Monday, 10 July 2017

My Great Uncle The Spy — The Suspenseful Life of Refaat Al-Gammal (aka Jack Beton)

Refaat Ali Suleiman Al-Gammal (رفعت علي سليمان الجمال) (July 1, 1927 – January 30, 1982) was an Egyptian spy who spent 17 years performing clandestine operations in Israel. Also known as Jack Beton, the man happens to be my maternal grandmother’s second cousin. She remembers he was always this mysterious relative who travelled and disappeared for years at a time. She also remembers that her father didn’t allow her or her four sisters to get too close to him because he was ‘shady’. Little did they know. 

The following is the fascinating story of Egypt’s first official spy.

The entire family, including myself, only found out about his real life story when it was reproduced in a three-season TV series featuring Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, a famous Egyptian actor who played his role under the character name Raafat Al-Haggan. The show is actually based on a previous book on Refaat Al-Gammal by Saleh Morsi — who also wrote the scenario of the show. Raafat had already passed away by then, yet the show was a huge hit in mid-1980s Egypt and the Arab world. Like many, since I was a boy I had always been captivated by espionage and the life of adventures people who get into such a field happen to lead. It truly takes a special kind of person to become a spy who never got caught. 

Refaat Al-Gammal is arguably the most ultimate spy in the history of Egyptian intelligence who is considered by many to be a national hero. 

Some Israeli sources later expressed that he was a double agent, which is something that may currently be impossible to prove. But by time the show was out in 1986 the entire Arab world knew of the story and praised him for his high-risk work and sacrifice. I recall telling the boys at school — even some teachers as well. Actually I was quite proud that my great uncle was a true Egyptian James Bond.

In 1956 he moved to Israel as an Egyptian Intelligence asset. He soon became well-known in the Israeli society and was involved in numerous commercial projects. During the same time he succeeded in providing the Egyptian intelligence service with crucial information; he had an important role in the Lavon Affair of 1956 as well as the Suez Crisis attack, the Six-Day War, and Operation Badr of 1973 by providing Egypt with detailed engineering data about the Bar Lev Line.

Refaat made friendships with Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister at that time and Moshe Dayan, the minister of defence. He also befriended Ezer Weizman and David Ben-Gurion.

To write this exposé I had to do a significant amount of research about the man. Most of what I already know came from the TV series, which I have last watched about 30 years ago — and which obviously isn’t the most reliable historical source. In addition to the occasional info by my grandma or her sister, namely Karima and Khadiga Al-Gammal.

The idea first came to mind after once sharing a post on Facebook about Refaat Al-Gammal about a couple of years ago. Somehow the topic came back to me these days and I got to work, taking six full days. I skimmed through the Internet for almost everything that had been written about him; it was actually double work, since I checked the English sources as well as the Arabic. Not everything is translated, especially when you’re digging a story of an Egyptian spy who was operating half a century ago, way before the digital age.

On top of the research, I contacted some of my cousins in Egypt who were closer to Refaat Al-Gammal’s side of the family. First I wanted to know more about the aforementioned double agent allegations. Second, I was curious about the things they personally remember about him. Note that my own grandmother and her sisters are currently facing dementia and Alzheimer, so one cannot rely on them any longer for factual memories about their estranged cousin. My mother did kindly send me the Al-Gammal family tree (shown at the end).

Besides, even though I have never met the man, he is still from my family. So I wanted to know the actual full and unbiased story. This meant going beyond Saleh Morsi’s popular version.  

What I did find out is that, according to repeated sources who have ties to Egyptian intelligence, is that they all praise how Refaat had sincerely helped the country and that he certainly was no double agent — despite having a certain lust for money.

But eventually, the more I dug, the more I reckoned that it would be unfair to write this piece without actually reading Refaat Al-Gammal’s own diaries. He had hand-written them while sick in bed before his death in 1982, though the book was only published later in 1994 — probably due to the sensitive information it contained. I slowly found myself more drawn to get to know him as person, the details that will help me better understand his psyche, motives, and dreams rather than the nationalistic tale of the spy who fooled Israel for 17 years. So I began reading... and couldn’t put the book down until done with it a couple of days later. This led me to rewrite a hefty portion of the piece while doubling its length.

