One of Israel’s Greatest Spies
Born 16/26th December 1924 as Эли Коэн, Камал Амин Тават, אלי כהן, Eliahu (Eli) ben Shaoul Cohen (Hebrew: אֱלִיָּהוּ בֵּן שָׁאוּל כֹּהֵן, he was born in the Mediterranean city of Alexandra, Egypt. Cohen’s father had settled there from Aleppo, Syria in 1914. Cohen tried to join the Egyptian Army, but his loyalty was in doubt. He went to university, but it is said that he was forced to study at home due to harassment from the Muslim Brotherhood.
With the occupation of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel his parents and three brothers left Egypt in 1949 while Cohen completed his degree in electronics in Egypt, and coordinated Zionist activities, which led to his arrest in 1951. Many Jews were expelled from Egypt after the Suez crisis, thus Cohen was obliged to leave for Israel by December 1956.
Cohen joined the Israel Defence Forces in 1957 and worked for the military intelligence as a counterintelligence analyst from which he resigned when rejected by MOSSAD.
For 2 years Cohen worked as a filing clerk at Tel Avivinsurance office. He married Iraqi Jew Nadia Majald in 1959, and had three children.
Director-General of MOSSAD Meir Amit recruited Cohen as a special agent with the aim of infiltrating the Syrian government. With an intensive 6-month of training Cohen qualified as a katsa, a field agent.
With a new name travelling as a business man Cohen was to make everyone believe that he was returning to Syria after living in Argentina, so in 1961, Cohen moved to Argentina.
Cohen became Kamal Amin Ta’abet كامل أمين ثابت., a rich Arab who lived in Argentina returning to his homeland, Syria. Details to Israel were sent by radio, secret letters, and sometimes in person. Nadia his wife once received a message from Cohen from two Syrian Jews whereby Cohen approached them in a marketplace when it was the Jewish event of Passover by asking “Let me taste some of that thing that you eat only on your week of holiday”.
The socialite that he was, Cohen entertained many government officials in his home with women and wine. Once their guard was down sensitive information came to the surface with Cohen feigning intoxication. His cover was so well executed that developed strong enough ties with the Syrian elite and close relations with the political and military hierarchy; Cohen was even considered for the position of Syrian Deputy Minister of Defence, yet there was one person who did not like or trust Cohen, Colonel Ahmed Su’edani. He became the Chief Adviser to the Minister of Defence. However, this is disputed by then Prime Minister’s Amin al-Hafiz’s secretary as he was in Moscow until 1962.
For 4 years Cohen regularly corresponded with Israel, passing information including information that concerned the 6th October War (1967) with Egypt, and for Israel to take the still disputed Golan Heights. After surveillance of the Golan Heights, Cohen told a Syrian officer to have some eucalyptus trees planted which would fool the Israelis into believing that there was no fortress, but would also provide shade for the Syrian soldiers, and beautify the area. From the Israeli side, the trees marked the target that aided them in taking the Golan Heights in 2 days. Cohen by that time was not alive.
Caught in the Act
Syria was trying to find a high-level mole and used Russian tracking equipment and expertise. There was a period of radio silence, and from this illegal transmissions were detected. A lot of radio interference was tracked to the source, Cohen’s apartment where he entertained officials. Cohen was caught in the act.
Cohen underwent a military tribunal and found guilty of espionage. He was sentenced to death. Israel kicked up a fuss and called for international pressure. Cohen was allowed to write a letter to his wife, and meet briefly with a rabbi before he was hanged in front of a crowd of over 10,000 people in Al-Marjeh Square, Damascus on May 18 1965. Six Syrians were handed down prison sentences for their part in the espionage.
In 2005, Cohen was voted the 26th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet. In the Garden of the Missing Soldiers on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, a memorial stone reads Eliahu (Eli) Cohen. The film The Impossible Spy is about Cohen. He is also featured at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
Solomon, A.B. ‘Israel searching for remains of Eli Cohen in Syria’ jpost.com/Middle-East/Israel-searching-for-remains-of-Eli-Cohen-in-Syria
Famous Spy Eli Cohen Ate Matzah While in Syria algemeiner.com/2012/04/06/famous-spy-eli-cohen-ate-matzah-while-in-syria/
Eliahu Cohen nekropole.info/en/Eliahu-Cohen
Fox, T “Eli Cohen” myjewishlearning.com/israel/History/1948-1967/eli_cohen.shtml