BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Relatives of the Israeli spy Eli Cohen visited Buenos Aires to discover the places in which one of the greatest spies in the Jewish state’s history lived as part of a special mission.
In 1960, Egyptian-born Cohen was recruited by the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. He was dispatched to Argentina, where he posed as an expatriate Syrian businessman, and later moved to Damascus.
He lived in Buenos Aires from December 1960 to August 1961. During those months, he was known as Kemal Amin Thaabe.
Last week, Cohen’s widow, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Buenos Aires bearing detailed information about the places in which he lived, including the Waldorf Hotel in the downtown Buenos Aires, near San Martín Square and close to Argentine Foreign Ministry, and two downtown private apartments.
In meetings with local Jewish leaders and Israeli representatives, Nadia, Cohen’s widow, said that for the family it is very moving to be sitting in the same cafes in which Eli Cohen sat in Buenos Aires, to eat at the same restaurants, and to walk the same streets, especially because they never can hope to recover his body.
The spy frequented Syrian restaurants, iconic cafes, bohemian places and pubs, in a very crowded agenda to establish relationships with businessmen, diplomats and strategic people for his mission.
He entered Syria posing as a Syrian expatriate in Argentina who returned to his homeland. There, he developed contacts with Syrian political and military officials, passing information to Israel over the course of three years. Some military historians believe that some of the data Cohen passed on to the Mossad were crucial to Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War.
Cohen was caught by Syrian authorities and publicly hanged on May 18, 1965.
On May 21, 1995, 30 years after her husband, Eli, was hanged in Damascus, Nadia Cohen appealed to Syrian President Hafez Assad to return her husband’s remains.
“Even after 40 years, the wonder at the courage and operational accomplishments of Eli Cohen has remained,” prime minister Ariel Sharon said in a speech at a Jerusalem memorial ceremony in June 2005.