He was an Arab trader and ironworker in Israel who wanted to emigrate to the Arab lands of his ancestors. She was his beautiful 17-year-old daughter. They moved to Egypt, traded in their Israeli passports for phony Egyptian documents--and touched off the first Egyptian-Israeli spy scandal since the two countries made peace in 1979.
An uneducated ironworker and a teen-age girl, spies for the Mossad?
"You meet her," affirmed an Egyptian reporter who interviewed the daughter recently in prison, "and you see all the attributes of the spy: Oriental beauty, bronze complexion, a plump body she used to beguile naive youths."
The case has captured headlines all over Egypt, where relations with Israel were already chilly over the lagging Arab-Israeli peace talks, and where a suspicious public seems ready to believe almost anything about what the press calls "the Jewish entity."
In recent weeks, the press gleefully reported the seizure of 21 tons of allegedly cancer-causing cantaloupe seeds smuggled in from Israel and unfolded a scandal in which Egyptian bricks were supposedly being secretly exported to Israel for building Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
These revelations followed a crisis touched off by an Egyptian columnist's description of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir as a "killer dwarf." When Israel's ambassador to Egypt lodged a protest, pointing out that the column appeared in a government-owned publication, the columnist recanted. "I described Shamir as a butcher, and for this I apologize to butchers, because theirs is a respectable profession," Mahmoud Saadani wrote. "The true description of Shamir is assassin. "
The so-called "cold peace" that has existed between Egypt and Israel since the Camp David accords has in recent months turned frigid, and revelations about the Misrati family spy case come at a time when the Egyptians are in no mood to warm it up.
Egyptian tourism to Israel remains at a trickle, trade volume between the two countries is low, Egyptian professional organizations send no delegations to Israel, and Israel appears on few Egyptian maps--despite Israel's repeated urgings to normalize relations between the two countries.
"Peace is there, and peace is very strong. I for one do not measure the temperature of peace. But it's different when you talk about relations," said Israel's ambassador in Cairo, Ephraim Dowek.
The Egyptians ask what's wrong with the peace when there are Israeli agricultural advisers in Egypt, Israeli tourists in Cairo, and Egyptian businessmen who are free to do business in Israel if they want to, which they don't.
The espionage case was revealed last month by the Interior Ministry, which said it had evidence that 41-year-old Fares Misrati, a Muslim Israeli of Libyan descent, and his daughter Faika had tried to cultivate a senior Egyptian military official and were found with forged Egyptian identity documents.
Misrati's son, Magid, was arrested a short time later trying to cross the Egyptian border into Israel.
The daughter, Faika, admitted in front of an Israeli consular official that she had been sending "information" to a man she identified only as a police officer in Israel. In one of the letters shown to Israeli authorities, she described 14 Egyptian military vehicles leaving Cairo for Suez. One of the Misrati men is alleged by the Egyptians to have admitted working for the Mossad, the Israeli espionage agency.
The details of the case end there. But the opposition press has nonetheless had a field day, reporting alleged leaks in which, among other things, the suspects admitted that they planned to assassinate U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Khaled Nasser, son of the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The group is said to have admitted it planned to infiltrate Libya, whose border is open to citizens carrying Egyptian passports.