Despite being remembered as Israel’s greatest spy, Eli Cohen, who infiltrated the highest echelons of Syria, remains an unknown figure to today’s youth, his widow said.
Born in 1924 in Egypt, Cohen immigrated to Israel at the age of 33 and settled in Bat Yam. Almost immediately he began collaborating with Israeli intelligence agencies and in 1960 was recruited to Military Intelligence’s Unit 188.
After having trained as a spy, Cohen was sent by Unit 188 to Argentina, where he built his identity as a businessman of Syrian descent.
In January 1962, after successfully integrating into Argentina’s Syrian community, Cohen traveled to Damascus, quickly becoming friends with top government officials and senior military officers.
From these men, he attained classified information about the Syrian army and its connections with Palestinian organizations – information that would later provide a dramatic contribution to Israel’s victory in the Six Day Way in 1967.
Cohen was captured in January 1965 while broadcasting information to Israel during a Syrian regime imposed 24-hour period of radio silence. He was publicly hanged in Damascus’ Marjeh Square in May, having undergone months of torture and interrogation.
Buried in Damascus, the Syrian government has rebuffed all requests to allow Cohen to be brought home for burial in Israel.
“They do not teach his story in schools,” Cohen said during an interview with Army Radio to mark 50 years since the noted spy’s death.
“Despite all our efforts to bring this to the education system, there is no awareness in school. If you ask students who was Eli Cohen, they will say he was a soccer player or a book, no more than that.”
A ceremony in honor of Eli Cohen will be held Tuesday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, and will be attended by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as well as a number of former Mossad chiefs.