2 February 1944
27 June 2007 (aged 63)|
London, United Kingdom
|Known for||Possible Egyptian or Israeli Spy|
|Spouse(s)||Mona Gamal Abdel Nasser|
|Children||Gamal Marwan, Ahmed Marwan|
Ashraf Marwan (أشرف مروان) (2 February 1944 – 27 June 2007) was an Egyptian billionaire. Marwan is remembered most famously for spying for the Israeli intelligence agency (the Mossad) during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, feeding Israel strategic information on the location of Egyptian military assets. His spying efforts is said to have reversed the tide of the war, resulting in Israel repositioning itself in the Sinai Peninsula and averting further losses.
From 1969, Marwan served in the Presidential Office, first under Nasser and, then as a close aide to his successor, President Anwar Sadat. In 2002 it became known that, during the period leading up to the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, Marwan spied for Israel (under the Mossad code-name "The Angel"). However, some Egyptian sources claim he was a double agent working for the Egyptian intelligence, although this has never been confirmed. His warning on 5 October 1973 that "war will start tomorrow", triggered an emergency Israeli military mobilization and prevented both a complete surprise on 6 October and the complete occupation of the Golan Heights by the Syrian Army a day later. Marwan died under mysterious circumstances in June 2007, falling from the balcony of his expensive London house.
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Zvi Zamir, the Mossad Chief who was one of Marwan’s handlers, describes him as "the best source we have ever had." Simon Parkin, a British journalist who investigated the case, regards him as the "20th century’s greatest spy." Others claim that Marwan was a "double-spy" who worked for Sadat and deceived the Israelis. Recent evidence has questioned this claim.
Early Life and education
Marwan was born in Egypt on 2 February 1944 to a respected family. His grandfather was the chief of the Sharia courts in Egypt, and his father, a military officer, reached the rank of General in the Egyptian Republican Guard. In 1965, at the age of 21, Marwan graduated Cairo University with a degree in chemical engineering and was conscripted into the army. At the same year he met Mona Nasser, the president’s second daughter, who was 17 at the time. She fell in love with him, but her father suspected that Marwan’s interest in his daughter stemmed more from her political status than her personal charms. Nevertheless, under her pressure, he agreed to the marriage, which took place in July 1966.
In 1968 Marwan started working in the Presidential Office under Sami Sharaf, Nasser’s aide-de-camp and the strong man of the Egyptian security service, who kept an eye on him. In late 1968 Marwan, Mona, and their new-born son, Gamal, left for London, allegedly for the continuation of Marwan’s studies. A few months later the young couple was ordered by Nasser, who was irritated by information concerning their lavish lifestyle, to return to Egypt, where Marwan continued working under Sami Sharaf.
Marwan’s service at the Presidential Office lasted eight years (1968-1976). Although, under Nasser, he held only a junior position, the president used him sometimes for delicate missions such as calming the crisis that erupted following General Saad al Shazly’s resignation from the army when his rival was nominated as chief of staff. Following Nasser’s death in September 1970, Marwan became a close aide to President Sadat, who needed him by his side in order to demonstrate that he had the support of Nasser’s family. In May 1971 Marwan played an important role in defeating an alleged coup attempt by Nasser’s loyalists, including Sami Sharaf, against Sadat’s rule. Following these events, known as the "Corrective Revolution," Sharaf was arrested and Sadat nominated Marwan to replace him. Despite his official title, Marwan was actually Sadat’s personal emissary, in charge of relations with Saudi Arabia and Libya.
In his new capacity, Marwan developed excellent relations with the Saudi and the Libyan leaderships. In Saudi Arabia he worked hand in hand with Kamal Adham, King Feisal’s brother-in-law, who established and supervised the Saudi security service. In Libya he was close to Muammar Gaddafi, and his counterpart for many missions was the Libyan Prime Minister, Abdessalam Jalloud. Both Saudi Arabia and Libya provided Egypt with critical financial and military assistance before the Yom Kippur War. Libya delivered to Egypt Mirage-5 aircraft that were considered critical for the coming war and which, under the French embargo, could not be sold directly to Egypt. Marwan managed this Libyan-Egyptian deal as well as other highly sensitive issues.
