asks: Was Ashraf Marwan the greatest Mossad agent of all time, or an Egyptian double agent?

al-monitor Mourners pray during the funeral of Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, in Cairo July 1, 2007. Photo by REUTERS/Nasser Nuri.

Topics covered

spy, mystery, case closed, agent, yom kippur war, nasser, mossad, israel, egypt, ashraf marwan

Jul 13, 2012

The decision by Israel’s attorney general to close the investigation against Eli Zeira without bringing him to trial concludes the wrestling match between the head of Military Intelligence and the head of the Mossad, but does not resolve the mystery that has been tearing apart the Israeli intelligence community for the past 40 years.

Was Ashraf Marwan — former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s son-in-law and a close associate of his successor, Anwar Sadat — the greatest Mossad agent of all time, or was he part of the devious Egyptian plan that led Israel into the surprise of the Yom Kippur War?

Zeira was the first to say out loud what many high-level Mossad and Military Intelligence officials had argued between closed doors: that Marwan had manipulated Israel into dependence on him for warnings, but failed at the critical moment to provide information about the surprise Egyptian attack on October 6, 1973. Thus Zeira tried to absolve himself of part of the responsibility for what happened — responsibility placed on him by the Agranat Commission of Inquiry to investigate failings in the Israel Defense Forces during that war.

In response, former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir accused Zeira of leaking the name of the agent code-named Hutal ("Angel"). Zeira responded with a libel suit against Zamir, and the case finally went to arbitration behind closed doors, before former Supreme Court Justice Theodor Orr. The latter did not accept Zeira’s statement that he had heard Marwan’s name from another source, but thought he was simply protecting his own sources. He even accepted Zamir’s request to publicize his ruling, and wrote explicitly — for the first time from an official Israeli source — that Marwan was Hutal, a top agent of the Mossad in Cairo. Shortly afterward, in June 2007, Marwan fell from the balcony of his luxurious apartment in London and died. This timely coincidence inspired a host of conspiracy theories, and the British judge investigating the affair has not finished his examination to this very day.

Mubarak accorded Marwan kingly honors in a funeral spectacle that has not been seen in Egypt since Sadat’s murder. In a closed briefing, the Egyptian president said that very few people knew the true role of Marwan in the Egyptian “victory” in the Yom Kippur War. This was taken as further proof for Zeira’s claims that Marwan was not loyal to Israel.

On the other hand, Marwan did supply much valuable information to Israel throughout years of service until 1985. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Or, as Rafi Eitan, head of the Mossad in Europe when Marwan was recruited, says, “In my opinion, he was not only a double agent, but a quadruple agent. He worked for the Egyptians, he worked for the British, he worked for us. But mainly, he worked for himself.”

The attorney general’s decision to close the case means that the mystery will never be clarified in court. Instead, the enigma will remain for the courts of history. It will only be truly resolved if one day, the Egyptian intelligence files of the previous regime are opened.

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