Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy

A decades-old Mossad document reveals that Egypt may have been tipped off about the Israeli attack in June 1967 by a high-ranking IDF officer. Who he was is still an enigma. Why nobody tried to find out is another question.

Amir Oren
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Amir Oren

He had a close relationship to the top brass, was trusted by all. He knew when the army would attack. In fact, he was a spy. He worked for the enemy. He handed over critical information. Years later, when his cover was blown, some claimed he was a double agent.

This is the story of Ashraf Marwan, the Egyptian who alerted Israel that Anwar Sadat would attack Israel on Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973. Could he have had an Israeli "double" - a senior army officer who spied for Egypt and who, in June 1967, let his handlers there know when the event that eventually became known as the Six-Day War would begin?

An Egyptian plane that was hit by Israel on the first day of the Six-Day War.Credit: AFP

This intriguing possibility emerges from a Mossad document discovered by Haaretz investigative reports editor Gidi Weitz. Last month, while rummaging through material at the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem related to his area of expertise, crime and politics, Weitz came across a box packed with fascinating documents: correspondence between former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and U.S. President Jimmy Carter from 1977.

Until the recent toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak - who had been Sadat's deputy and one of the few people privy to his plans to make a groundbreaking trip to Jerusalem - these documents would have mainly interested historians. Their importance may now prove timely, if the new Egyptian regime renounces the peace agreement with Israel that went into effect in 1982, after Sadat was murdered by members of the same Egyptian Army now being portrayed as constituting a bulwark against religious zealotry.

The most riveting document in the pile seems to have found its way to the state archives through a blessed mistake. Its contents were actually revealed 30 years ago, but not the identity of its author. In any event, it is rare that the state archivist gives the public access to Mossad documents.

The author, it turns out, was Joseph Porat, director of the Mossad bureau in Morocco, perhaps better known as the husband of Cameri Theater actress Orna Porat. He was the person who took notes at the meeting between Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, then Begin's emissary, and Egypt's Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Touhami, who represented Sadat. In the document, the Israelis are referred to as "MD" and "Joseph."

Four typewritten-pages long, the document was written on September 17, 1977, the morning after a meeting that began at 9 P.M. It is not a full transcript of the conversation, merely the highlights. More than half is devoted to remarks made by Touhami. It also includes comments from the host, Morocco's King Hassan II, and his foreign minister, Ahmed Lariki. (Morocco's prime minister and minister of the court were also present. ) Dayan's responses are not included.

The joint summation of the meeting was as follows: Dayan was to immediately report to Begin and request his approval to continue the diplomatic process. If the aforementioned clauses were approved, another "working meeting" would be held between Dayan and Touhami in a week or so.

These secret contacts became public knowledge after Sadat visited Israel, but the question still looms: Did Dayan commit Israel to a full withdrawal from the Sinai during these talks? Did he promise Sadat, via Touhami, that Israel would pull back to the international border with Egypt? And if so, did Begin authorize him to do so, or did Dayan make this commitment without Begin's knowledge, thereby surrendering in advance Israel's key bargaining chip in the negotiations?

From a diplomatic perspective, this whole subject has been flogged to death, including in Dayan's book "Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel Peace Negotiations," published in 1981, the year he died. Dayan's version includes a description of that meeting that fully corroborates Porat's account, but enhances it with color and quotes of his own. According to the Porat document, Touhami reiterated that Sadat's willingness to embark on peace talks hinged, first and foremost, on Begin's acceptance of the principle of "the evacuation of Arab occupied territories." All of them, not just the Sinai.

Since the Porat document does not disclose how Dayan responded to Touhami, there is nothing to indicate that the Israeli foreign minister did not, in essence, begin the process from the end - just as he did when, as chief of staff, he planned the 1956 Sinai Campaign by "starting the war from the end" and dropping paratroopers at the Mitla Pass (thus creating a pretext for British-French intervention in the adjacent Suez Canal zone). But the circumstantial and indirect evidence, including the Egyptian demand that Begin accept the principle of withdrawal, indicated that no tacit agreement of this kind existed. The Egyptians knew who called the shots in Israel. It was not Dayan.

With all the attention focused on this question, however, the last part of the document has been completely ignored: the story that the Egyptians had a top-level source inside the Israel Defense Forces on the eve of the Six-Day War. Porat reported that Touhami absolutely despised Sadat's predecessor, President Gamal Abdel Nasser: "He asked MD" whether "Nasser had conspired with him when Nasser sent [the army's commander] Abdel Hakim Amer with an airplane to an inspection tour just when [Israeli] planes attacked at 8 A.M. on the morning of June 6, 1967."

According to Touhami, Nasser knew when Israel would strike because the date of the 1967 attack "was given to the Egyptians by an agent, a high-ranking Israeli officer who gave the date as between June 3 and June 6, 1967." These are the words that appear in the Porat document. Furthermore, Dayan wrote in his book: "Egyptian intelligence had an agent in a strategic position, a senior officer in the Israeli army, who said that the attack would be launched between June 3 and 6."