Secretary to the President of the Republic for Foreign Relations
After the 1973 War Marwan continued his way to the top. On 14 February 1974 he became Secretary to the President of the Republic for Foreign Relations, a new position that reflected Sadat’s ruling style. Given Sadat’s dissatisfaction with the conduct of his Foreign Minister, Ismail Fahmy, Marwan was considered as a candidate to replace him.
By this stage, however, he accumulated a considerable number of personal enemies, who accused him of using his position near Sadat to gain personal wealth. When these accusations gained momentum, Sadat had to yield to the pressure and in March 1976 he ended Marwan’s service in the Presidential Office.
Arab Organization for Industrialization
Marwan was nominated to head the Arab Organization for Industrialization, an arms production complex in Cairo that was financed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. Following additional political pressures, Sadat had to relieve him from this position in October 1978.!
Following Sadat’s assassination in October 1981, Marwan left Egypt and started a business career in London. He gained a reputation as a mysterious man who did not play according to the rules of the City. Among others he was involved in the failed attempt by Tiny Rowland to take over the House of Fraser – a group of department stores, whose jewel in the crown was Harrods, where the English aristocracy used to shop. Marwan amassed significant wealth which has, to this day, never been disclosed.
Lead-up to Yom Kippur War
Egypt had begun preparing a war with the aim of retaking the Sinai Peninsula that it had lost to the Israelis in the 1967 Six Day War. Marwan’s unparalleled access to his nation’s best-kept secrets, especially after his promotion in May 1971, allowed him to provide Israel with information about the coming war—including the full Egyptian war plans, detailed accounts of military exercises, original documentation of Egypt’s arm deals with the Soviet Union and other countries, the Egyptian military Order of Battle, the minutes from meetings of the high command, accounts of Sadat’s private conversations with other Arab leaders, and even the protocols of secret summit meetings in Moscow between Sadat and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. As a senior Israeli intelligence officer had said, by providing these documents Marwan turned his country, Israel’s main enemy, into an open book.
The information Marwan provided made its way to the desks of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) chief of staff in raw form. It shaped Israel’s strategic and tactical approach to Egypt and allowed the Israelis a direct look at Egypt’s war calculus, including Sadat’s minimal requirements for launching a war. These were mainly long-range attack aircraft and Scud missiles, without which Egypt would not be able to overcome Israeli air superiority.
Yom Kippur War
In October 1973 Sadat decided to launch war without waiting for these arms and Egypt accelerated its war preparations. Marwan reported on Sadat's decision and the military preparations for war but personally he expressed the estimate that ultimately Egypt would be deterred from militarily challenging Israel. Nevertheless, in April he (as well as other Mossad sources), warned that Egypt planned to attack in mid-May. Israel raised its state-of military readiness, but war did not come, probably because President Assad of Syria convinced Sadat to delay it until Syria was better prepared to occupy the Golan Heights. Known in Israel as "the Blue-White" alert, this episode eroded Israeli fear of an Arab attack. Consequently, by fall 1973, when Egypt and Syria geared to war, military intelligence leaders, including Eli Zeira, refused to accept, despite numerous warnings and warning indicators, that the Arabs plan to attack. Accordingly, Israel’s leadership avoided the mobilization of the reserve army which in 1973 constituted 80% of the IDF ground forces.
On Thursday, 4 October, about 44 hours before war launched, Marwan called Dubi, his Mossad handler in London, and asked to meet urgently the Mossad chief in order to talk about "a lot of chemicals" (code –name for war). The meeting took place on Friday late at night in London and Marwan informed Zamir that "war would start tomorrow." As became evident recently, he did not know the exact D-Day when calling Dubi on Thursday and learned about it only after arriving in London on Friday morning. Because of this warning, Israel began mobilizing its forces on the morning of 6 October—hours before the attack was launched. Marwan’s warning prevented a complete Egyptian surprise. Without it, the entire Golan Heights would have been lost, and the war likely would have ended with far greater Israeli losses of both territory and life. During the war he met with Zamir once more in order to explain Sadat's warnings in a speech in the Egyptian Parliament , to launch missiles on Israel. The meeting took place in Paris on October 18.
