Review: Gideon's Spies

By Ahron Bregman, July 11, 2008
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By Gordon Thomas
JR Books, £16.99

Nine years after reviewing Gideon’s Spies, Gordon Thomas’s book about the Mossad, for the JC, I am holding a new, updated and much expanded version. Thomas is a talented writer and his is an irresistibly exciting subject. But, in my view, if I am to find space for it on my bookshelf then it will probably go in the fiction, rather than the non-fiction section.

Thomas describes events without providing references or revealing his sources. While this may make it difficult to refute his account, it hardly bolsters the book’s authority. Moreover, for a book subtitled, “The Inside Story of Israel’s Legendary Secret Service”, there are glaring omissions.

What, I was keen to know, did Thomas have to say  about the most important spy the Mossad ever employed, whom I personally exposed in 2002, later befriended and was supposed to meet up with on the day his body was found under his balcony in Mayfair in suspicious circumstances last June?

Dr Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, walked into the Israeli embassy in London in 1969 and volunteered to work for the Mossad. This super-spy, a close adviser of Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, went on to provide the Israelis with information that Moshe Dayan, for one, described as “priceless”.

Marwan personally met Mossad’s director Zvi Zamir in London, on October 5 1973, to warn him that the Yom Kippur War would start on the next day. No serious book on the Mossad could possibly ignore this affair.

Incredibly, the name of Marwan (a remarkably colourful character who was a billionaire resident in London for 20 years and at one point held shares in Chelsea football club) is not even mentioned in the book.

The pivotal meeting with Zamir — perhaps the most important between a head of Mossad and a spy — is ignored. Instead, Thomas offers only vague statements about warnings Israel received before the Yom Kippur attack. But Marwan’s warning could hardly have been more specific. He even informed Zamir of the time the war would start: 6pm.

By contrast, Thomas suggests Israelis’ expectations about the war “turned out to have been pure guesswork”. I fear that Thomas himself may have indulged in guesswork. Otherwise, one wonders what inspired his many tight-lipped sources to open their hearts to him.

I suspect that if we were to be allowed access to Thomas’s material — particularly his conversations with Israelis — we would find them disappointing.

That said, given that the Mossad guards its secrets jealously, Thomas does provide an interesting glimpse into its methods.

But one should take his conspiracy theories and some other of his tales of the Mossad’s exploits with a pinch of salt, not least because many of them hinge on the elusive testimonies of unidentified sources.

Ahron Bregman is a former major in the Israeli army, and Knesset adviser. He holds a doctorate in war studies. His publications include A History of Israel
    Last updated: 3:17pm, February 18 2011