The Egyptian Spy Who Might Have Saved Israel

In 1970, Ashraf Marwan—a chemistry student at a British university who happened to be Gamal Abdel Nasser’s son-in-law—telephoned the Israeli embassy in London and offered himself as an intelligence asset. Marwan, who soon became an important adviser to Nasser, continued spying for Israel until 1998. In The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, Uri Bar-Joseph, an Israeli intelligence operative turned professor, tells Marwan’s story and goes to significant lengths to show—contrary to the claims of Eli Zeira, who served as the head of Israeli military intelligence during the Yom Kippur War—that he was not a double agent. Amy Newman Smith explains:

The argument about whom Marwan was actually working for cannot be untangled from the one surrounding Israel’s unpreparedness for the Yom Kippur War and the devastating casualties that resulted. . . .

Based largely on information from Marwan, by [1972] the Israelis had developed what they called “the concept,” an intelligence paradigm that held that Egypt would not launch a war without “weapons of deterrence,” primarily anti-aircraft batteries and missiles capable of hitting Israeli cities. But by the fall, plans were coming together to partner with Syria and engage in a limited war to take back only the eastern bank of the Suez Canal. Marwan passed along information on the developing war plans to [his handler]. The paradigm had changed, but not everyone in Israel felt the shift. . . .

Zeira and his organization continued its allegiance to “the concept” despite Marwan’s warnings as well as data from other sources. . . . When Egypt pushed back the date Marwan had initially passed on for the attack, Zeira used that to discount all the information, rather than seeing changes in plans as an inevitable feature of war planning. Fortunately for Israel, the IDF chief of staff David Elazar [took Marwan’s warnings more seriously]. The traumatic encounter between Israel and the allies Syria and Egypt that began on Yom Kippur in 1973 could have [otherwise] been much bloodier than it was.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Gamal Abdel Nasser, History & Ideas, Intelligence, Israeli history, Mossad, Yom Kippur War

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security