Egypt: The Mossad’s “Biggest Playing Field”


An Egyptian protester holds documents from the Israeli embassy after it was stormed in Cairo. (Photo: REUTERS – Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Published Tuesday, September 13, 2011 | Al Akhbar

The signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979 did little to stem the tide of Israeli espionage, the latter becoming most active in the 1990s when cross broder travel restrictions were eased.

Cairo – Israeli espionage in Egypt dates back to the creation of the Zionist state. The first documented case of a captured Israeli spy was in May 1948, when a woman named Poland Hars was arrested (and later released) by Egyptian security on suspicion of assassinating a British officer.

But even as Egypt and Israel concluded a peace treaty in 1979 and signed the Camp David accords, the recruitment of agents and planting of spies continued apace. Amer Salman, a Sinai Bedouin, was hired by the Mossad in 1982 and worked for Israeli intelligence for over a decade before being uncovered. Also in the early 1990s, Egyptian intelligence detained Faiqa al-Misrati and her father on charges of running a prostitution ring. They operated at an exclusive sporting club in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, where they befriended a number of important figures and used prostitution to gather information about Egypt for the Mossad.

Observers believe that Israeli espionage in Egypt was at its most active in the 1990s after the easing of restrictions on cross-border travel between the two countries. Many of the Egyptian agents on the Mossad payroll were first approached while visiting or seeking employment in Israel. They include Abd al-Munim al-Malik, a former navy lieutenant who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996. He was recruited to supply information about the Egyptian military while on a visit in 1994. Samir Othman, another Egyptian who went to work in Israel, was also exposed as a spy by Egyptian security. Similarly, Emad Abd al-Hamid Ismail, implicated in the case of suspected Mossad officer Azzam Azzam, had gone to Israel for work. These and other cases made the Egyptian authorities extremely wary, and led to a tightening of controls on Egyptian travellers.

The Azzam Azzam case in 1997 caused a furore in Egypt over how the peace treaty and the joint economic ventures facilitated under the treaty were being exploited to recruit Israeli spies in the country. Azzam, an Arab from the Galilee village of Maghar, was sent to work in an Israeli-managed textile plant in Cairo. His work served as cover for his efforts to recruit Egyptian informants. An Egyptian court sentenced Azzam to 15 years imprisonment, though he was released early as part of a political deal. The case fuelled suspicion that Israeli businesses were being used as fronts for espionage. Some Egyptians MPs demanded legislation to curb Israeli investment in Egypt or even ban joint ventures between Egyptian and Israeli firms.Egypt’s counter-intelligence efforts at the time appeared to have little deterrent effect on the Israelis. Soon after the Azzam case another spy, Sharif al-Filali, was exposed. al-Filali was an engineer who had worked in Spain and acted as an Israeli agent from 1996 until 2000, supplying political and economic intelligence.

Most recently, following the outbreak of the January 25 revolution, Egyptian authorities arrested an Israeli and accused him of entering the country to spy on the protest movement for the Mossad. Ilan Grapel had been in the Israeli army and was wounded while taking part in the 2006 war on Lebanon. After arriving in Egypt on a European passport claiming to be a journalist, he mingled with protesters and posed as a sympathizer, joining demonstrations and raising placards.

Prior to the revolution, the spotlight had been on an apparently higher-level operative: an Egyptian businessman named Tareq Abd al-Razzaq. He had reportedly met with Mossad handlers in eight different countries, and his activities were not confined to Egypt. He was also given the job of go-between with a Mossad agent in Syria. He set up two import-export companies as cover for his activities, as well as two websites for job-seekers which he used to pass on details of potential recruits to Israeli intelligence.

The former head of Israeli military intelligence, Gen. Amos Yadlin, hinted at the extent of the Israeli espionage effort in Egypt in remarks made when he stepped down last year. “Egypt represents the biggest playing field for Israeli military intelligence activity,” he was quoted as saying. “This activity has developed according to plan since 1979.”

This article is translated from the Arabic Edition.


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