40th Anniversary of Yom Kippur War: Arguing Still About Israel’s Intelligence Failure

The director of the Mossad — Israel’s foreign intelligence agency — at the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Zvi Zamir, is emphasizing the reliability of his key Egyptian agent in Cairo.

It’s ironic, of course, to hear Zamir defend Ashraf Marwan — the son-in-law of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser and a senior aide to President Anwar Sadat in 1973 who also was a paid agent for the Mossad. After all, one of the best inside tips in the history of espionage — a warning of a military strike about to occur — was practically ignored where it truly counted.

In a dramatic meeting in London on Friday, October 5, Marwan told Zamir that Egypt and Syria would — the next day — stage a coordinated surprise attack on Israel.

Ashraf Marwan, the high-level Egyptian who spied for the Mossad

Zamir believed it. Even now, he is saying (at a conference in Tel Aviv) that Ashraf Marwan’s warning should have been heeded, and if it was off by a few hours (in specifying the planned attack time) that was not some attempt by Marwan to mislead the Israelis.

The military intelligence agency Aman did not believe Marwan’s warning. The commander of Aman, who was forced to resign in disgrace the following year, is Eli Zeira. He was also at that Tel Aviv conference, listing several failures he felt sorry about — including a failure to understand the culture of Egypt, including the deep sense of humiliation caused by the Six-Day War of 1967 and Egypt’s intense desire to score a military triumph against the Israelis.

Two men in their 80s — Zamir and Zeira — are still arguing about it. An added element of the mystery is the still unexplained death of Marwan, who’d become a wealthy international businessman, but fell to his death from his apartment’s balcony in London in 2007.

Zamir came up with an extra fact that historians generally did not know: that Marwan also gave the Mossad a step-by-step plan of how the Egyptian attack in the Sinai would proceed, such as the schedule for the advance of Egypt’s tanks across the Suez Canal and past the Israeli defenses (the Bar-Lev Line) that had failed to hold.

October 6, 2013

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