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by PR Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2003 at 11:43 AM


Double trouble

By Yossi Melman - HAARETZ

For the first time, the Egyptian media, a month ago, has revealed what it calls one of the most important assets the Mossad had in Egypt: the source who confirmed in October, 1973 that a war was in the offing. A month ago, newspapers in Egypt raised the question of whether Dr. Ashraf Marwan, a businessman who is the son-in-law of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, was an Israeli agent. In Israel, the name of the agent has never been exposed and, in the discussion surrounding his activities, he is referred to as a "senior agent" operated by the Mossad in Egypt, who supplied Israel with important information including that regarding the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.

The person behind the debate is Dr. Ahron (Roni) Bregman, who has been living in Britain for many years and was involved several years ago in the production of a BBC television series to mark Israel's Jubilee. He served as an artillery officer in the Israel Defense Forces, but says he had no ties with the intelligence community. A few months ago, he published in Britain a book called "A History of Israel" (Palgrave Macmillan, September, 2002). One of the chapters in the book was abbreviated into an article that was published in September 2002, in a special edition of the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, to mark the 19th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. In that article, Bregman hinted at the agent. Among other things, he wrote that the man had been a relative of Egyptian President Nasser, and that his runners from the Mossad called him "the in-law."

The newspaper article did not create any reverberations in the Israeli public. In Egypt, however, they swooped down on Bregman's hints, which were easy to work out, and revealed that the person was Ashraf Marwan. Bregman was also interviewed by the Egyptian media and confirmed that Marwan had indeed been an Israeli agent, but in fact had been a double agent who cheated Israel and made it possible for the Egyptians and the Syrians to surprise Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

Suspicious motives

Dr. Ashraf Marwan was born in 1944, the son of a respected Egyptian family who studied in England and married Muna, Nasser's third daughter, in the 1960s. The marriage brought him close to the president's innermost circle. He was given the status and title of roving ambassador, and set out on delicate diplomatic missions around the world. In the media of the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, he was mentioned as having served as bureau chief for the presidency, and sometimes it was even noted that he was the coordinator on behalf of the president with the Egyptian intelligence services.

According to these same sources, the senior agent was recruited by Israel apparently in 1969. The surprising thing is that the agent volunteered his services. One day, he walked into the Israeli Embassy in Kensington in London and offered to provide information. The mission of running him, according to these sources, was given to the Mossad. It is possible to assume that a thorough background check of him was conducted. A "walk-in" agent who volunteers inevitably arouses great suspicion as to his motives, especially if he is well-connected to his country's regime and appears to have access to secret information. The great fear is that the volunteer might have been sent by enemy intelligence to serve as a double agent and to transmit false information.

When the check was completed, it was concluded that the new volunteer was worth running. Among other things, it emerged that his motives were not purely financial, but also stemmed from a combination of ideological-political and family reasons.

If Ashraf Marwan was indeed an agent of the Mossad, as was discussed in the Egyptian media, it is likely that he would have been well-paid. It may also be assumed that, as he was a wealthy man, he did not need to have his expenses covered for his trips to meetings with his handler (in such cases, it is preferable for one regular operator to run such an important agent). Because he had the ability to come and go as he pleased, it is reasonable to assume that running him did not cause many problems and the meetings were held in European capitals. For the services of such a valuable agent, the Mossad is prepared to pay tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The deal is usually payment according to the value of the information.

Seeds of failure

In May, 1973, the senior agent provided the information that, in the guise of a military exercise, Egypt was planning to go to war. On the orders of the chief of staff at the time, Lieutenant General David Elazar (and contrary to the opinion of then defense minister Moshe Dayan), Israel called up reservists, which incurred a heavy and unexpected burden on its budget. The Egyptians did not go to war and it was then that the seeds of self-delusion were sown that led to the intelligence failure half a year later. In retrospect, the crisis of May, 1973 served as ammunition in the hands of the head of Military Intelligence at the time, Major General Eli Zeira, whom the official commission of inquiry after the war, headed by Justice Shimon Agranat, perceived as responsible for the intelligence failure. Zeira argued before the commission that the Mossad's agent was, in fact, a double agent and was transmitting false information in order to put Israeli intelligence to sleep, as in the story of the boy who "cried wolf."

