Jewish Journal


July 13, 2012

The war over the leak about the spy during the war



Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan during the Yom Kippur War (Photo: Reuters)

A different and shorter version of the following article appeared earlier ‎this week in the IHT-NYT.

It is a story almost 40 years old, yet still painful as a fresh wound. On ‎Monday, it emerged that Israel’s Attorney General has decided to not to ‎indict a former head of Military Intelligence for allegedly leaking the ‎identity of an Egyptian spy. ‎

The former MI chief, retired general Eli Zeira, is 84 years old. His chief ‎accuser, former head of Mossad Zvi Zamir, is 88. The alleged spy, ‎Ashraf Marwan, is dead. His broken body was found five years ago on a ‎sidewalk in London. ‎

Did Marwan fall from the balcony of his home in June 2007? Was he ‎pushed to his death? Zamir believes that Israel risked the life of its most ‎valuable source ever, by not being strict enough about keeping secrets. ‎Zeira believes that Marwan was a double agent – that his last-minute ‎warning before the 1973 Yom Kippur War was meant to deceive Israel. ‎

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Such tale, such drama.  Over the last two years, I have had to immerse ‎myself in many of the details of this endless debate, having been the ‎editor in charge of two books about it: The Angel, by Prof. Uri Bar Yosef, ‎the most detailed account to date of Marwan’s story; and Zamir’s book ‎on the Yom Kippur War, Eyes Wide Open. ‎

Zamir’s book begins with a long flight after a meeting in London ‎with “Zvika’s friend” – Marwan.  He was heading back to Israel, shortly ‎after the meeting in which he was informed that war with Egypt was ‎imminent. ‎

“Ben-Gurion Airport was shut down. After hours of waiting in ‎Cyprus, our pilot, Danny, was permitted to fly home, in the evening, at ‎low altitude. I remember not liking this flight in the dark”. ‎

Marwan was the son-in-law of the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, ‎and adviser to his successor, Anwar Sadat. Four years before the war, ‎in 1969, Marwan contacted Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, and a long ‎relationship with Zamir ensued. ‎

The Yom Kippur War found Israel unprepared. General Zeira and other ‎Military Intelligence officers believed that Sadat would not dare attack, ‎and ignored all signs to the contrary, including those provided by ‎Marwan via Zamir to the government. In Zamir’s tale, catastrophic ‎results could have been prevented, if only his warning had had an ‎earlier and more serious hearing. ‎

Zeira and others believe that Marwan deliberately delayed his ‎notification. “The coded warning that Zamir phoned in… could have ‎been sent a critical day earlier”, wrote military analyst Amir Oren. ‎

Years have passed, but the war over the war has refused to subside. ‎Zeira has been talking to journalists and researchers trying to convince ‎them that Marwan was a double agent, and that Zamir, just like him, fell ‎prey to Egyptian trickery. This claim was quite convincingly refuted in ‎Bar Yosef’s book, which is the most comprehensive account of ‎Marwan’s personal story, his relations with the Mossad, but also of the ‎debates surrounding his true motives, and the revelation of his ‎identity. ‎

His name was publicized. It is a long story, but Bar Yosef gives details of ‎meetings in which Zeira provided very specific hints that led other ‎people to the exact name. In 2004, Zamir blamed Zeira for leaking the ‎name of a source, and, along with other former intelligence officers, ‎demanded action against Zeira. ‎

Zeira denied his involvement in any leaking of the name, and sued ‎Zamir for slander. But in 2007, a senior judge appointed to examine the ‎case ruled against Zeira. The Attorney General was left with this hot ‎potato on his desk: Should he indict the aged general for leaking the ‎name of the agent? ‎

It took him quite some time to reach a decision. The story is old, the ‎general is old – both got even older during the years of hesitation – and ‎public interest will not be served by dragging the warring officers ‎through courts. Leaking the name of a source is a crime, but this should ‎have been handled many years ago, that’s the Attorney General’s ‎position. ‎

When I called Zamir I knew it was probably not a good day for a quick ‎chat. He was angry. If generals can leak and get away with it, how can ‎Israel demand secrecy from lower ranking officers? If leaking the name ‎of the most sensitive source is not prosecuted, how can Israel ever ‎prosecute the leaking of lesser sources? ‎

Zeira’s age is irrelevant, Zamir told me, the court has to rule, has to ‎make it clear that such leaks will never be tolerated. Zamir was still ‎hoping to keep the case opened, vowed to keep fighting this fight with ‎an Attorney General who possibly “did not understand” the damage he ‎was about to cause.‎

Zamir was venting his rage, and I had to listen; I had to agree that he ‎was probably right – in principle; I’ve had to admit to myself that ‎principles aside, I’m still more relieved than irritated by the decision to ‎leave Zeira alone; I had to remind myself that as a writer who ‎sometimes lives on leaks, I’m probably less sensitive than the secretive ‎intelligence operative to such crimes; I had to realize that I’m probably ‎too young to understand the anger so many Israelis still feel about the ‎way the Yom Kippur War was handled. ‎

As war broke out, when Zeira and Zamir had to decide if Marwan’s ‎warning should be taken seriously, I was five years old.‎


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