Marcelle Ninio, Spy for Israel Imprisoned in Egypt, Dies at 89


Victorine Marcelle Ninio was born on Nov. 5, 1929, to a Jewish family in Cairo. Her father, Ya’acov, fled Bulgaria before World War I and supervised projects like the installation of the water network at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Her mother, Fanny, was from Turkey.

After her father died when she was about 10, Marcelle attended various schools, including one for Jewish children and one run by Roman Catholic nuns. She became fluent in English and French, played basketball and joined a Zionist youth movement.

By 1951, an Israeli intelligence agent, Avraham Dar, was in Cairo working with the Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, to recruit young men for Unit 131. A friend of Ms. Ninio’s introduced her to a man who brought her to meet Mr. Dar, who used the name John Darling. They came up with the cover story that she had been hired as Mr. Dar’s part-time secretary. But in reality, she would be the contact between the unit’s cells in Cairo in Alexandria.

“She knew she was engaged in a matter which was illegal and perilous and was surprised to find herself totally unafraid,” Mr. Golan wrote. “To tell the truth, she was not fully aware of the danger.”

The botched mission would have severe political repercussions in Israel.

Moshe Sharett, the prime minister, said he had not been told of the covert operation. Soon after the trial, Pinhas Lavon, the defense minister, resigned. He claimed he had been unaware of the failed mission, but Col. Binyamin Gibli, the head of Israel’s military intelligence, insisted that he had received his orders from Mr. Lavon.

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