Post Yom Kippur War
On October 28, a few days after the war ended and two days before Golda Meir started critical talks in the White House, Zamir conferred with "the Angel" once more to get information about Sadat's goals in the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations that were to start.
Marwan continued working for the Mossad until 1998 and was handled throughout this period by his single case officer, Dubi. His identity as a spy for Israel was revealed in December 2002, by the London-based Israeli historian Ahron Bregman, who claimed that Marwan was a double-spy who deceived the Israelis. Bregman’s source was Maj. Gen. (ret.) Eli Zeira, the director of Israel’s Military Intelligence in the 1973 War and the main culprit in the intelligence fiasco prior to the war.
Marwan married Mona Abdel Nasser in the 1960s. One of Marwan's sons was married to the daughter of former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. His other son, Gamal, is the owner of the television group "Melody" and a close friend of Gamal Mubarak, the son of former Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.
Marwan died on 27 June 2007 outside his flat in Carlton House Terrace, London. The cause of death was traumatic aortic rupture following a fall from the balcony of his fifth-floor apartment. News reports indicate that the Metropolitan Police Service increasingly believe Marwan was murdered, a belief also held by Marwan's eldest son, Gamal. Marwan's funeral in Egypt was led by Egypt's highest-ranked religious leader, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, and attended by, amongst others, Gamal Mubarak, son of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. According to President Mubarak, "Marwan carried out patriotic acts which it is not yet time to reveal." Following a case review in January 2008, the investigation was transferred to the Specialist Crime Directorate, both because of its public nature and because the shoes Marwan was wearing when he fell, key evidence in the case, had been lost.
One witness, who was on the third floor of a nearby building, told police that he saw two men "wearing suits and of Mediterranean appearance" appear on the balcony moments after Marwan's fall, look down, and then return inside the apartment. Police are also reported to have lost Marwan's shoes, which could hold clues on whether or not Marwan jumped from the balcony.
Marwan is the fourth Egyptian of note to die in London in a similar manner. The others, all of whom were involved in Egyptian politics between 1966 and 1971, are actress Suad Hosni; Egyptian ambassador to Greece Al-Leithy Nassif; and Ali Shafeek, secretary in the office of former Egyptian Vice President Abdel Hakim Amer.
At the time of the investigation, Marwan's wife said she believed the Mossad was behind his death. However, an analysis in The Guardian found this scenario to be unlikely: "For one thing, killing a former agent after his name is revealed would seem to be a major disincentive for new recruits. Even if Israel believed that Marwan was a double agent, working for the Egyptians, better to do nothing and, through their silence, imply he was faithful to their cause." Further, Marwan was at least the third Egyptian living in London to die under similar circumstances, all of whom had ties with the Egyptian security services.
Egyptian journalist Amr Ellissy conducted an investigation into Marwan's death for his documentary series Ekhterak, broadcast on Egyptian television in six episodes on the first anniversary of Marwan's death. Ekhterak was filmed in Marwan's London apartment and included interviews with his son, a witness, and acquaintances of Marwan. Ellissy published his book The Agent Babel in Arabic through Dar Al Shorouq press, and it was launched on 2 February 2009.
The British magazine Private Eye also followed the story closely and suggested that there was considerable cause for suspicion surrounding the circumstances of Marwan's death.
Ahron Bregman, published in 2016 a book on his relationship with Ashraf Marwan, titled The Spy Who Fell to Earth. In 2017, Salon Productions purchased the rights to turn the book into a feature documentary.
Professor Uri Bar-Joseph wrote a book published in 2016 titled The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, which was later used as the basis of a Netflix film. Bar-Joseph's book addresses whether Marwan was a genuine spy or a double agent. In a review of the book in the CIA's Studies in Intelligence, Thomas G. Coffey states that the book persuasively "argues that the nature of the intelligence Marwan gave the Israelis was simply too destructive of Egyptian interests" for Marwan to have been a double agent, and that it offers "a convincing defense" against the claim that the intelligence he provided was "late, flawed, and of little practical use."
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