This article is about the Israeli spy. For other people with the same name, see Eli Cohen (disambiguation).
Eli Cohen
Born Eliahu ben Shaoul Cohen
(1924-12-16)16 December 1924
Alexandria, Kingdom of Egypt
Died 18 May 1965(1965-05-18) (aged 40)
Al-Marjeh Square, Damascus, Syria
Nationality Israeli
Spouse(s) Nadia
Children Sophie, Irit, Shai

Eliahu (Eli) ben Shaoul Cohen (Template:Lang-he-n, 16 December 1924 – 18 May 1965) was an Israeli spy. He is best known for his work in Syria, where he developed close relationships with the political and military hierarchy and became the Chief Adviser to the Minister of Defense. He was eventually exposed and executed in Syria in 1965. The intelligence he gathered is claimed to have been an important factor in Israel's success in the Six Day War.[1]

In 2005, he was voted the 26th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.[2]

Early life and career[edit | edit source]

Cohen was born in Alexandria to a devout Orthodox Jewish and Zionist family in 1924. His father had moved there from Aleppo in 1914. In January 1947, he chose to enlist in the Egyptian Army as an alternative to paying the prescribed sum all young Jews were supposed to pay, but was declared ineligible on grounds of questionable loyalty. Later that year, he left university and began studying at home after facing harassment by the Muslim Brotherhood. In the years following the creation of Israel, many Jewish families left Egypt. Though his parents and three brothers left for Israel in 1949, Cohen remained to finish a degree in electronics and to coordinate Jewish and Zionist activities. In 1951, following a military coup, an anti-Zionist campaign was initiated, and Cohen was arrested and interrogated over his Zionist activities.[3] Cohen took part in various Israeli covert operations in the country during the 1950s, though the Egyptian government could never verify and provide proof of his involvement in Operation Goshen, an Israeli operation to smuggle Egyptian Jews out of the country and resettle them in Israel due to increasing antisemitism there.[citation needed]

Following the Suez Crisis, the Egyptian government stepped up persecution of Jews and expelled many of them. In December 1956, Cohen was forced to leave the country. With the assistance of the Jewish Agency, he emigrated to Israel, arriving in the Israeli port of Haifa in a vessel travelling from Naples, Italy.[3][4]

In 1957, Cohen was recruited by Israeli military intelligence. His work as a counterintelligence analyst bored him, and he attempted to join the Mossad. Cohen was offended when 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, and married Nadia Majald, an Iraqi-Jewish immigrant, in 1959. They had three children, and the family eventually 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 then underwent an intensive, six-month course at the Mossad training school, and his graduate report stated that he had all the qualities needed to become a katsa, or field agent.[4][5]

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.[6][7]

Syria[edit | edit source]

Cohen moved to Damascus in 1962[8][9] and eventually gained the confidence of many Syrian military and government officials under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet كامل أمين ثابت. Cohen sent intelligence to Israel by radio, secret letters, and occasionally in person. His most famous achievement was when he toured the Golan Heights, and 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. Cohen made repeated visits to the southern frontier zone, providing photographs and sketches of Syrian positions.[10]

Cohen made many friends with high-ranking Syrian generals while undercover. Some sources even say that he had established a good friendship with Amin al-Hafiz. Hafiz said that this was not true in a 2001 interview in which he said that such a friendship would be impossible given the fact that he had been in Moscow until 1962.[11] After Hafiz became Prime Minister, Cohen may even have been considered for the position of Syrian Deputy Minister of Defense,[12] though Hafiz's secretary has denied that this was the case.[13]

Cohen learned of an important 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.[5][14][15]

In 1964, Cohen secretly returned to his home in Bat Yam for the birth of his third child. He assured his wife that there would only be one more trip before he returned permanently.[3]

Trial and execution[edit | edit source]

File:Eli Cohen.jpg

Eli Cohen, publicly hanged in Al-Marjeh Square, Damascus on 18 May 1965

In January 1965, Syrian efforts to find a high-level mole were stepped up. Using Soviet-made tracking equipment and assisted by hired Soviet experts, a period of radio silence was observed, and it was hoped that any illegal transmissions could be identified. After large amounts of radio interference were detected and traced to their source, Cohen was caught in the act of transmitting to Israel and arrested in a pre-dawn raid on 24 January. After a trial before a military tribunal, he was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death, without the possibility of an appeal. Cohen was repeatedly interrogated and tortured, but never broke from the torture.[3][4] Israel staged an international campaign for clemency, hoping to persuade the Syrians not to execute him. Hoping to put international pressure on Syria to spare Cohen's life, the Israelis approached many governments to press for clemency, and even appealed to the Soviet Union to intercede.[4] Despite many international appeals, including from Pope Paul VI and the governments of France, Belgium and Canada, to persuade the Syrian government to commute the death sentence,[16] he was publicly hanged by Syria on 18 May 1965. According to his brother and fellow Mossad agent Maurice Cohen, Eli Cohen was third in line to succeed as president of Syria at the time he was discovered.[17]

