To answer the question posed in yesterday’s article — Was Gamal Abdel Nasser aware that his son-in-law was an Israeli spy? — we have to look at Ashraf Marwan’s character. He was very ambiguous and was surrounded by much controversy. It is frustrating to pose questions and find several answers to the questions. You get confused by them and wonder which questions are closest to reality and to the truth, posing a dilemma for serious researchers who want to find the truth. They do not want to direct accusations lightly, but at the same time they cannot ignore the facts that they see with their own eyes upon which hypotheses can be built. Hence, there was a lot of gossip and many rumours about him due to his multiple, diverse and even intertwined relationships with foreign countries on one hand, and with powerful and influential individuals on the other. Some relationships may appear strange and suspicious, and all of them bear the characteristic of mystery when it comes to this complicated individual.
Uri Bar-Joseph, a former intelligence analyst for the Israeli army, published his book The Angel in 2010, in which he claimed that Marwan worked for Mossad, and that he was the one who approached the Israeli intelligence agency while he was in London. The book is based on interviews with former officials in Israeli intelligence and documents related to Marwan’s file, which reveal a lot of his secrets. The security officials claimed that Marwan called the Israeli Embassy in London and asked to speak to a member of its security team. He expressed his willingness to work for the intelligence agency, but he was ignored at least twice. After that, he left a message. He introduced himself by name, confirming to them once again his willingness to work for the Israelis. Then the head of Mossad at the time, Shmuel Goren, realised that he had a great catch, which prompted the agency to open a file on Marwan as a potential agent. His life in espionage started when Marwan gave an envelope to the intelligence official who met him in a London cafe and said to him, “This is a sample of what I can offer you. I will not ask for anything now, but I expect you to pay me at the next meeting.” He was duly paid £100,000, which became the amount he was paid at every meeting. One Israeli source claims that he received three million dollars during his time working for Mossad.
At first, the agency doubted Marwan’s intention. Was he planning to be a double agent who provided false information to the Israelis, or will he pass on secrets about his father-in-law, President Gamal Abdel Nasser? In this regard, Marwan reassured the Israelis that Abdel Nasser was desperate after Egypt’s defeat in six hours in 1967, and wanted to be on the winning side.
After Mossad agents examined the documents, which appeared to be authentic, they said that material like this from a source like Marwan is something that only happens once every thousand years. “We had someone sleeping in Abdel Nasser’s bed,” said one.
Mossad chose two codenames for Marwan: Agent Babel and The Groom. Zvi Zamir, the head of Israeli intelligence during the October 1973 war, said that Marwan “provided important services as a Mossad agent since his recruitment in the late sixties and he passed extremely important information on to Israel.” Perhaps the most dangerous information he provided was informing the Israeli side of the date of the October 1973 war. Marwan called the liaison officer assigned to follow him from Paris and warned of an imminent Egyptian attack on 6 October. The Israeli Council of Ministers held an emergency session and decided to act according to Marwan’s information; they began to mobilise their tanks, but it was too late. He told them that the attack would take place at sunset, while it actually happened at 2 pm.
The Egyptian government completely ignored The Angel and neither commented on it nor denied the Israeli narrative; nor has it done so now after Mossad has published new documents, causing readers to fall prey to this, especially because it seems cohesive given the absence of an official Egyptian narrative. The same happened when Netflix turned the book into a movie of the same name.
The film was much less popular than the book, which was characterised by its suspense and charming style, in addition to the documents it contained. The film in general is technically weak, poorly produced and full of historical errors. The screenwriter did not do a good job in trying to utilise the mysterious, ambiguous and complex character of Ashraf Marwan in a dramatic way that befits the story. The scenario was flimsy, weak and boring, and the direction did not cover up the weakness of the script with its cast, which lacked creativity. In fact, the film made matters worse and ultimately conveyed the message that Israel wanted to convey: “The Angel” Ashraf Marwan saved Israel and the people of Israel.
There is no doubt that Israel chose this time deliberately to publish the documents confirming Ashraf Marwan’s espionage shortly before Egypt celebrates its victory in the October 1973 war. It was definitely intentional to deal a devastating moral blow to the Egyptian people by exposing the son-in-law of the leader of Arab nationalism, Gamal Abdel Nasser, as a Mossad agent. Abdel Nasser’s main enemy was Israel and he wanted to wipe it off the face of the earth. Unfortunately, the regime in Cairo has not responded officially to this provocation that has shaken the ground beneath our feet, leaving us prey to speculation and analysis without having documented information other than what was contained in the Israeli narrative.
As such, the question remains unanswered, and we still do not know if President Gamal Abdel Nasser was aware of his son-in-law’s espionage. Or if his successor as President, Anwar Sadat, knew. Ashraf Marwan was a mystery during his lifetime, and is now an enigma after his death.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.