Yossi Melman, a journalist and commentator with close links to Israeli intelligence, says that Operation Yated, or Stake, run during the 1950s and '60s by Israel's General Security Service, was revealed during a lecture at last week at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center in Tel Aviv.
Writing in the liberal daily Haaretz March 31, he offered no explanation as to why a counterintelligence operation run by the GSS, universally known by its Hebrew initials Shin Bet, should be brought into the public domain now.
But he said that the operation was "one of the most remarkable deceptions in Israeli intelligence history."
It involved Shin Bet, which is responsible for counterintelligence in Israel, arresting an Egyptian agent named Rifat al-Gamal in the early 1960s and "turning" him into a double agent who would feed Egyptian intelligence false information.
His Israeli codename was Yated, which became the name of the deception operation built around him.
"The crowning achievement of Operation Yated was the transfer of false information to Egypt in 1967, on the eve of the Six Day War," Melman wrote.
At the time, Egyptian President Galam Abdel Nasser had booted U.N. peacekeeping forces out of the Sinai Desert and massed 100,000 troops with 950 tanks there.
Israeli generals planned a pre-emptive strike as part of a major operation to hit Arab forces.
Yated told the unsuspecting Egyptians that, according to war plans he had acquired, Israel would launch an offensive against Egypt with a massive ground operation. But at 7:45 a.m. June 5, Israel unleashed all but 12 of its 200 operational combat jets against Egypt's airfields, catching Nasser's 420 Soviet-built combat aircraft on the ground and in the open.
They destroyed 338 aircraft and damaged many more, killing 100 pilots. Israel lost 19 aircraft, mostly to ground fire.
Soon after, the Jordanian and Syrian air forces had also been decimated. By June 10, the Jewish state was three times larger and all its key Arab foes had been soundly defeated.
According to Melman, "That was deception of the highest level. It begs comparison with Operation Mincemeat, the brilliant deception carried out by British intelligence during World War II regarding the site of the Allied landing during the 1944 invasion of Europe."
The false information provided to Cairo by Yated was "one of the reasons the Egyptians were so laid back before the war and left their planes out in the open on their airfield runways."
The Israeli airstrikes "effectively decided the outcome of the campaign."
Melman observed that Avraham Ahituv, then head of Shin Bet's Arab Department, commented at the time, "He spared us a great deal of blood and using him was equal to the strength of a division."
In 1973, Israel had the services of another Egyptian, Ashraf Marwan, Nasser's son-in-law, who tipped them off about Egyptian plans to attack across the Suez Canal to recapture land lost in 1967.
Melman wrote that Rifat al-Gamal had been recruited by Egyptian intelligence, apparently in the early 1950s, after becoming entangled in legal problems.
While awaiting trial in Cairo, he was approached to work for the intelligence service. He did so and was given the identity of an Egyptian Jew named Jacques Bitton.
In early 1955 he went to Italy to build his cover story, then emigrated to Israel and set up a travel agency in Tel Aviv. He traveled frequently Europe to meet his handlers but after one trip he was arrested when he flew back to Tel Aviv.
The Israelis turned him. He was allowed to photograph selected military installations and send genuine military data to Cairo.
After the war, the Israelis let Yated go. He died of cancer in Germany. He was reburied in Egypt where his exploits as an Egyptian agent were lauded.
Israel remained silent. Melman recalled that Israeli spymaster Isser Harel told him at the time, "If it makes them happy, let them continue to believe their tall tale."