Book Review: The Angel – The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel

What would motivate someone who lives a life steeped in success, status and power to deliver their nation’s most guarded secrets to its most dreaded enemy?

In Uri Bar-Joseph’s most recent book, The Angel, the answer is revealed as the reader follows a treacherous and circuitous route from Cairo to London to Tel Aviv. What turned out to be an extraordinary journey began in an iconic London red phone booth. It was from that booth that a call was clandestinely placed to the Mossad with an offer to spy for them. That call came from a most unlikely source, President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s son-in-law, Ashraf Marwan.

Although Nasser was unaware of his son-in-law’s treachery, he despised him nonetheless because he regarded him as an opportunist who only married his daughter, Mona, to gain access to money, power and prestige. But to the Israelis Marwan seemed heaven sent. Hence they dubbed him with the Hebrew code name Hamal’ach, The Angel.

On Yom Kippur of October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. The Israel Defense Forces were caught unprepared in spite of the fact that Marwan, Israel’s most reliable spy, warned that an attack was imminent. Tragically the upper echelons of the Israeli intelligence community ignored his alert and stubbornly clung to their preconceived notion that their hostile southern and eastern neighbors were not militarily strong enough to attack them. That was a grave mistake and Israel paid dearly for it.

The gravity of Israel’s miscalculation finally convinced the IDF Command to heed Marwan’s steady stream of strategic and tactical intelligence. As a result Israel was able to fend off the Syrians in the north and Egyptians in the south and thus regain control over the Golan and Sinai. Marwan’s status as a reliable spy was thus secured. In a short time, Marwan reaped large financial rewards as a result of his treasonous activities combined with his questionable business practices. However, unbeknownst to him, ominous clouds of discontent were gathering around him from all directions.

Flush with sudden success and cash, he lived a flamboyant and reckless life, with little regard for anyone or anything other than his hedonistic lifestyle. Consequently he garnered a host of enemies. Even his once close alliance with the Mossad was negatively impacted due to the ironic occurrence of a bizarre technological glitch.

Marwan’s eventual fall from favor among his cohorts and cronies was as predictable as it was inevitable. Tragically, Marwan’s life ended when he fell to his death from the balcony of his five story London apartment. The question as to whether his death was the result of an accident, suicide or murder still looms as a subject for debate.

Uri Bar-Joseph is no stranger to the world of secrecy, deception, and academia. He served as an intelligence analyst in the Israel Defense Forces and is currently a professor of political science at Haifa University. His portrayal of events bears the imprint of both experience and research, which he supports with ample footnotes. Although his book is non-fiction it reads like fiction because of the narrative technique he employs throughout the book. I highly recommend this book; it gives the reader insights into the disparate driving forces propelling historic events often hidden behind a veil of secrecy. It is a story that personifies the Middle East.


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