Son of former Syrian leader claims he can help find spy Eli Cohen’s remains

Khalid al-Hafidh, now living in New Zealand, tells local media that Mossad sought his help, but cut off contact after he demanded $1 million for services

This undated photo shows Israeli spy Eli Cohen, in Syria, wearing a wristwatch recovered by the Mossad in 2018. (Prime Minister's Office)
This undated photo shows Israeli spy Eli Cohen, in Syria, wearing a wristwatch recovered by the Mossad in 2018. (Prime Minister's Office)

The son of the former Syrian leader who was in power when Israeli spy Eli Cohen was executed has said that he believes he can help Israel discover the location of Cohen’s remains, and has demanded a substantial sum of money for his assistance, according to the New Zealand-based Newshub service.

Khalid al-Hafidh, son of former Syrian president Amin al-Hafiz, moved to New Zealand as a refugee and now lives in a suburb of Auckland, according to the report.

He told Newshub on Sunday that Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, once showed interest in him providing information on the whereabouts of the remains. Hafidh said that, two years ago, New Zealand’s Secret Intelligence Service (NZSIS) tried to broker a deal on behalf of Mossad, in which Hafidh demanded $1 million in return for telling them everything he knows, while also trying to pry information from his father’s friends.

“I am the son of the only person on this planet who knows where the remains are buried,” Hafidh said. “They wanted me to help.”

Cohen, who spied for Israel in Syria during the 1960s, provided valuable intelligence that was said to have greatly assisted the Israeli military in the 1967 Six Day War. Cohen was caught and eventually executed by Syrian authorities in 1965. Israel has worked to retrieve his remains for decades.

Screen capture from video of Khalid al-Hafidh, son of former Syrian president Amin al-Hafiz. (Newshub)

Hafidh told Newshub that when NZSIS contacted him, it indicated it was acting on behalf of another agency.

“I was cooperating with the New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service in a mission with the Mossad of Israel to help find — to try to find — the remains of the Israeli spy Eli Cohen,” he said.

Communication was reportedly via text messages with an agent identified only as “Carl.”

In some of the messages shown to Newshub, Carl wrote, “I have passed your response to our partners and am waiting a reply.”

In another the agent wrote, “Ensure safety mechanisms are in place for your future.”

Hafidh said that he had demanded $1 million for his services, taking into account the dangers involved in visiting the war-torn country and the possibility that he might be found out as working for the Mossad.

In a message to Carl he wrote, “1M for the minimum for kick start. Thanks,” and sent his bank details.

But the Mossad then apparently gave up on the idea and never responded.

“Reminding them that they came to us and [the] inconvenience this has placed on you,” Carl wrote to Hafidh.

“We have advised them this comms silence is unacceptable. We have told them that if we do not hear from them by the end of next week, all bets are off.”

After that, there was no more contact.

Although he admits to having debts, Hafidh said, “I did not want to do it for the money. I did not want to do it for Mossad. I wanted to do it for the wife and children of Eli Cohen.”

“It was all for good intentions,” Hafidh said. “It went wrong, really wrong.”

Nonetheless, he said he is still willing to help out.

Screenshot from footage showing Israeli spy Eli Cohen placed in a coffin after his execution by hanging in Damascus, Syria on May 18, 1965.

Feeling that he had been treated unfairly, Hafidh filed a complaint with the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, who wrote back that “there is a basis for your complaint.”

The inspector noted that NZSIS is “obliged to take reasonable care not to harm human sources,” Newshub reported.

“Your complaint raises a question whether NZSIS took reasonable care in all its actions with you,” the inspector wrote.

The NZSIS said in a statement that it “works with a range of international intelligence agencies” and that “this cooperation brings significant benefits to New Zealand’s national security.”

The term “partner” is generic when referring to other agencies and “does not imply any special relationship or endorsement,” the service said.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Israeli ambassador did not respond to Newshub.

Mossad spy Eli Cohen, executed in Syria in 1965. (Israel GPO)

Amin al-Hafiz was Syrian president from 1964-1965, until ousted from power. After years of exile in Iraq, Hafiz returned to Syria and died there in 2009. He was a personal friend of Cohen — albeit believing he was a fellow Syrian. Hafidh told Newshub that despite the circumstances of Cohen’s death, his father would have seen to it that he received a proper burial.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Israeli spy Eli Cohen in ‘The Spy’ (YouTube screenshot)

There has been renewed interest in Cohen’s life, and death, following the release this year on Netflix of “The Spy,” which tells his story and stars Sacha Baron Cohen.

Cohen’s remains have yet to be returned, despite pleas from his family. Last year, Israel was able to retrieve Cohen’s wristwatch from Syria and return it to his family.

JTA contributed to this report.

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