Victim of the 'Espionage Game'

A new investigation is about to be launched in England over the mysterious 2007 death of Ashraf Marwan, the Mossad agent who warned Israel about Egypt's plan to launch the Yom Kippur War

A British coroner investigating death cases will renew the inquiry into the circumstances of the demise of Dr. Ashraf Marwan in London three years ago. The investigation is to be reopened in July, in part at the request of the family. Marwan fell to his death from the balcony of his London home in June 2007. His family claims that, contrary to initial assessments, he did not commit suicide, but was assassinated by Israeli agents. However, it is more likely that he was killed by Egyptian intelligence agents, who wanted to take revenge against him for betraying his homeland, after it was revealed in Israel that he had been a Mossad agent.

Ashraf Marwan (L) with his new wife Moni Nasser, shaking hands with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel N

Marwan was the son-in-law of the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and served as a special adviser to his successor, Anwar Sadat. In 1969, via the Israeli Embassy in London, he offered to serve as a spy for the Mossad. Initially, his offer was turned down, but later, an intelligence-gathering officer in the division that runs agents (the Tzomet division ) in the Mossad, decided to use him. The Mossad "handled" Marwan, but it was the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence - the body responsible for national intelligence assessment - that dealt with the reports transmitted by the Egyptian agent.

He provided Israel with large quantities of very valuable information, which repeatedly proved itself. Among other things, Marwan informed Israel about the strategic decision made by Sadat in October 1972 to go to war against it. He also revealed the Egyptian war plan and in May 1973, when there was a fear that Egypt was going to launch a war, he informed his handler that the Egyptians were actually preparing for maneuvers rather than fighting. This information, too, proved to be accurate, and saved Israel a lot of money, by not ordering an emergency call-up of its reserves. Some five months later, Marwan passed on the dramatic warning that on October 6, 1973 - Yom Kippur - there would be a war. Despite his warning, Israel decided not to launch a preemptive strike, fearing it would be accused of initiating the hostilities.

A few years after the war and after he had received over $1 million in exchange for the information he had supplied, contact with Marwan was severed. He moved to London and became a successful international businessman.

Eli Zeira, who had been MI chief before and during the 1973 war, and who, according to the 1974 commission of inquiry headed by Supreme Court president Shimon Agranat, was to blame for the intelligence failure leading up to the war, began in the 1990s to leak information to journalists to the effect that Ashraf Marwan had been a double agent who deliberately fed Israel false information, misled it and disrupted its preparations for war. Zeira did so in order to clear his name and to cast some blame on the Mossad.

After Israeli journalists and researchers specifically heard the name Ashraf Marwan from Zeira, some did not repeat Zeira's accusation and did not publish the agent's name, out of a sense of national responsibility and the concern that this could endager Marwan's life. Some did, however, including Dr. Ahron Bregman, a lecturer in political science at King's College London, American journalist Howard Bloom and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent Ronen Bergman.

In October 2003, journalist Shlomo Nakdimon wrote a letter of complaint to then-attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, over the leaking of the name of a Mossad agent to unauthorized persons - journalists and researchers. Rubinstein, via his aide Raz Nizri, replied that after consulting with various government bodies, he had decided not to open an investigation. About a year later, three former senior intelligence officials turned to Rubinstein's successor, Menachem Mazuz. The three - Col. Yossi Langotsky and Brig. Gen. Amos Gilboa, both reserve MI officers, and former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir - demanded that Mazuz put Zeira on trial for a grave, unprecedented act: revealing the name of an agent who worked for Israel.

Opinion on the matter among the Mossad leadership, in the wake of the reports, was divided. Several division heads, including "N.," the head of Tzomet and later the deputy of Mossad chief Meir Dagan, demanded serious action against Zeira. They claimed that Zeira's act was a blow to the "holy of holies" of an intelligence organization, namely its ability to recruit high-quality agents. Potential agents, they explained, would now be afraid to work with a country that was incapable of keeping a source's identity confidential. Dagan was opposed to this approach; he argued that taking action against Zeira would only arouse interest in the affair, and would be harmful to the agency's ability to recruit agents. Dagan's viewpoint apparently also influenced the State Prosecutor's Office, which started to drag its feet.