After a foreword from his wife, his son, and daughter, the first chapter of the book is titled: A Final Letter From The Death Bed.

As such, I came to find out things I have never known before about him, mainly his early life before being recruited; what led him to that mysterious fate. The man did lead one heck of an adventurous life on the edge. It is no wonder that my grandmothers’ dad asked his daughters not to mingle with their cousin, the troublemaker.

Bear in mind that the “al” in the family name is often written “el” in English and French depending on individual members. I kept it “al” herein since it’s how it’s spelled on Wikipedia. 

Refaat the youngest with his brothers and sister

Early Life

Refaat Al-Gammal was born on July 1, 1927 in Damietta, Egypt when it was still a Kingdom and died on January 30, 1982 in Darmstadt, Germany. 

His father, the cousin of my grandmother’s mother was a coal trader and his mother a housewife who, apart Arabic, spoke English and French as well, which Refaat also learned in a private school.

He had a much older half brother from his father’s side, Sami; then Labib who was four years older, and finally Naziha who was two years his senior. Interestingly, from their side of the family it was Naziha who kept in touch with my grandmother and her sisters until this very day as they occasionally spoke on the phone. According to his biography, Naziha had a kind heart and was the closest to his.

When Refaat was only nine their father died and they all moved from Damietta to Cairo. Sami, 23 then, became the head of the family.

The World Wars inspired young Refaat to develop a certain fondness of England. So he began speaking fluent English, apparently till he became an Anglophile and even had a British accent. 

The same with French which he had also mastered. According to his diaries, this attraction to the West began to alter his behaviour, upsetting his mother and both of his brothers, especially Sami who was then the English tutor of the brother of Queen Farida.

His real love, however, was directed towards cinema and acting. He would go to the movie theater with his friends just to observe and study actors; how they spoke and how they acted. Then he would mimic all he sees on the Silver Screen to the boys back at school.

One day he sneaked backstage and found his way to the room of the director and actor Beshara Wakim. He began impersonating one of his roles until he found the man staring at him. Before kicking him out, the maquilleur who was nearby said that he thought the teenage boy to be Beshara himself; because he was that good. The actor was amused and told Refaat to come back once he graduate from school. The boy was chuffed.  

As he emotionally expressed in his diaries, everything changed when Naziha got married to an officer, Ahmed Shafik, and moved to her husband’s house. This was followed by his mother leaving to go live with her brother; then Sami also moving to another place with his new wife, leaving the 16-year-old boy alone with Labib who was never too kind to him.

Refaat during his acting stage
Back to Beshara Wakim some time later, the teenager was offered to be in one of his movies. Even though the role was minor, he was still in school so he became sort of mini celebrity. With the money he had made he bought a gift to his sister and her newborn before going to visit. Unfortunately, her husband came back home and shouted at him, calling him useless with no heart. Young Refaat was deeply saddened by the loss of connection with his closest sibling and ally who was the only one who kept his secrets safe. 
In the following school year of 1945-46 he was in two more movies. He also finally passed his senior year at school after failing twice — intentionally, since he felt he was not ready for the real world.

Around this time Refaat met Betty, a dancer who was a year older but more liberated and experienced. They dated and he went to live with her. Betty was his first; she made a man out of him and taught him the whole lot. Knowing how things were back then, this was a revolutionary act indeed. When I did something similar 60 years later Egyptians were still raising their eyebrows. 

After a while he felt the need to leave Betty and acting altogether for a next endeavour. So he took an accountant job in a gas company on the Red Sea where he stayed for 15 months before being transferred to Cairo, as a promotion. Nevertheless, he constantly wanted to keep running away from his past, the now-broken family, and all the sadness the city brings him.

Still longing to leave Cairo, he soon met a business man who hired him is his chemicals company in Alexandria.

“For the first time after leaving Sami
’s apartment five years earlier I found in this man and his family the family I don’t have anymore.”

Likewise, the older man
saw in Refaat the son he never had.

After a quick fling with his employer
’s daughter, Hoda, and an attempt to frame him by some manager in the company, he left to join the cargo ship, Horus, as an assistant to an accounting officer. This was when the Damietta boy left Egypt for the first time of his life, traveling to Naples, Genoa, Marseille, Barcelona, Tangier, and finally Liverpool.