This is sensational even when one bears in mind that remarks made by this particular person should be treated with caution or even suspicion: Touhami was known to be strange. Perhaps he invented the story about the spy in order to back up his hallucinatory ideas about the collaboration between Dayan and Nasser. Still, this was someone involved in nuclear and intelligence affairs. For a while, he enjoyed a similar position under Sadat that Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, did under Mubarak.

When someone of this stature tells a high-ranking defense figure like Dayan, as well as the Mossad representative, that Egypt had a spy in Israel, he can assume that the information would be verified, and that either the spy would be discovered or he would not - which could be quite embarrassing for Israel. Touhami's remark would then turn out to be either a costly slip of the tongue or a trick to fool Israel. After all, at the time, only 10 years had elapsed since the Six-Day War. It would not have been too difficult to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.

As far as can be established more than three decades later, no such investigation - as surprising as it may sound - was ever carried out. Touhami's remarks were not followed up by investigations in the Shin Bet security services or in Military Intelligence. The relevant organizations in Israel did not search for, and therefore did not find, the spy Touhami had referred to.

The first reason nothing was done was that the Dayan-Touhami exchanges were kept top secret; Begin knew nothing about them and neither did Dayan's nemesis, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. That explains why even senior officers serving under Weizman - the chief of staff, Motta Gur, and the director of MI, Shlomo Gazit - were kept in the dark. It didn't help that Gazit enjoyed a long friendship with Dayan, going back to the days when Dayan headed the operations branch of the army and Gazit ran his bureau. For seven years, Gazit served as coordinator of government activities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while Dayan was defense minister, and it was Dayan who promoted him to the rank of major general.

One of Dayan's last moves, following the publication of the Agranat Commission report on the Yom Kippur War and the resignation of Eli Zeira, the director of MI, was to appoint Gazit in Zeira's place. It seems unlikely that Dayan would have kept his contacts with Sadat's representative a secret from such a close confidant, but that is exactly what happened.

The second reason nothing was done is that after Sadat visited Jerusalem, MI was preoccupied with new challenges regarding operational and political assessments. Only toward the end of his tour of duty, in February 1979, did Gazit find time to have a look the Porat document. The reference to the spy did not prompt any action on his part. Gazit did not forward the document to Avraham Ahituv, the head of the Shin Bet security service - even though Ahituv was certainly aware of the meeting with Touhami, considering that his bodyguards had accompanied Dayan to Morocco.

But even if those who should have been in the know were not made aware of Touhami's comments in real time or were too busy to follow up on them, their successors or subordinates should have rushed into action the moment Dayan presented the draft of his book to the ministerial committee that vetted it, or after the book was published. Perhaps this inaction reflected the assessment that Touhami was alluding to the double agent code-named "Yated" - Rif'at Ali al-Gamal, whom the Egyptians planted in Israel under the false identity of Jacques Bitton, even though his cover was blown and he was eventually used against the Egyptians. Reference to the Yated affair appears in Amira Shahar's recently published history of the IDF's information security unit.

Gazit, as head of MI's research division during the Six-Day War, knew that Yated was being used to deceive the Egyptians ever since the mid-1950s. So did Ahituv at the Shin Bet. Yated provided the Egyptians with a false assessment of the air force's strengths and tactics, thereby allowing Israel to successfully carry out Operation Moked and destroy the Egyptian air force in its bases on the morning of June 5, 1967.

Ashraf Marwan was an agent. Yated/Bitton, who after his death in Germany in 1982 was portrayed in Egypt as an intelligence hero, was a source but not an agent - someone who presented information he received from others, including senior officers.

The big secret Israel kept about the war was the time the air attack would be launched - in other words, when the planes would be over their targets. Had this secret come out, the Egyptian air force would have taken off from its airfields for the second time that morning, after returning from patrols at dawn, and Israeli pilots would have found the bases empty, putting them at a disadvantage in the ensuing dogfights. Keeping that secret made all the difference between a momentous success and a terrible defeat.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's government decided at noon on Friday, June 2, to go to war "not before Monday, June 5."

Yitzhak Rabin, chief of staff at the time, wrote that the decision was made at a meeting attended by Eshkol, Dayan, Ministers Yigal Allon and Abba Eban, the director general of the Prime Minister's Office Yaakov Herzog and himself. On Saturday night, the decision was approved in a session attended by the same people, along with the head of the Mossad, Meir Amit, and Israel's ambassador to the United States, Avraham Harman. The official authorization was given the following morning by the cabinet. The planes were assigned to be over their targets at 7:45 A.M., according to a decision taken at a meeting of the chief of General Staff and the generals at 7 P.M., roughly 12 hours before the attack.

So, then, how did the Egyptians find out, if indeed they did, that the IDF would start a war between June 3 and June 6? Is that what Yated reported? Alternatively, was this information that Yated made up in order to impress his superiors - or the outcome of a conclusion and a guess that happened to be right? Or was Touhami alluding to another top-level agent whose cover had not been blown?

The Porat memo that Gidi Weitz stumbled upon does not provide any answers. It merely raises questions and suggests that the secrecy shrouding intelligence documents, even after dozens of years, may protect sources, methods and achievement, but may also cover up negligence and mishaps.