The Mossad spy agency recovered a wristwatch belonging to legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who was executed in Syria in 1965, and brought it back to Israel in a recent special operation, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Thursday. The PMO did not explain how it retrieved the watch, which had been in “enemy hands,” it said.
Cohen’s body has never been returned from Syria, despite decades of appeals by his family. Israel recently asked for Russia’s help in that effort, to no avail.
Cohen infiltrated the top levels of Syria’s political leadership in the years before the 1967 Six Day War, and information he obtained is credited with playing a key role in Israel’s stunning success in that war.
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen presented the watch to Eli Cohen’s family a few weeks ago at a ceremony marking the anniversary of his death. It will be displayed at the Mossad headquarters for the next few weeks “in memory of the legendary warrior,” and on Rosh Hashana it will be returned to the family, the statement said.
Cohen was executed by Syria, and his watch was held “by an enemy state” ever since, the PMO said, without giving details.
Once the watch was brought back to Israel, special research and intelligence operations determined unequivocally that it was the watch that had belonged to the spy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the intelligence service for the operation.
“I commend the fighters of the Mossad for the determined and courageous operation, the sole objective of which was to return to Israel a memento from a great fighter who greatly contributed to the security of the state,” he said.
Nadia Cohen, Eli Cohen’s widow, told Channel 10 news that it was very emotional for her to have the watch back.
“The watch has been in Israel for several months. It was very emotional to be told of this. It was something that was placed on Eli’s skin,” she said. “God willing, perhaps his body will also be returned to Israel.”
The Mossad head said Cohen will never be forgotten.
“His heritage, of dedication, determination, courage, and love of the homeland is our heritage. We remember and have maintained a close connection over the years with his family, Nadia and the children,” the Mossad chief said.
“This was Eli Cohen’s watch that he wore in Syria until the day he was caught,” he added. “The watch was part of Eli Cohen’s operational image and part of his fabricated Arab identity.”
Mossad agent Cohen was put on trial and executed by the Syrian government for espionage on May 18, 1965, after he successfully infiltrated the Syrian government under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet for four years. The intelligence conveyed to Israel during that period was credited by then-prime minister Levi Eshkol as greatly assisting Israel during the Six Day War.
Over the years, Nadia Cohen unsuccessfully made several appeals to the Syrian government to release her late husband’s remains. In 2008, a former bureau chief of late Syrian leader Hafez Assad claimed that no one knew where Cohen was buried.
“The grave was moved after a day or two,” Monjer Motsley said in an interview. “We were scared that Israel would send forces to take away the body.
“It is difficult to find Cohen’s bones,” he added. “Assad promised to return Cohen’s bones, but when he asked about it security officials told him: ‘Sir, we don’t know where the grave is,’ so he couldn’t promise.”
In March, Nadia Cohen told Israel Radio that the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan had sought the assistance of the United States as late as 2011, after the Syrian civil war broke out, to help bring his remains to Israel for burial.