The ship was to get into maintenance for some time in Liverpool before sailing to Bombay. There, Refaat met yet another woman named Jody Morris who fell in love with him — and who reminded him of his first Betty.

His prospect trip to Bombay made Jody extremely sad, that she suggested he does like what many sailors do: Faking an appendicitis until the ship leaves, then hop on it again on the way back to Egypt. The young man didn’t want to lose his job after all, but was convinced of the plan. She also offered to help him get a working permit through her own father. He did get a surgery and began working in the port.

Around the same time, he met a priest who was curious to learn about Islam. So he taught him and in return the priest taught him about Christianity. When the ship was on its way back from Bombay he left Liverpool and Jody, who was deeply attached to him by then. All she wanted was to get married. “I’ll wait for you,” she told him. But he sort of knew that their time together was up. 

Back to Egypt for a while, he once again needed to get away from the sad fact that he cannot mingle with his family. His mother had already passed away when he was in the Red Sea. So he once again travelled to Liverpool where, with the help of Jody and the priest, he got a job in a travel agency called Celtic Tours.

A little later and after the business began booming, he convinced his employer to travel to New York in the United States to bring more business. There, he was offered another job related to travel agencies. However, legally this meant that he had tricked his British employer to let him travel. Without a visa or a Green Card, his immigration status forced him to move to Montreal, Canada — which is part of the British Commonwealth — and then again to Germany. He ended up getting blacklisted in the U.S.

At the airport there, he met a German blonde woman who offered to help him. They went together to his hotel but she ended up stealing his passport. When he headed to the Egyptian Consulate to apply for a new one, he was accused of selling his own and was refused a travel document — this was the time many ex-Nazis would buy fake passports to flee the country.

A couple of days later he was arrested by the German Police for being there illegally and then deported to Egypt in May 1951.

Back again with some money — US$12,000 — but neither a job nor an identification, Refaat tried to apply for another passport. The request was refused due to the fact that the Egyptian council in Germany had already reported what transpired with him in Germany. He then chose to turn to the black market to get new papers with the fake name of “Ali Mostafa”, with which he worked for the company managing the Suez Canal.

Right before the revolution of 1952 broke out, the English authorities began checking IDs more thoroughly. Refaat got worried that he would be discovered, so he left his job and got a new fake passport from a Swiss journalist; moving from one name to the other until he was arrested again by a British officer while traveling through Libya in 1953. There, he was caught carrying a British passport as well as checks signed with the name “Refaat Al-Gammal”, which led the British officer to think he was Israeli. Consequently he was handed over to the Egyptian intelligence service who started investigating him as a probable Israeli spy.

The Recruitment

The main charge against Al-Gammal was that he had pretended to be a Jewish officer named “David Artso”. When caught, he was carrying a British passport with the name of “Danial Caldwell”. The Egyptians also found checks signed with the name “Refaat Al-Gammal” with him and realised that he spoke Arabic fluently. So naturally, no one had any idea who the man was and he seemed to have been quite convincing when impersonating any character.

Officer Hassan Hosny of the secret “political” police was responsible for the investigation. He had heard about Refaat and was intrigued by his intelligence and street-smartness. After some questioning, ultimately he was able to make Refaat confess his true identity, his whole story, and how he had merged with the Jewish.
 He also truthfully told him how he sees the world as a big theater where life has somewhat forced him to choose to always play some kind of character rather than being himself in order to reach what he wants.

In the diaries, he mentions how finally sharing his secrets with H.H on this first meeting made him feel lighter. When you live your lies, coming clean at some point can certainly cause significant relief.

Because the charges he was facing, Refaat eventually had to choose between a long time in jail or working for the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate (EGID) under a brand new Jewish identity.

Egypt was still in a post-revolution era and Israel had been a country for only five years (imagine?). Hence they needed someone to keep an eye on all the money the Jews are taking out of Egypt towards Israel. And, according to H.H, the role was perfectly suited for him. 

Note that the decision to set up an Egyptian intelligence service was taken by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, and was placed under the command of Zakaria Mohieddin. So those were the very first days of Egyptian espionage. 

