The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, by Uri Bar-Joseph, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016, $29.99
When Ashraf Marwan, son-in-law of former Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser and friend to successive Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, fell from the balcony of his apartment in London in 2007, it closed a chapter in history—or, perhaps, opened another. In The Angel, translated by David Hazony, Bar-Joseph—a political scientist at the University of Haifa and former intelligence analyst in the Israeli Defense Forces—has published the results of his investigation into Marwan’s death, who killed him and why. Those questions center on just who Marwan was—either an Egyptian double agent working for/against Israeli military intelligence and/or its rival intelligence agency the Mossad, or an unambiguous spy for the Israelis who since 1969 had provided them with vital intelligence, including information that mitigated the consequences of the October 1973 Egyptian invasion that launched the Yom Kippur War.
Marwan’s story requires the exposition of myriad factors beyond the simple enmity between Arabs and Israelis. The Mossad and Israeli military intelligence were prone to work at cross-purposes, sometimes with tragic results. The Egyptians, on the other hand, were driven as much by tribal and family honor as by nationalism, factors the author suggests may have induced them to kill the traitor in their midst whose public outing would have embarrassed his own tribe and all those in high places who had trusted him. It all adds up to an intriguing yarn leading to a logical set of conclusions—even though, as the author maintains, the evidence, however compelling, remains circumstantial.