Rumors that Russia removed the body of Israel’s most famous spy cannot yet be substantiated. Israeli officials are neither confirming nor denying.
A cloud of rumors began swirling in Israel Sunday night over the possibility that the remains of Israeli spy Eli Cohen could be returning home.
“Cohen worked as a Mossad agent in Damascus, Syria under the alias of Kamal Amin Ta’abet from 1962 until his exposure and execution on May 18, 1965,” according to the “Help Bring Eli Home” website sponsored by his family.
“Cohen was able to supply considerable details on Syrian political and military matters because of his strong interpersonal skills and abilities to build close ties with business, military, and [ruling] Ba’ath Party leaders, and Syrian President Amin el Hafiz,” says the website, adding that Cohen was “hanged in Martyr’s Square with the television cameras rolling for the entire world to see.”
Cohen, an Egyptian-born Jew, had managed to climb the ranks of the Syrian Defense Ministry, becoming the top advisor to Syria’s Defense Minister.
The intelligence he gathered before his arrest is said to have been an important factor in Israel’s success in the Six-Day War.
A Wikipedia biographical report indicated that Cohen’s most famous achievement was the tour of the Golan Heights in which he collected intelligence on the Syrian fortifications there. Feigning sympathy for the soldiers exposed to the sun, Cohen had trees planted at every position. The trees were used as targeting markers by the Israeli military during the Six-Day War and enabled Israel to capture the Golan Heights in two days with relative ease. Cohen made repeated visits to the southern frontier zone, providing photographs and sketches of Syrian positions.
Cohen learned of a secret plan by Syria to create three successive lines of bunkers and mortars; the Israel Defense Forces would otherwise have expected to encounter only a single line.
According to the Wikipedia report, in 1957, Cohen was recruited by the Israel Defense Forces, and was placed in military intelligence, where he became a counterintelligence analyst. His work bored him, and he attempted to join the Mossad. Cohen was offended when the Mossad rejected him and resigned from military counterintelligence. For the next two years, he worked as a filing clerk in a Tel Aviv insurance office. In 1959, he married Nadia Majald, an Iraqi-Jewish immigrant and the sister of author Sami Michael. They had three children, Sophie, Irit and Shai, and the family settled in Bat Yam.
The Mossad recruited Cohen after Director-General Meir Amit, looking for a special agent to infiltrate the Syrian government, came across his name while looking through the agency’s files of rejected candidates, after none of the current candidates seemed suitable for the job. For two weeks he was put under surveillance, and was judged suitable for recruitment and training. Cohen was then informed that the Mossad had decided to recruit him, and underwent an intensive six-month course at the Mossad training school. His graduate report stated that he had all the qualities needed to become a katsa, or field agent.
He was then given a false identity as a Syrian businessman who was returning to the country after living in Argentina. To establish his cover, Cohen moved to Argentina in 1961
The source of the rumors appears to be websites linked to opposition groups in Syria. According to these reports, a Russian delegation recently left Syria with a coffin containing Cohen’s remains. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the reports.
The Israeli military censor is allowing for the rumors to be reported, but it is unclear what the significance of that is.
Middle East specialist Yoni Ben Menachem quoted Syrian opposition sources as saying, “There are unconfirmed leaks from Damascus about a coffin that was passed along with the Russian delegation that left Syria–the leaks speak of the possibility that the coffin contains the body of Israeli spy Eli Cohen. Awaiting confirmation.”
Last year, Cohen’s wristwatch was brought to Israel in a secret operation of the Mossad, and after Eli Cohen was executed, the watch was held by an enemy state.
When the watch was returned to Israel, research and intelligence activities were carried out, at the end of which it was determined unequivocally that the watch was indeed Cohen’s.
It follows the return of the remains of Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel at the beginning of this month. Baumel had been missing since a battle in Lebanon in 1982. The reports of the possible return of Cohen’s remains fit the mold of the background to how Baumel was brought home: the involvement of Russia and one or more opposition groups in Syria, perhaps ISIS, though the exact details remain somewhat vague.
(World Israel News)
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