Review: The Angel

Yom Kippur's mystery spy


By Uri Bar-Joseph
Harper, £18.99

I should perhaps start by admitting that I'm not an innocent reviewer: my name appears in this book's cast of characters.

In 2002, I did what would turn out to be the stupidest thing I've done in my life, which was to expose the identity of the most important spy Israel's Mossad ever employed, revealing to the world that he was the son-in-law of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt.

Five years later, Ashraf Marwan's body was found in the private rose garden below his flat in central London. A three-year investigation by the Metropolitan Police failed to establish whether Marwan was pushed or jumped.

Uri Bar-Joseph, who teaches at Haifa University, is the leading Israeli expert on the 1973 Yom Kippur war. In the course of his distinguished career as a professor of international relations, he was allowed access to top-secret documents on the 1973 war and the role Ashraf Marwan played before, during and after that war.

But, living in Israel, Bar-Joseph was prevented by censorship laws from mentioning the Yom Kippur spy by name. Following my unmasking of the spy's identity here in the UK, the Israeli censor lifted the restrictions, which in turn made it possible for Bar-Joseph to write The Angel, which is about Ashraf Marwan and the Yom Kippur war.

"The Angel" was the nickname Mossad gave to Marwan, after the popular British TV series The Saint, which translates in Hebrew as "The Angel". And, indeed, Marwan enjoyed near-celestial regard in Mossad, which recruited him in 1970.

The sub-title of the book, The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, reflects Bar-Joseph's view that the warning Marwan gave to the head of Mossad in their face-to-face meeting in London on the night before Yom Kippur 1973 - "war will start tomorrow" - was the critical piece of intelligence enabling Israel to prepare to face the Arab invasion. Hence, Marwan "saved" Israel.

Here, Bar-Joseph and I differ. In my view, Marwan was no angel. He deliberately misled the Israelis.

While, in that nocturnal meeting with the head of Mossad, Marwan did warn that, "war will start tomorrow", he added that it would begin, "at sunset". The Israelis accordingly planned to move their tanks into front-line positions at 4pm on October 6.

But the Egyptian-Syrian attack came at 2pm. Moreover, Marwan had already duped the Israelis into believing that Egypt would not attack until they had been supplied with full Russian weaponry (which Israel was able to monitor), whereas the then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat had decided to strike beforehand.

Thus, far from "saving" Israel, I believe that Marwan dumped Israel. He was a double-agent.

There are other details where the two schools of thought, Bar-Joseph's, and mine, clash and it is telling that the Egyptians also celebrated Marwan as a great spy for their country.

Nevertheless, The Angel is a fascinating read, possibly the best study ever written on espionage and the Yom Kippur War.

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