Mossad finally reveals how master spy Eli Cohen who came close to being Syria’s defence minister was caught
Israel’s legendary spy agency Mossad on Monday, finally, revealed how one of its top operatives ever, Eli Cohen, was caught in 1965. Eli Cohen was quite accurately and delightfully captured in the Netflix series, titled, ‘The Spy’.
Mossad chief David Barnea unveiled a cable from Eli Cohen from January 19, 1965 which had been intercepted and which led to his capture. The Mossad Director also disclosed the content of the cable too on Monday.
According to The Jerusalem Post, “For decades, there has been a debate about whether Cohen, who gave the Mossad significant information about top Syrian officials and armaments from 1961-1965, was caught because his handlers pushed him too hard or he himself took too many risks.”
The Jerusalem Post also went on to quote Barnea as having said that he made the contents of the cable public to make it clear that no one was to blame for the capture of Cohen and that even the best of spies do get caught. Barnea called Cohen a legend.
Who was Eli Cohen?
Eli Cohen was a small-time clerk in Israel, but went on to become, arguably, the most remarkable asset Mossad ever nurtured.
An Israeli agent, Cohen, worked as a spy in Syria during 1961-1965. He went on to form close relationships with Syrian authorities, in turn milking them for crucial information which he passed on to Israel.
Cohen or Eliahu ben Shaoul Cohen, his undercover name being Kamal Amin Thaabet, was born in 1924, in Alexandria, Egypt. Cohen grew up in Egypt and was the son of Syrian Jewish parents. His fluency in Arabic, English, and French made him a perfect recruit for Mossad. He travelled to Israel for training in 1955 and returned to Egypt the following year. Cohen, however, was expelled from Egypt in the aftermath of the Suez crisis and settled in Israel in 1957. He worked as a translator and an accountant, but was again recruited by Israeli intelligence in 1960.
Cohen was sent in 1961 to Buenos Aires, where he entrenched as an expatriate Syrian businessman, using the alias Kamal Amin Thaabet. Cohen made numerous contacts in the Syrian community in Argentina and infiltrated the Syrian embassy. Those endeared himself to included the Syrian military attaché Amin al-Hafez, who would later go on to become the president of Syria, thereby putting Cohen right at the centre of Syrian power.
Cohen moved to Damascus in 1962 and soon began to pass information to Israel.
Cohen’s power reached its zenith when Baʿthist junta seized power in Syria in 1963. It included several of his associates from Argentina. The coup’s leader Amin al-Hafez continued to favour Cohen and reportedly even wanted to appoint him deputy defence minister.
On time, every time is bad
According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, “Despite Cohen’s considerable talent for espionage, he displayed a tendency for carelessness, ignoring his Israeli handlers’ warnings against sending radio transmissions too frequently or always at the same time of day. That proved to be his downfall.”
In January 1965 Syrian counterintelligence intercepted his radio transmission and apprehended him in the act. Cohen was interrogated, convicted in a military trial, and publicly hanged in May 1965.