Refaat did choose EGID, and underwent extensive training where he learned the goals of the revolution, the different branches of economics, and the success secrets of multi-national firms; how to evade taxes and how to smuggle money. That is in addition to the habits, behaviour, history and religion of Jews. He likewise took many rigorous Hebrew lessons, that he even went as far as learning how to tell the Ashkenazim Jews — “Germanics” of Central Europe — from the Sephardim Jews — “Hispanics” of Spain and Portugal — from the Mizrahim — the “Easterners”.

“I also memorized all the Jewish rituals and the religious holidays, that I used to say them out loud while asleep.”

To become a fit agent he also learned how to fight; how to covertly take photos with miniature cameras; and how to survive in nature if he was ever forced to disappear for a while.

The new recruit was equally taught radio communications, intelligence collection, and how to make bombs. His new assumed identity was of Jacques Beton, an Ashkenazi Jew born on August 23, 1919 in Mansura, Egypt to a French father and an Italian mother who later moved to France. In return, all his past identities and the charges against them were destroyed.

Amusingly, I only found out about the exact date of his assumed Birthday by the very end of the piece, which coincides with my own Birthday many years later in 1977. Only that mine is real.

Following the training, Beton received new documents and perfected his new identity before moving to live in Alexandria in a neighbourhood mainly inhabited by Jews. He took a decent job in an insurance company, and slowly approached the Jews until he became an important figure among the secret Jewish movements in Egypt, which he was able to successfully infiltrate.

 He was only 34 years old then.

Actual Egyptian birth certificate of Refaat Al-Gammal


It wasn’t long before Refaat fears dissipated and began being convinced that he was Jewish. He met Levy Salama, a former cell mate from a time when he went by the name David Aronson, and thy became friends.

A few days later, Salama introduced him to an attractive Jewish Egyptian woman named Marcel Nino. She had close relations with some Egyptian military officers during the latter part of King Farouk’s reign, as well as a 1948 Olympics champion. Beton played her by starting a relationship. He came to win her trust so she introduced him to another prominent personalty in the Jewish community named Ely Cohen.

Pretending that he wanted to get a big sum of money from his family fortune outside of the country, Beton was able to follow Salama and uncover the ties of the operation; which led him to the head of the ring, a businessman from Switzerland with the assumed name of John Darling. Beton was constantly in touch with his handler H.H who had provided him with the “family money”, and the entire operation was caught in the act while his cover remained intact. He just looked like a victim who lost a big sum of money.

As he shared in the memoirs, this was the time when the Israeli secret military intelligence became more active in Egypt. Under the Colonel Abraham Dar — who was none other than John Darling — the new plan entailed training young Israeli men to destroy American facilities in Egypt, thereby harming Egyptian–American relations by looking like terrorist attacks plotted by patriotic Egyptians. The operation was set for July 1954.

Refaat recalls that it was then when he realised that his role became much more dangerous since he was dealing with military operations and not with mere civilians.

“I don’t know what pushed me to get so far into this, but I was sincerely convinced that I was doing all I could to help my country.

The seriousness of situation made H.H come to meet Beton in person in Alexandria who was then introduced to his new handler, Ali Ghali. A.G was the one responsible for espionage and counterintelligence in terms of international affairs while H.H remained in charge of the internal ones.

By 1953, Beton and Cohen were part of the unit 131 under Colonel Abraham’s supervision. He also remained in touch with Marcelle and came to find out that lieutenant colonel Max Bennett is highly active within the unit.

The group managed to put explosives in movie theaters in Cairo and Alexandria one night. However, the explosives didn’t go off while Beton gave A.G all the needed information about the unit and the attacks.

14 members of the group were arrested in addition to Max Bennett who later committed suicide in jail. Dubbed The Lavon Affair, the bust included Refaat himself in order to prevent him from being
burned. Two were hung, Marcel and another got 15 years in prison, seven years to another two while the rest were acquitted. As there was nothing to incriminate them, Beton and Ely Cohen were also freed after receiving a warning of being kicked out of the country if their names were ever to come up again. 

According to different sources, some of the others were reportedly released later in a secret prisoner exchange between Egypt and Israel in 1968, two years before their sentences were due to end.   

The Next Chapter

The arrest of Unit 131 had serious repercussions in Israel. It was believed that Abraham Dar or Paul Frank were the ones who snitched to the Egyptian authorities. The latter was imprisoned once he was back to Israel. Refaat went back to Alexandria then again to Cairo where his handlers met him. He was thanked for all his effort and bravery and told that his cover has been perfect; so they cannot declassify the information or reveal his identity and heroic role to the Egyptian public or to anyone for that matter. The officers further suggested that they would like to use his efforts abroad.

