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News ::
01 Sep 2003

Double vision:[Daily Edition]
Abraham Rabinovich. Jerusalem Post.

Three decades after the Yom Kippur War, Ashraf Marwan has been all but revealed as Israel's secret savior - or was he its most cunning betrayer? Abraham Rabinovich is presently writing a book on the Yom Kippur War.

Almost 30 years after the Yom Kippur War, an answer has been offered to the most intriguing mystery remaining from that epic event - who warned Israel of the impending attack at almost the last moment?

An Israeli historian living in England, Dr. Aharon Bregman has named the agent as none other than Ashraf Marwan, son-in-law of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Still a prominent figure in the Egyptian establishment, Marwan was then a member of the inner circle around Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat.

Bregman contends that Marwan was actually a double agent who was serving Egypt at a time when Israel considered him a super spy on its behalf. It is a contention that will doubtless raise numerous eyebrows in Israel.

"The Source," as the agent is referred to in the report written by the Agranat Commission of inquiry into the war, was a "walk-in" who entered an Israeli embassy in a European capital in 1969 and offered his services for cash. Such an offer would naturally be received with suspicion, but the Mossad concluded after an extensive check that whatever his motives, the man was not a double agent. The information he provided in the coming years on Egypt and the Arab world would be reckoned priceless by the heads of Israel's intelligence community and defense minister Moshe Dayan.

In his book The Watchman who Slept, Uri Bar-Yosef notes that The Source's reports were considered so valuable that instead of being summed up by military intelligence along with other reports, they were distributed in their entirety to the top political and military leadership. The bulk of the information he provided proved accurate, but he was sometimes wrong, as in December 1972 and the spring of 1973, when he warned of war which did not come.

It was The Source who informed Israel that Sadat would not go to war until he had acquired long-range bombers that could hit Israeli airbases and Scud missiles that could serve as a deterrent against Israeli strikes at the Egyptian heartland. This came to be known in Israel as "the concept" - Sadat's concept - which in turn became the basis of an Israeli belief that there was no danger of war with Egypt until those conditions had been met. Thus, despite mounting signs of Arab war preparations in the period preceding Yom Kippur 1973, the head of Israel's military intelligence branch, Gen. Eli Zeira, insisted that Egypt was not going to war because it had only one squadron of long-range bombers and no operational Scuds.

By late 1972, however, Sadat had abandoned "the concept." Instead of waiting for the Soviets to provide long-range bombers and Scuds, he decided to stage a limited attack into western Sinai in order to shatter the status quo and spur the international community to set a political process in motion that would end with Israel's return to the international border. The Source failed to notify Israel of this change in policy, either because he was unaware of it or, as the double-agent school might contend, because he was part of the Egyptian deception.

Gen. Zeira, in a book published 10 years ago, was the first to express the belief that The Source was a double agent who had lulled Israel into believing Egypt would not go to war. Zeira noted The Source's two earlier false reports of war, and the fact that his final warning, on the eve of Yom Kippur, left insufficient time, in the Egyptian view, for the IDF to mobilize.

Zeira's critics say his double-agent theory is a transparent attempt to shift blame from himself to the Mossad, which "ran" The Source and certified his legitimacy. Zeira was forced to leave the army as a result of the Agranat Commission's findings. He subsequently developed a successful career as an adviser on intelligence matters to foreign governments.

IT IS known that The Source contacted his case officer in the European capital Thursday evening, October 4, some 40 hours before Egypt and Syria launched their attack. He asked to meet with the head of the Mossad, Zvi Zamir, and let drop a code word for war. Zamir flew to Europe on Friday, and met that night with The Source, who said war would break out at dusk the next day, about 6 p.m., and spelled out changes in the Egyptian war plan - a plan which was known to Israel. It was Zamir's phone call to Israel in the early hours of Yom Kippur morning that set the alarm bells ringing. The chief of staff, Gen. David Elazar, was wakened at 4:30 a.m. after prime minister Golda Meir and Dayan had been called, and he ordered the military machine put in motion.

The Source had given the wrong zero hour - the war began at 2 p.m., not 6 p.m. - but zero hour had indeed been 6 p.m., and had been changed only the day before his phone call at a meeting in Damascus between Syrian and Egyptian officers.

Brief as it was, The Source's warning was critical. It gave the Israeli leaders some 10 hours in which to adjust their mindsets to the prospect of imminent war, to start planning and to begin the mobilization process with decorum, not panic.

Had the warning not been received, the Golan Heights would almost certainly have fallen the next day. As it was, hundreds of Syrian tanks broke through the Israeli lines during the night and captured the southern half of the Heights. When they got underway in the morning to complete the job, they found their way blocked by the first Israeli reserve tank units, which had mounted the Heights at dawn. Had it not been for the few hours' warning provided by The Source, there would have been nothing to stop the five Syrian divisions from overrunning the Heights. They would have been able to encircle the Seventh Brigade, which was holding the northern half of the line, and complete their plans to draw up a defense line along the Jordan River at the foot of the Golan to prevent the reserves from mounting.

Had the Golan fallen, it presumably would have obliged the IDF to shift forces northwards from the Egyptian front, where Israeli forces were already reeling - two-thirds of a tank division had been knocked out in the first day's fighting.

That Israel was spared these desperate scenarios - the ones it was experiencing were desperate enough - was due entirely to The Source's warning, which makes it difficult to accept the thesis that he was a double agent.

Bregman first alluded to Marwan in an article he wrote for Yediot Achronot last September and in his book "A History of Israel", when he said The Source was a relative of Nasser and was referred to within the Mossad as "the in-law." Until then, any Israelis in the know had been careful not to allude in any way to the identity of The Source, presumably not to harm him but also not to harm the chances of recruiting other well- placed sources in the future. When word of the article reached the Egyptian media, they deduced that the reference was to Marwan, who had married Nasser's daughter, Muna. He had carried out sensitive diplomatic missions on behalf of the Egyptian government, served as bureau chief for Sadat, and was said to be a liaison between the president and the intelligence services. He has since become a wealthy businessman who owns 3% of the Chelsea soccer team and spends much of his time in London.

The Cairo newspaper Saut al-Uma asked Marwan to comment on the insinuation in the Yediot article.

"An absurd detective story," he replied.

The Al-Ahram newspaper then interviewed Bregman, who confirmed that he had been referring to Marwan. Noting Marwan's dismissive remark, Bregman justified himself by saying "I have to defend my good name as an historian, and I cannot accept this."

Bregman evidently did not think that his allegation would result in Marwan's being strung up in Cairo's Tahrir Square as a traitor, since he portrays him as an Egyptian hero.

"I am one of his greatest admirers," Bregman is quoted in Al- Ahram as saying. "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."

Bregman does not reveal the source of his allegation, but he is apparently the first person to publicly echo Zeira's double-agent thesis.

The revelation, if such it be, raises the interesting question of a double-agent's role in history. In Egypt, if the Zeira-Bregman thesis is accepted there, he would be honored as the man who brilliantly deceived Israel and set it up for a stunning blow. In Israel, he will be remembered as the man who saved the country from catastrophe.

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