Leiden Safety and Security Blog

The Angel, the remarkable story of Ashraf Marwan

The Angel, the remarkable story of Ashraf Marwan

Netflix bought the rights to the Israeli movie Hamalach (The Angel) in late July 2017. The script of this movie is based on a book by Israeli scholar Uri Bar-Joseph called ‘The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel’. The life and death of Ashraf Marwan have been remarkable, to say the least. He died in 2007 when he tumbled from his apartment in London. Up until this day, it is still unclear as to what exactly caused his death: was he pushed, did he jump, or did he fall? After an inquest into his death in 2010, the coroner came to the conclusion that “there was no evidence of any intention to commit suicide.” However, the coroner also claimed that there was “absolutely no evidence” that supported the claims that Marwan was murdered. The events leading up to this day in 2007 are also shrouded with ambiguity.

Ashraf Marwan was an Egyptian billionaire and the son-in-law of Egypt’s former President Nasser. He served under President Nasser as well as President Sadat and was involved in the October 1973 war. This war is to be considered as Israel’s greatest intelligence failure, even though the outcome of the war was favorable for Israel. According to one prominent scholar, this turning point was due to Marwan’s influence: Marwan enabled Israel’s victory in 1973. However, other scholars and intelligence officers argue that Marwan was a double agent, working both for Egypt and Israel during this war and thus contributing to Israel’s initial intelligence failure.

During the years leading up to the October 1973 war, Marwan provided the Israelis with information on Egyptian war plans and Egypt’s intentions. This information was useful since it contributed to a deeply ingrained idea of the conditions of an Egyptian attack within Israel’s intelligence service: Egypt would only attack when the following two conditions were met (1) if Egypt would be in the possession of missiles and long-range bombers and (2) if Egypt would unite in an Arab coalition (which was named ‘the concept’). Marwan provided documents that proved that one of these conditions had not been met and this contributed to the Israeli belief that Egyptians would not attack Israel. This belief was iron-clad and so ingrained in Israel’s intelligence service, that they did not believe war was imminent.

On multiple occasions, Marwan provided Israel with documents on Egyptian war plans and Egyptian intentions. This information proved to be faulty on at least two occasions and in which one of these warnings caused Israel to prompt a full-scale mobilization, costing Israel at least of $45 million dollars. Israeli Intelligence agencies deny this, claiming that these warnings were genuine and came from sources other than Marwan. The final warning Marwan gave was on 4 October that year, but Marwan did not know the exact time and Israel was surprised less than 12 hours later.

What Marwan's exact intentions were and where his loyalty laid, remains unclear to this day. The debates within the academic world and the intelligence community are unable to provide a definitive answer. The upcoming Netflix movie might be able to provide some insights but it remains to be seen if it will provide a definite answer to this question.  Espionage is a difficult topic and immersed in secrecy which only adds to this mystery. The movie will be released on the 14th of September on Netflix USA. You can watch the trailer here.

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