Abroad? What is needed from me?

The same as you were doing here. Jack Beton is a successful asset who has been doing a great job and he should carry on with his services.

They also reminded him that he still owed them — most probably to show him that he had no real options.

Refaat and his handlers knew that once in Israel he will have to endure a check to know that he is genuine. And since there are no muddy waters around his character he should be accepted into the Israeli Jewish community.

As he explains in his diaries, he once again found himself in front of another major tuning point in his life. In one way, he was terrified to go to the lion’s den all by himself. He knew that if caught there that would be it for him. He will interrogated then instantly annihilated and his name will be forgotten for ever and ever.

In another way, he had come to master the Jack Beton character. Once again rooting for his love of cinema, he became so good at his role; only that this time the theater is the world in its entirety while the subject of the story is international espionage. He was already in love with the game, action, and suspense. Who could blame him. I am certain that in one way or another you get hooked.

After a brief introspection, Refaat reminded himself that he had always been someone daring with a taste for adventure; and since he had no other options now, he should go forward with confidence to perform the best Oscar-worthy role of his life. After all, there was only two ends to the story: Either get caught and hanged, or succeed and win that Oscar. The notion that he was servicing his country was always in the back of his mind as a major motivator.

Psychologically speaking, for someone who was looked upon by some of his older family members as a lost cause and a useless lad, such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was probably his way to prove to himself and also to them that his dreams were bigger and that he was destined for greatness.

Jack Beton Israeli passport

The Promise Land 

In June 1956, Jack Beton got on board a boat to Naples, intending to reach Israel. The trip took three days, during which two men approached him, trying to convince him to head to Israel. He pretended he will think about it before saying yes — as if the idea was theirs.

Once in the country, he was greeted by yet another man who offered to help him issue an Israeli passport. With the $3000 he had taken from his handler he went on to open a travel agency along a Jewish partner he came to meet. Such a field allowed him to travel in and out of Israel without anyone suspecting. But it did seem obvious that the Israeli authorities wanted him in the country and did all they could to have him relocate to there.

A little later he was introduced to many Jewish leaders like Moshe Dayan, the military officer Ezra Wiseman, as well as Golda Meir. His new connections allowed him to find out about the 1956 attack on Egypt before it happens. The Suez Crisis (Tripartite Aggression and Operation code name Kadesh) was led by Israel who was aided by the United Kingdom and France. The Egyptian authorities, however, didn’t believe him and the attacks took place.

Through his travel agency, Jack made deals with the Israeli government and ministries, which gave special prices to officials. By May 1958 it was through his agency that Israel organised to have their people out of Lebanon and into Israel.

Things then got a little quite on the scene, tempting Beton to ask the Egyptian intelligence to quit working for them. The answer came negative from his superior who told him that if he left Israel after all those special connections he had made throughout the past three years, sooner or later the Mosad will find out about him and it will be the end of his life. He was also told that they had spent a lot of money and effort on him and his training, so they aren’t ready yet to let go of him. Nevertheless, Refaat was offered a chance to visit Egypt for a quick trip to see his sister and her children. With a new fake Egyptian passport with the name Anwar Taleb, he disguised himself and headed home.

Back to Tel Aviv, the next important information Jack sent to his handler was about a nuclear reactor Israel intended to build. Also that Germans were training Israeli soldiers to use advanced weapons.

Around this same time many foreigners got caught in Israel, which naturally made Jack anxious. As such, in 1963 he tried again to quit. To his relief, this time he was told that it needed to happen gradually. But, going back to Egypt was not an option, for that time being at least. It was suggested that in order to be safe it would be better if he moved to another country where he’ll keep his Jack Beton character.

Refaat explains in his diary that the main reason he wanted to withdraw from the action was to get married. One order from his superior was to never marry an Israeli woman or one with Arabic origins from Israel.

