Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday denied reports that Russia had found the body of legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen in Syria, a day after Moscow strongly rejected the claim of its involvement.
Cohen infiltrated the top echelons of Syria’s leadership in the early 1960s and obtained top-secret intelligence before he was caught and publicly executed in Damascus in 1965.
Citing unconfirmed reports by Syrian opposition groups, Hebrew media reported earlier this week that a Russian delegation took Cohen’s remains out of Syria.
Israeli officials were silent after the reports emerged last weekend.
Israel had previously appealed to Russia for help in finding Cohen.
Russia’s foreign ministry on Wednesday strongly rejected the reports, putting out a statement “resolutely refuting” the claim, which it described as a “provocation.”
Cohen is also a national icon representing Israel’s daring intelligence-gathering efforts: Information that he obtained in Syria is credited with playing a key role in Israel’s stunning success in the Six Day War.
Cohen was put on trial and executed by the Syrian government for espionage on May 18, 1965, after he successfully breached the Syrian government under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet for four years.
Last year, the Mossad spy agency recovered a wristwatch belonging to Cohen and brought it back to Israel in a special operation. The PMO did not explain how it retrieved the watch, which had been in “enemy hands.”
Over the years, Cohen’s widow Nadia had 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.”