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Israel: Mossad reveals its Egyptian spy warned of Yom Kippur war 'tomorrow'

Israel declassifies more information about the role its Egyptian agent Ashraf Marwan played in the Yom Kippur war
Mossad's Egyptian agent Ashraf Marwan with his handler, in an undated photo released by Mossad on 7 September 2023 (Israeli State Archives)

Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, has declassified information showing the extent to which Egyptian agent Ashraf Marwan had given Israel warnings relating to the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

The real identity of “the Angel”, the code name given to Marwan, was revealed decades ago, but debate continues as to whether he was one of Israel's most valuable assets or a double agent.

Now, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, Israel has released a photo of a Mossad handler meeting Marwan, and detailed transcripts of warnings he had passed on to Israel.

Marwan, the son-in-law of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, told the then Mossad chief Zvi Zamir “there is a 99 percent chance that the war will start tomorrow… it will start simultaneously on both fronts, the Egyptian and the Syrian”.

Those warnings were largely dismissed by the Israeli defence establishment. But they proved accurate.

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Married to one of Nasser’s daughters, Marwan held a unique position on the higher rungs of Egypt’s establishment. 

His close bond with Nasser, and later position as a trusted aid to President Anwar Sadat, meant that he was privy to some of the closest-guarded secrets. 

According to Some Day, a new book curated by Mossad, Marwan told Zamir that the Egyptian state planned to “move almost the entire army across the Suez Canal”.

Marwan added that the Syrians “planned to capture the Golan Heights”.

On the eve of the Yom Kippur war, Dovi, one of Marwan's handlers, told his bosses at Mossad that their mole in the Egyptian state demanded an immediate meeting between 4-5 October. 

The meeting was “to give information of great importance… connected to the ‘chemicals’ in his possession”.

“Chemicals” was the code word for warnings about information concerning an impending war. 

Zamir flew directly to London to speak with Marwan and fed information back to Mossad headquarters. 

Marwan also revealed that Jordan would stay out of the war, and specific information regarding what Egypt would be targeting, including airbases

Marwan also revealed that Jordan would stay out of the war, and specific information regarding what Egypt would be targeting, including airbases. The Egyptian spy also said that Cairo would not be attacking civilian areas within the 1967 Green Line. 

The war started on 6 October, which, despite the warnings passed on by Marwan, still caught Israel by surprise. 

Within the Israeli political and military establishment, Marwan was considered unreliable, which was one of the chief reasons why his warnings were ignored. 

Among the documents published by Mossad are claims that it had uncovered much of Egypt’s plan for war ahead of time.

'The spy who saved Israel'

The title of Some Day was taken from words spoken by Israel's fourth prime minister, Golda Meir, to Zamir: “Some day, when it can be revealed, you and your team will get a prize.”

In a short ceremony marking the upcoming release of the book, current Mossad chief David Barnea denied persistent reports that Marwan was in fact a double agent secretly working for the Egyptians.

While the revelations about Marwan are not new, the additional details are likely to spark a debate about who the Egyptian spy was really working for. 

“These claims,” said Barnea about Marwan, “were intensively checked before the war by a joint IDF-Mossad team and again after the war.

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“Findings repeated themselves, the ‘Angel’ was an important and strategic agent. Those who don’t understand HUMINT [human intelligence] have a hard time understanding the nuances of an agent and his handler,” added Barnea.

For almost two decades, the answer to one of the biggest riddles in modern Middle Eastern intelligence has remained elusive.

In his 2016 book, The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, professor and former Israeli army intelligence analyst Uri Bar-Joseph leaves little room for doubt about Marwan's loyalty to his country's intelligence agents.

On 27 June 2007, Marwan died after plunging from the fourth storey of a building in London. The cause of death, or whether he was pushed or fell, has never been established. 

Following his death, Egyptian authorities, who claim that Marwan’s loyalty was to his country, held a grand funeral, honouring him as a hero. 

Some believe he was killed by Egyptian intelligence, while his wife insisted that Mossad was the real murderer.

In 2018 Netflix released a film, The Angel, based on Marwan’s role in the war.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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