File:Eli cohen22.jpg

Memorial stone reading Eliahu (Eli) Cohen in the "Garden of the Missing Soldiers" on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Requests by Cohen's family for his remains to be returned to Israel have been denied by the Syrian government (as of September 2012). In February 2007 a Turkish official confirmed that his government was ready to act as a mediator for the return of Cohen's remains to his family from Syria.[18] In August 2008 Monthir Maosily, the former bureau chief of the late Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, said that Eli Cohen's burial site is unknown, claiming that the Syrians buried the executed Israeli spy three times, to stop the remains from being brought back to Israel via a special operation.[19] Cohen's brothers, Abraham and Maurice, originally led the campaign to return his remains. Maurice died in 2006. Eli's widow, Nadia, has since led the campaign.[5][8]

The film The Impossible Spy is a depiction of his life.[20] He is featured at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.[citation needed] A memorial stone has been erected to Cohen in the Garden of the Missing Soldiers in Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Eli Cohen was married to Nadia Majald. They had three children, Sophie, Irit and Shai.[21]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Javits, Jacob (9 July 1971). "Superspy in an unholy war". Life 71 (2). Retrieved 30 August 2011. 
  2. גיא בניוביץ' (20 June 1995). "הישראלי מספר 1: יצחק רבין – תרבות ובידור". Ynet.,7340,L-3083171,00.html. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Thomas, Gordon: Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Katz, Yossi (2010). A voice called : stories of Jewish heroism. Jerusalem, [Israel]: Gefen Publishing. pp. 111 ff.. ISBN 978-965-229-480-7. 
  6. Kahana, Ephraim (2006). Historical dictionary of Israeli intelligence. Lanham, Md. [u.a.]: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-5581-6. 
  7. Schmitt, Abram N. Shulsky, Gary J. (2002). Silent warfare : understanding the world of intelligence (3rd ed., rev. ed.). Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, Inc.. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-57488-345-9. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Eli Cohen article". Israel magazine (Spotlight Publication Ltd.) 5. 1973. 
  9. Allon, Daniel (2011). Gabriel Allon Novels 1–4. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-1-101-53885-2. 
  10. Black, Ian; Morris, Benny (2003). Israel's secret wars : a history of Israel's intelligence services ([Updated to include the Persian Gulf War] ed.). New York: Grove Press. p. 227. ISBN 978-0-8021-3286-4. 
  11. الانقلابات في سوريا كما يراها أمين الحافظ ح13 Al-Jazeera, 18 June 2001 Template:Ar icon
  12. Eli Cohen Jewish Virtual Library
  13. منذر موصلي: هكذا أعدم إبلي كوهين أشهر جاسوس مر على العالم العربي Syria News, 15 May 2007 Template:Ar icon
  14. Youssef, Michael (2009). You want me to do what? : get off your blessed assurance and do something! (1st ed. ed.). New York: Faith Words. ISBN 978-0-446-57958-2. 
  15. Aldouby, Zwy (1971). The shattered silence: the Eli Cohen affair. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. 
  16. Sanua, V. The History of Elie Cohen: An Egyptian Jew who became Israel's greatest spy
  17. Eli Cohen, Our Man in Damascus
  18. Will Israel’s superspy finally rest in peace? The First Post, 20 February 2007
  19. Former Assad aide: Eli Cohen's burial site unknown Ynetnews, 30 August 2008
  20. The Impossible Spy at IMDB
  21. Yuval Azoulay (14 May 2010). "Unending agony for legendary spy Eli Cohen and his widow". Haaretz. Retrieved 30 August 2011. 

External links[edit | edit source]

ar:إيلي كوهين bg:Ели Коен cs:Eli Kohen de:Eli Cohen es:Eli Cohen fa:الی کوهن fr:Eli Cohen id:Eli Cohen it:Eli Cohen he:אלי כהן nl:Eli Cohen pl:Eli Cohen ru:Коэн, Эли tr:Eli Cohen

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