Eli Cohen: The Israeli Spy

Eli Cohen is an Israeli spy who was about to become the Defense Minister of his rival country. However, the most interesting fact is that the President of that rival country himself was planning to appoint him as the Defense Minister. Yes, you read that right. We are as surprised as you but then there are some qualities in Eli Cohen that makes him different from the rest. So, for your curious mind, we’ve come up with the story of Eli Cohen. Please read the article till the end to know about Eli Cohen, the Israeli spy.

Eli Cohen Life Story

Eli Cohen real name is Eliyahu Ben-Shaul Cohen. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1924. Born to Syrian parents, he started following both Jews and Zionists. He had a good command of several languages including French, Hebrew, English and Arabic. Perhaps this was one of the reasons that made him a good candidate for Mossad. In 1960, the Intelligence agency recruited Eli as their agent and trained him for six months. Later, they sent him to Syria as a spy to dig up the secrets with a new identity as Kamal Amin Thabet.

Eli Cohen has become a hero for the people in the intelligence agency of Israel. The children in the country look up to him. Even today, the people of Israel fondly remember him as “our man in Damascus”.

Mossad (Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations)

Mossad, Merkazi le-Modiin ule-Tafkidim Meyuhadim (Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations), is an Israeli intelligence agency that some people also call Mosad. It is one of the three main intelligence agencies of Israel. The other two are Shen Bet (Internal Security) and Aman (Military intelligence). The main focus of this agency is majorly on external affairs, covert operations and foreign intelligence gathering.

Before Israel came into existence as a nation, there were many conflicts in the area. People from different religious groups and social sectors argued among themselves for the ownership of the land. There were clashes between different subclasses regarding the power of attorney. Apart from this, Israel is surrounded by rival nations, so it was very important for the nation to build up its army and intelligence at ground level. This would help them survive in the long term aspect otherwise it would have led to the destruction of the nation.

So, as a result of this need for survival and to recall the identity of the nation it was important for them to make their intelligence strong. This led to the formation of “Mossad” on December 13, 1949, an intelligence agency of Israel. Unfortunately, the same conflicts are still going on. Israel along with its neighbouring countries like Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Syria had conflicts and war in the past and it still continues. The continuous conflict between Israel and their neighbouring countries are making the top headlines these days.

Eli Cohen in Syria

In South America, Eli Cohen or Kamal Amin Thabet posed as a rich businessman. He succeeded in gaining the friendship of many influential individuals of Syria’s network overseas. Before travelling to Damascus in early 1962, he already managed to get some helpful letters of introduction for his future plans. Being there, he carried on a high-powered social life, organizing events at his own residence. Those events were attended by high-rating Syrian officials, whom he later become capable of subtly ply for information.

Moreover, between 1961 and 1965, Cohen provided an enormous amount of intelligence data to the Israeli Army. He sent a wide range of intelligence to Israel by radio and secret letters. Surprisingly, he even managed to secretly travel to Israel thrice to deliver the data in person.

These connections helped him in getting closer to the military officials. This way he was able to visit different military strategical sites, like Golan Height. Later in the six days War, these valuable inputs from Eli Cohen help the Israeli military immensely, as they know so much about their bases and their strategic sites their weapons.

Why was the President eager to appoint Eli as Defence Minister?

Not only Eli established very good relations with Colonel Amin al-Hafez in South America but also earned his trust. On returning to Syria later in 1963, Colonel Amin al-Hafez toppled the ruling government along with the Baath party and became the President of Syria. Being one of the main attendees of the parties thrown by Eli, Amin al-Hafez intended to appoint Eli as the defence minister of Syria. Undoubtedly, it is the best dream come true for Mossad! What else could they ask from Eli? It was for the first time that a man of a rival country asked a spy to become his most reliable man. “Our Man in Damascus” is what people in Israel call him.

Six days War

The six days’ war also known as the nakash or the June war, is the third Israel Arabic war. The first one was in 1948-49 and the second one in 1956 when Israel entered Egypt (Suez Crisis). In June 1967, the third Arab- Israeli war was fought. In this war, Israel alone fought against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. As a result, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Patti from Egypt, and the West Bank from Jordan.

Death of The Spy

If you are wondering how Eli Cohen died or even get caught, then here’s your answer. Surprisingly, a single transmitting radio signal helped Syria to unmask one of the greatest spies in history. As he was transferring information to Israel with the help of Morse code and radio frequencies. At the ending of 1964, Syria suspected that they have a big mole within their inner circle. So, they took the help of KGB Russian intelligence in this matter. Moreover, they kept it very private as they already suspected that they have a spy in the top management of Syria. However, the Israeli agency warned Eli Cohen several times and also Eli had many big connections with the Defense system.

So, on a fine day in January 1965, his radio transmission signals got tapped by Syrian security services while he was using a radio transmitter. They recognized Eli as the signals traced back to his house.  When the team reached his apartment, he was in the middle of his transmission to Israel. He was found guilty of espionage. Cohen was asked questions, imprisoned in a military trial, and later in May 1965, he was hanged publicly in Damascus on 18th May 1965.

Eli Cohen story on the air

If you wish to watch Eli Cohen story, you can easily get access to it on different video streaming platforms. One version of the story of this great spy is portrayed in the Netflix series The Spy where Sacha Baron Cohen plays the role of Eli Cohen. The British-Jewish actor is popular worldwide for his unforgettable character of Ali G and Borat. Moreover, you can watch the 1987 movie ‘Impossible Spy’ on YouTube for free.




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