The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel by Uri Bar-Joseph

The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel by Uri Bar-Joseph is an excellent book about Ashraf Marwan, son-in-law to late Egyptian president Gamal Nasser.

Here is a synopsis of the book from the publisher:

A riveting feat of research and reportage, The Angel explores one of the twentieth century’s most compelling spy stories: the sensational life and suspicious death of Ashraf Marwan, a top-level Egyptian official who secretly worked for Israel’s Mossad.

As the son-in-law of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and a close adviser to his successor, Anwar Sadat, Ashraf Marwan had access to the deepest secrets of his country’s government. But Marwan had a secret of his own: He was a spy for the Mossad, Israel’s renowned intelligence service. Known to his handlers as “the Angel,” Marwan turned Egypt into an open book and saved Israel from a devastating defeat by tipping off the Mossad in advance of the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur in 1973.

Remarkably, Marwan eluded Egypt’s ruthless secret police for decades. In later years he enjoyed a luxurious life—but that would come to an abrupt end in 2007, when his body was found in a bed of roses in the garden below his apartment building in London. Police suspected he had been thrown from his balcony on the fifth floor, but the case has remained unsolved. Until now.

After Marwan died, details of his shadowy life were slowly revealed. Drawing on meticulous research and exclusive interviews with key figures involved, The Angel is the first book to discuss Marwan’s motives, how his identity as a Mossad spy was deliberately exposed by none other than the former chief of Israel’s Military Intelligence, and how the information he provided was used—and misused. Expanding on this focus, it sheds new light on the modern history of the Middle East and the crucial role of human espionage in shaping the fate of nations. And, for the first time, it answers the questions haunting Marwan’s legacy: In the end, whom did Ashraf Marwan really betray? And who killed him?

After reading the book and some comments about the book, I feel like I was living in a hole when Marwan was killed. I feel this way because I had never heard of him. I understand it was not as big of a deal in the U.S. due to his influence in Middle Eastern affairs, but those affairs affected our relations in the region (especially with key ally Israel).

Joseph painstakingly outlines Marwan’s relationship with Mossad. He explores Marwan’s motives for spying on Egypt for Egypt’s mortal enemy at the time. This discussion is fascinating because it delves into Marwan’s psyche – if Joseph is correct, Marwan’s reasoning does not completely make sense to me.

The most interesting part of the book is the Israeli response to the intelligence that Marwan fed to them. Based on Joseph’s account, it is almost too hard to believe that Israeli military intelligence was that completely inept when deciding not to believe the intelligence that Egypt was preparing to attack to start the Yom Kippur War. All indications were pointing to an attack, but many Israelis chose to not believe it because they had it in their minds that the Egyptians would not attack (they felt that the Egyptian military even thought they would fail in an attack). However, these Israelis did not take into account Sadat’s erratic thinking.

One final note is on Joseph’s scathing criticism of Eli Zeira, Israel’s director of Military Intelligence during the Yom Kippur War. Joseph claims that Zeira purposely revealed Marwan’s name. Zeira did this to defend his actions in not believing Marwan before the War. Zeira contended that Marwan was a double agent and was not to be trusted – Zeira tried to convince the general public of this in many ways.

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