IDF denies reports that Eli Cohen's body is coming home

A week ago, unconfirmed Syrian reports claimed that a Russian delegation that had recently left Syria departed with an Israeli coffin containing Cohen's remains.

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April 22, 2019 20:56
2 minute read.
Eli Cohen

Reproduction of an Israeli stamp being issued to honour the Mossad intelligence agency spy Eli Cohen who was hanged in Damascus. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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After a week of unconfirmed reports, the IDF confirmed on Monday night that the body of legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen is not on its way back to Israel.

In a statement on Twitter, the IDF said that “in light of several requests, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office wishes to clarify that there is no progress in locating Eli Cohen’s body and that the reports about his body being taken by the Russians are incorrect.”

A week ago, unconfirmed Syrian reports claimed that a Russian delegation that had recently left Syria departed with an Israeli coffin containing Cohen’s remains.

However, just days later Russia’s Foreign Ministry rejected the reports, saying that it “resolutely refuting” the claim, which it described as a “provocation.”

It called on the media, especially in Israel, to take an “accurate, professional and honest approach to coverage of such sensitive issues.”

On Thursday, members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office also denied the report after days of remaining mum on the matter.

Cohen was hanged in Damascus in 1965 after his cover was blown following years of working his way up in some of Syria’s top circles.

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, and settling in Israel in the 1950s, Cohen moved to Syria under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet and remained there from 1961 until his death in 1965. He built relations with Syrian high-ranking politicians, military officials, influential public figures and local foreign diplomacy community had been carefully planned by Mossad. Eventually, he became a Chief Adviser to the Minister of Defense.


Cohen operated behind enemy lines – establishing close ties with the top Syrian political and military leadership – from 1962 until he was hanged almost exactly 54 years ago on May 18, 1965.

Cohen, who was known in intelligence circles by the number 566, wrote in encrypted French and sent his messages via a tiny radio transmitter.

Cohen’s transmissions were instrumental in helping the IDF prepare for the 1967 war with Syria. He provided information about the Syrian Air Force and military positions on the Golan.

In July 2018, the Mossad intelligence agency succeeded in retrieving the wristwatch that belonged to the famed spy.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not explain how it retrieved the watch, which had been in “enemy hands,” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the intelligence service for the operation. Soon after it was presented to his widow and children.

The rumors of Cohen’s body being removed from Syria came just weeks after the remains of IDF soldier Sgt. Zachary Baumel were returned to Israel with Russia’s help after nearly 40 years since he was declared missing in action during the First Lebanon War in 1982.

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.

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