The Mossad, on the other hand, believed that the agent was not a double agent, and that before the Yom Kippur war, he delivered the goods for which he was recruited and run. He indeed provided the warning that a war was in the making, including the precise date. But his information came up against the so-called in Hebrew "konseptzia" - the biased thinking, mainly of Military Intelligence, that the Egyptians would not go to war on their own, that their chances of doing so in coordination with the Syrians were small and that, in any case, they would not dare to launch an attack as long they did not have a missile capacity that would counter Israel's air superiority.

And thus, despite all the information that had been gathered by Military Intelligence and the Mossad - and despite the warning from King Hussein and from the senior Egyptian agent - General Zeira and the head of the research division at that time, Brigadier General Arieh Shalev, stuck to the original opinion that just as in May, 1973, the preparations made by the Egyptian army west of the Suez Canal were intended for maneuvers and would not turn into a war.

Mossad head Zvi Zamir, who believed otherwise, decided on May 5 to fly to a special meeting with the agent in Europe, to get evidence that would contradict the version of the head of Military Intelligence. Zamir, along with the agent-handler, flew to the meeting a day before the war. He met with the agent on Friday night and hastened to contact his bureau chief, Freddy Eini, to tell him in a prearranged code the words that have become famous: "Tomorrow a war will break out."

Nevertheless, Israel was surprised by the combined attack by the armies of Egypt and Syria. After the war, Golda Meir's government appointed the Agranat commission to investigate the reasons for the failure (the terms of its appointment included limitations that were actually intended to blame the military). During the commission's deliberations, in order to cast off the blame, or at least to share it with the Mossad, Military Intelligence's Eli Zeira gave his assessment that the Mossad's senior agent was a double agent, who had deceived Israel. He did provide real information, from time to time, in order to gain the trust of his runners, but his aim was to deceive them. Even though the Agranat Commission did not accept Zeira's explanations, he did succeed in planting doubts as to the reliability of the senior agent. The doubts also spread among senior officials in the intelligence community. Not only in Military Intelligence, but also in other organizations such as the Shin Bet and even in the Mossad itself.

Zamir himself stuck to his opinion that the agent was not a double agent and that all the information he had provided was true and precise. This conclusion was also reached by a special committee appointed at the Mossad to examine the issue. Among those participating on the committee were the agent's runner, research and operations officials and intelligence experts. The entire affair, from the moment of the agent's recruitment through all the runners' reports and research assessments that were based on his information, was thoroughly reconstructed and checked repeatedly.

To the investigation committee, as to most of the officials who are privy to the affair, it is clear that the agent was genuine and not a double agent. He did not deceive and he did not lie. The intelligence failure in the war was due to the refusal by Israel's intelligence chiefs - especially Military Intelligence, led by Eli Zeira and Arieh Shalev - and by Prime Minister Meir and Defense Minister Dayan to believe that Egypt was capable of launching a war.

Last week, Zamir refused to comment on the matter and said: "Many stories have been published and I have no intention of relating to them."

But now, Dr. Bregman has come along and in his book, as in the interview he gave to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, he again adopts the double agent version from the school of thought of Eli Zeira. In the interview, which was published on December 22, Bregman was asked: Why didn't you mention the agent's name in your book? His reply: "In my book, I was very scrupulous about not mentioning his name. I did not even mention that the individual was the husband of Abdel Nasser's daughter. But I did say that this person was close to Nasser. Ashraf Marwan said in a recently published interview that my story is a ridiculous detective fiction or something like that, but I have to defend my good name as a historian and I cannot accept this. The man who was called `the daughter's husband' in my book is Ashraf Marwan. He is the spy I spoke about and he was a double agent - I am one of his greatest admirers. I think that he was a model spy. He was a very professional spy. He succeeded in tricking Israel. He is the person who more than anyone else should be credited with Egypt's success in deceiving Israel before the war of October, 1973."

Marwan himself has denied the charge against him in an interview he gave to the newspaper Saut al-Uma. He is an international businessman who divides his time between London and Egypt. He owns 3 percent of the shares in the Chelsea soccer team, and during the second half of the 1980s, he was involved in struggles for control of the prestigious London department store, Harrods. He joined up with British businessman "Tiny" Rowland (also a friend of Israel, who aided in promoting its security, especially by taking part in missions in Africa and in Sudan, ) and with Egyptian businessman Mohammed al-Fayed. The three worked jointly but later their paths diverged. Al-Fayed, who took control of Harrods, and Ashraf Marwan became fierce rivals, hurled accusations at each other and threatened each other with libel suits.

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