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Egyptian jewish spy ring gets belated salute

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It took a long time for Israel to acknowledge that it had recruited and trained a group of young Egyptian-born Jews to carry out sabotage operations in Cairo and Alexandria in the misguided belief that such actions would prevent the British from leaving the Suez Canal zone.

It was not till March 1975 that Israel acknowledged that the network had been trained in Israel by the IDF.

Egyptian-Jewish spy ring gets belated salute
Greer Fay Cashman, THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 31, 2005

Fifty years after an Egyptian court convicted them of being Zionist agents, and 37 years after their release from Egyptian prisons, Marcelle Ninio, Robert Dassa and Meir Zafran were accorded military ranks Wednesday in recognition of their service to the state and their years of suffering. The three are the last surviving members of Operation Susannah, an Israeli spy and sabotage network.

Ninio and Dassa were promoted to lieutenant-colonel (res.) and Zafran to major (res.) in the Israel Defense Forces. The ceremony at Beit Hanassi marked the 50th anniversary of the execution of two members of the network, Musa (Moshe) Marzouk and Shmuel Azar, whom the Egyptian court had sentenced to death.

Network members Philip Nathanson and Victor Levy received life sentences; Ninio and Dassa were sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment; Meir Meyuhas and Meir Zafran to seven years; and Ceasar Cohen and Eli Naim were acquitted.

Leading figures from Israel's intelligence, security and defense community watched as President Moshe Katsav and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon presented citations to the three survivors and the families of the deceased.

It took a long time for Israel to acknowledge that it had recruited and trained a group of young Egyptian-born Jews to carry out sabotage operations in Cairo and Alexandria in the misguided belief that such actions would prevent the British from leaving the Suez Canal zone.

Members of the group were apprehended in 1954, and in December of that year, following severe torture during interrogation, appeared in a show trial.

None implicated the others. Two of their number, Max Binet and Yosef Carmon, determined not to reveal information, committed suicide.

Former Mossad chief Meir Amit and Katsav both declared on Wednesday that Binet was an Israeli intelligence officer who had been sent to Egypt on a different mission, but had been caught up with the network.

In Israel, the arrest of the group sparked a scandal that became known as an essek bish (mishap), or as it is known in English, the Lavon Affair. Defense minister Pinchas Lavon strenuously denied that he had ordered the blowing up of US libraries in Cairo and Alexandria, but was forced to resign his post in January 1955. There was also suspicion that Binyamin Gibli, who had been head of military intelligence, might have given the order.

The matter remains a mystery.

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions," said Amit, who stated that the whole operation deviated from accepted intelligence procedures.

The group was released in February 1968, but its presence in Israel was generally unknown until 1971, when then-prime minister Golda Meir announced that she would attend Ninio's wedding.

It was not till March 1975 that Israel acknowledged that the network had been trained in Israel by the IDF.

"This is historic justice for those who were sent on a mission on behalf of the state and became the victims of a complex political affair," said Ya'alon.

"Israel had no other scandal that created such a furor for such an extended period," said Katsav, who regretted that his predecessors had been unable to give the "anonymous soldiers" the honor and recognition they deserved.

"This is a historic day for us," said Dassa, who noted that the government had never stepped in to correct the published distortions of their story. "We gritted our teeth and stayed silent despite the humiliations that we and our families endured."

Dassa said he was heartened by the fact that he and his comrades were finally recognized as soldiers and not as partisans acting on their own initiative.

The last request of his deceased comrades, he said, was that the survivors should not rest "until the State of Israel recognizes all of us."

He still had one wish, he said for the true story, untainted by politics, to be taught in Israeli schools.

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