The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel

Harper/ An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers  2016


Uri Bar-Joseph has written two “books” under the title The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel. The first book is a biographical portrait of Ashraf Marwan, loathed son-in-law of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and trusted advisor (until he wasn’t) of Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadar. Bar-Joseph argues that Marwan’s life was ended when he was assassinated in his London home (by business associates, the Mossad, or Egyptian intelligence) while living out his final years as a wealthy international businessman, effectively exiled from his country of origin. The second book is a thriller of how the Mossad recruited Marwan, used the intelligence he provided to defend Israel and Israeli interests abroad—most critically during the Yom Kippur War—and then released his identity as a Mossad agent to the world. Both “books” are well worth reading, the former more so than the latter.

Since it was revealed that Marwan was a Mossad agent, the debate over Marwan’s true loyalties has centered on whether he was a double agent for Egyptian intelligence. Bar-Joseph successfully convinces the skeptical reader that an ambitious Egyptian national, born into a well-respected nationalistic Egyptian family, married to the daughter of the most revered Arab leader since the twelfth-century sultan Saladin, with no known Zionist sympathies or pan-national Arab antipathies, was no double agent for Egyptian intelligence. In fact, Bar-Joseph argues, he willingly provided, for relatively little money and at great personal risk, reliable and important information to Israeli intelligence over a long period of time. This information saved many Israeli lives and allowed Israel the opportunity to call up reserves during the Yom Kippur War in time to prevent the Syrians from recapturing the Golan Heights.

Bar-Joseph demonstrates that Marwan betrayed his country by effectively rebutting counter-evidence to suggest he was a double agent. The most interesting parts of this analysis occur when Bar-Joseph addresses how Egypt’s response to Marwan’s death—including the funeral honors accorded him by Sadat’s successor and president of Egypt at the time of Marwan’s death, Hosni Mubarak—further prove that Marwan was no double agent.

Bar-Joseph also delves into Marwan’s personality to show how his decision to betray Egypt compares with the personalities and motives of other twentieth-century traitors. The best parts of this analysis occur when Bar-Joseph shows how Marwan’s ambition, spite, ego (and, of course, opportunity) caused him to make the decision to betray his country. These parts could have benefited from a more thorough comparison to other twentieth-century traitors.

The second “book” reads like the John le Carre novel after which it is stylistically modeled. A question that runs through this narrative is whether or not the highest levels of Israeli intelligence, military, and government trust the information that Marwan provides—and how their continued skepticism impacts the Israeli government's decisions in the lead-up to the Yom Kippur War.

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