Mr. and Mrs. Beton right after marriage

The next chapter of the memoirs begins in October 1963 when he travelled to Germany and met his future wife Waltraud. She was married once before and had a daughter, Andrea. But that didn’t change the fact that Refaat actually fell in love with her in real. After receiving the OK from his superiors, who first had to investigate the woman, Jack and Waltraud travelled to Israel, eventually being accompanied by Andrea whom he later officially adopted

In the following part the writer addresses his wife and reminisces. He reminded her of their first days together; their trip to Paris, meeting Moche Diane who came to their house in Tel Aviv to congratulate them, as well as meeting Golda Maeir later. And from the way he is expressing himself about this new relationship, one can tell that he was happy to finally have his own family. 

A little later, Waltraud got pregnant and was to deliver a boy. Not wanting his son to be born in Israel or have an Israeli passport, Refaat took the family and headed to Frankfurt, Germany. There during the Summer of 1964, they officially became husband and wife and hence Refaat became German.

Still addressing Waltraud, he also revealed details about certain everyday lies he had to keep telling her, such as leaving her once for three hours during their honeymoon in Paris so that he can send a message to his communication officer; also about his fake family who resided in France. One really does feel his sincere intentions to coming totally clean while on his deathbed.

Refaat then snaps out of his memories and back to his Here and Now: How chemotherapy isn’t working anymore, and how the morphine shot the doctors give him daily is barely making any difference. The man was only given a few months to live, though he was determined to share all his secrets in the memoirs before departing this life — despite all the emotional and psychological pain writing was causing him. 

He also expressed his concern about how Waltraud will have to handle managing the company without him; how some people are awaiting his departure to attempt to take it over. 

Refaat with Daniel

The following notable event for Refaat was informing the Egyptian authorities about a $200 million arm deal between Germany and Israel, including choppers and submarines.

The next was quite a surprise to him: Moche Diane added his name as a prospect minister. Not wanting to attract attention, he declined the offer, saying that all he wanted was to leave the country for Germany where he will live with his family.

By that time relations between Egypt and Israel were deteriorating, leading to the 1967 attack. Refaat had come to find out about the extensive military training by the Israeli air force and how they fly above Arab nations to take areal photos. He informed his superior about all the information, though once again he was not taken seriously; for it was believed that Israel will attach Syria. But it did happen and more than 80% of the Egyptian airplanes were destroyed. Syria, Jordan and Iraq were also attacked. The spy consequently became frustrated and decided to leave that risky life for good. 

In 1970, Nasser died and was succeeded by Anwar el-Sadat. During Beton’s last trip to Israel he found out much more classified information in details. He found it ironic that when the time he has been waiting for finally came, there he was being exposed to extremely important information which he passed on to the Egyptians.

This time they believed me, considering the victory of 1973. And reckoned that this was a great end to my career.I was even proud of myself a little.”

The man met his handler for one last time in Milano to inform him that he’s quitting. He was told that he cannot resume his life in Egypt as Refaat Al-Gammal while at the same time take his family with him. We can keep you safe; but we can’t keep your wife and kids safe all the time, to which he replied that he will not abandon his family since it’s all he got and that he will handle himself.

He was once again thanked for his services and has been promised to get help in his new oil business in Egypt. By that time he had already all the German official documents, so did his son; and he was happy to get rid of the Israeli/Jewish passport.

In the end, down deep inside I had always been Egyptian.”

 Andrea in front of the travel agency Citour in Tel Aviv

After living in Germany for a while, then moving to Switzerland, Refaat was back to Egypt in 1977 looking for business. There he was known as Jack Beton and no one found out about his concealed origin. With the help of his intelligence connections he was able to open up a new oil company known as Egyptico. In 1978, he took his wife and son, Daniel, to Egypt for the very first time, which had made the new family man quite happy.

By the end of the memoir he shares yet even more secrets....

Without anyone knowing he was able to employ two of Sami’s sons, his older brother who died while he was away. As a token of appreciation, he also helped Mohamed, Sami’s eldest, to become a doctor in Germany. He also wrote that without the intelligence work and the life on the edge he felt quite empty. Again, when one gets used to such a thrill for all these years it may seem banal to go back to normal jobs. 

Then, everything came to a halt when in 1981 Refaat was diagnosed with lung cancer. His health slowly deteriorated and he knew he was about to die soon after, which is why he needed to get it all off his chest by writing his memoirs.