Meanwhile, Zamir and Zeira began to quarrel in public, accusing one another of lying, and eventually filing mutual lawsuits for slander. With the intervention of the Mossad, which wanted to remove the issue from the public agenda, they agreed to turn to an arbitrator to resolve the dispute. The Mossad also enabled Zamir to view secret files so he could prepare for the proceedings. The arbitrator who handled the issue, Theodor Or, former deputy president of the Supreme Court, heard testimony from almost all those involved in the affair, including journalists, investigators and intelligence people.

At the end of March 2007, Justice Or wrote that he was convinced that Ashraf Marwan was not a double agent, and therefore Zamir had not slandered Zeira. He found that Zamir had told the truth when he accused Zeira of leaking the name of the agent and exposing him. At the same time, Or's arbitration decision, which was published in June 2007, mentioned Ashraf Marwan by name. Although Marwan's name had appeared in the media since 2003, now it was mentioned in this context as well.

Foreign organizations such as Egyptian intelligence, which may not be well versed in the fine points of Israeli law, could see Or's arbitration decision as an official confirmation by the State of Israel of Ashraf's previous employment. A few weeks later, Marwan's body was found lying on the sidewalk near his home in London's Mayfair district. The London police began a long investigation, whose conclusions have yet to be released.

Now the coroner has also decided to begin an investigation, and intends to summon witnesses. Marwan's family has hired high-powered local attorneys, and is taking steps to have the inquest conducted before a jury. The family believes it will be able to convince a jury that it was the Mossad that sent assassins to kill Marwan. Among those scheduled to offer testimony is Ahron Bregman, one of the only people who kept in touch with Ashraf Marwan. A day before his death, Marwan called him, leaving three messages on his home phone; the two were scheduled to meet the day he died.

In an e-mail interview with Haaretz, Bregman expressed regret about his part in the affair.

"I didn't behave wisely when I hinted at Marwan's name and later published it," he says. "In hindsight it's a heavy burden, which is on my conscience and always will be. I don't like the term 'double agent.' Ashraf Marwan worked for both Israel and Egypt, as well as for the British and Italians. He did so, in my opinion, not entirely for money, nor because of ideology or something else - but simply because he was intrigued by the espionage game. Having said that, when the moment of truth came to decide between Israel and Egypt, he obviously opted for the latter, because at the end of the day, he was an Egyptian and it was there his loyalty lay."

Journalist Ronen Bergman is inclined to agree with Zeira's view that Marwan's credibility was compromised. "He delivered information unprecedented in its scope and validity, but he was a quadruple agent who served Israel, Egypt and Britain - but mainly served his own interests." Bergman believes that Marwan was murdered because of his business dealings.

Both Bregman and Bergman disregard a comprehensive examination relating to the handling of Marwan, which was carried out by the MI and the Mossad soon after the Yom Kippur War. The examination came to one clear conclusion: Marwan was a reliable and trustworthy agent of Israel.

Dr. Uri Bar-Yosef, a historian of the 1973 war at the University of Haifa, is convinced, on the basis of a thorough familiarity with the affair, that Ashraf Marwan was one of Israeli intelligence's best agents.

"The more time passes and the more details we have about the Ashraf Marwan affair," he says, "the more absurd the double agent theory looks. [For Marwan] to warn Israel that war was about to break out and [for us] to call that deception is ridiculous. Today it's clear that for almost a year - beginning in October 1972, the month in which Sadat decided not to wait any longer for long-range attack planes and Scud missiles, but that he would go to war with the weapons he had needed and wanted - Marwan passed on the details about the change in the Egyptian threshold conditions for going to war. The information transmitted by Marwan was in keeping with that coming from other sources. Marwan's information was more comprehensive, accurate and documented. Because even Zeira doesn't claim that the other sources were unreliable, it's not clear why they challenged and attacked Marwan's credibility and thus exposed his identity and led to his death."

The inquiry about to begin in London should also speed up the Israeli attorney general's handling of the affair. Yehuda Weinstein, Mazuz's successor, previously specialized mainly in criminal law, but security affairs involving the leaking of information liable to cause people's deaths are not foreign to him. The material is on his desk.

Local police have concluded their investigation of Zeira and believe there is enough evidence to file an indictment against the former MI chief. An attorney in the State Prosecutor's Office, who handled the case, also reached a similar conclusion.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said in response to a question from Haaretz: "A few weeks ago the file was transferred to the office of the attorney general and it is under examination."

Eli Zeira refused to respond.