He concluded by addressing his wife again, telling her that in three years she will receive this full account from the lawyer. In his will, he also left some money for his brother Labib, Naziha and her children, and finally to some orphanage.

However, right after my death you will receive a closed envelope which I had left with Mohamed here in Germany to give to you. I wanted to leave it to Daniel but he’s still too young. 

My energy is receding and I can feel death close by. I’m happy my family and the world will finally know my full story. Now Im ready to meet God. I hope he has mercy on me.

The second part of the book is the account of his wife Waltraud, which she had written some years later after healing from the shock.

Later Claims

Some Israeli sources claim that the information published by the Egyptian Intelligence is just fiction and that the Shin Bet knew about Al-Gammal from the early beginning and converted him into a double agent to work for them; and that he provided false information to the Egyptians which led to the destruction of the Egyptian Air Force in the Six-Day War.

 This implies that Refaat’ memoirs as well is just a fantasy.

What is noteworthy is that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, had publicised the same about Ashraf Marawan who they considered is a double agent. He mysteriously fell off his balcony in London, England many years afterwards.

Contrary to what Refaat shared and what was written by others, the sources claim that on the eve of the Six-Day war, Al-Gammal sent expertly doctored Israeli information to his Egyptian superiors that Israel would first launch a ground attack before sending its aircraft into battle. The misleading information eventually led to the surprise attack which destroyed within a 48-hour period no less than 416 Arab aircraft — 393 on the ground — at the loss of only 26 Israeli Aircraft during The Six Day War.

They went on to report that he was even offered a sum of money after the war as a thank you for his efforts. But apparently he asked for more and that was when their relationship deteriorated.

This would not the first time when some attempt to change history; in fact it happens all the time. A reason why this happens in the case of spies — mainly deceased ones — is the secrecy they had vowed to live with for many years. So the public do not usually know details until years have passed, like the case with Refaat Al-Gammal. As mentioned, none of us knew anything about the man until that TV show was produced in the mid 80s. 

In actual fact, most information about him remains classified to this very day.

However, if the Israeli side of the tale is true and Refaat had indeed sent misleading information to the Egyptians, which according to them enabled them to lead a surprise attack and destroy most Egyptian aircraft on the 5th June 1967, then why didn’t the Egyptian authorities doubt him instead of keeping him on board until the 1973 win? The sources even claim that he worked as a double agent for 12 long years. The allegations were repeatedly denied by current and previous Egyptian officials.

Sometimes many years after an event, books follow up with alternative sides of a historical story. Either to add new or previously unreleased info, or to mislead the public, or to alter certain events in the course of history. And in total honesty, in a field like politics, especially when it’s related to Intelligence agencies, sometimes the unadulterated true story remains a secret even decades later. The shooting of President Kennedy would be a perfect example; the killing of Princess Diana is probably another.

In the end we will likely never know the exact details since Refaat himself had passed. But from reading almost all that has been written in addition to his heartfelt memoirs, one cannot deny that the man led one heck of a special life while doing a utterly risky job servicing his country in such times of change. 

His name shall be forever remembered in the annals of history and in the Arab collective consciousness. 

Lastly, many people including myself just hope that the Egyptian authorities grant Daniel his Egyptian citizenship after refusing to do so for some reason. It is the least they could do. Really.

Refaat eventually passed away on January 30, 1982 after a year of chemotherapy. His body was later removed to Cairo in 1987.

Long Live Refaat Al-Gammal, My Great Uncle The Spy. May He Rest In Peace after that thrilling ride. He sure does deserve the Oscar. 

Refaat with an older Andrea

The Family Tree of my grandmother’s side of the Al-Gammal:
3rd Generation on the far right with Ahmed-Ashour who was the maternal
grandfather of my grandmother and who had Hekmat, her mother; who in turn,
had Aziza (May She RIP), my grandmother Karima (RIP), Madiha (RIP), Khadiga,
Fawzeya, then finally the youngest, Abou Bakr (RIP).

*Most photos were taken from his memoirs in addition to a few found online. 

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  1. Thanks for this.

  2. Thanks for writing such beautiful blog. So proud of you.

  3. Naziha is my great grandmother, her son tarek is my grandpa.

    1. Well hello there, cousin. Small world, huh. Nice to virtually meet you.

    2. Hello what do you do in life
      I am trying ti go back to study