Israeli leaders gathered with the family of hero Eli Cohen to mark the 50th anniversary of his execution and remember his supreme sacrifice for his country.
Israeli leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Monday to honor the memory of Israeli master spy Eli Cohen on the 50th anniversary of his execution in Damascus.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Mossad Director Tamir Pardo, former Mossad directors, senior Mossad officials and members of the Cohen family – including his widow Nadia, their three children and his siblings – attended the ceremony, held at the President’s residence.
Netanyahu highlighted Cohen’s crucial and singular contribution to Israel’s security. “Two years after Eli’s death, the Six Day War erupted,” he said. “The value of the intelligence he succeeded in obtaining became apparent then. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said at the time that ‘Eli Cohen’s actions saved the State of Israel many brigades of [IDF] soldiers.’ Eli Cohen saved many brigades of soldiers. How many mothers, Nadia, were spared what you went through, thanks to Eli.”
Cohen is remembered as one of Israel’s most daring spies who was successful in infiltrating Syria’s highest political and military echelons, thus providing Israel with an ongoing stream of intelligence.
He operated under the alias of Kamal Amin Ta’abet from 1962 until his exposure and execution on May 18, 1965, when he was hanged in Martyr’s Square in Damascus. The execution was shown on television around the world.
Cohen’s profound influence on Syrian officials helped Israel beyond measure. For instance, he suggested that the Syrians plant trees on the Golan near each of their fortifications. Based on the eucalyptus trees, Israel knew their exact location and were therefore able to better maneuver during the Six Day War.
Cohen’s influence on the nation’s security is still palpable, Netanyahu declared at the memorial event. “Our presence on the Golan Heights is, to this day, of great importance. Imagine the Syrian army or rebel forces or extremist Islamic terrorist organizations or Hezbollah, under the command of Iranian generals, coming down from the Golan Heights to the Kinneret and the valleys of the north. Thanks to Eli Cohen, this has been prevented,” Netanyahu stated.
Efforts to Return Body to Israel Continue
Cohen became one of Israel’s greatest national heroes, the prime minister continued. “Children are named after Eli, streets and neighborhoods immortalize his character, and in merit of heroes like him, whose outstanding modesty stands in stark contrast to the magnitude of their actions, we continue to survive.”
Cohen is buried in Syria, and Netanyahu vowed to continue efforts to return his body to Israel.
President Rivlin said that “few people are remembered for generations. Among those few, there are almost none from the heroes of the intelligence community, unknown soldiers who put their souls on the line and risk losing their lives at any minute, under a blanket of secrecy. Eli Cohen was an extraordinary hero of Israel. He merits that the entire country would know him well and maintain his legacy. We, the citizens of Israel, will forever remember Eli Cohen as a true hero who sacrificed his life in the defense of our security and for the freedom of our country.”
‘Faithful Until the Very End’
Rivlin stressed the extent of Cohen’s sacrifice and dedication: “Sometimes, I imagine Eli on a tour of the Golan, on the Syrian side of the border, in which he would have participated under his assumed identity. I cannot comprehend how it must have felt. The sense of detachment from a place that was so dear to him, from people who were so dear to him. I picture Eli, standing thrown into silence. Perhaps he called inside for his dear family, his lips moving but his voice silent. Looking afar at the citizens of Israel, who placed upon him their hopes, without even knowing of his existence.”
Cohen represents a unique combination of “modesty and ingenuity, courage and devotion – to his people, his land and to his state,” Rivlin continued. “We see this in his illustrious resume, from his family left behind, and from his final words, which he said to an elderly rabbi before his execution. He said, ‘Please tell my family that I fulfilled my mission to its completion, and I stayed faithful to my land and to my people until the very end.'”
Addressing Cohen’s widow Nadia, Rivlin said, “Eli, of course, knew how much you cared for his well-being and understood the heavy price you paid, and which you still pay, for his dedication to his people and his land, and it is with this dedication that he wanted to surround and embrace you.
“This memorial ceremony marks a debt of honor to our brother Eli Cohen and to his legacy, an eternal legacy which forever remains in our hearts. The legacy of our man in Damascus for whom the safety to the State of Israel was ingrained in his very being.”
Pardo explained that very few have the “unique personality and combination of special character traits” to be a Mossad agent. “Eli Cohen was one of those people. His legacy stands at the head of many generations of agents. Since then, and to this day, many agents are risking their lives and freedom in the line of duty for Israel’s security. Eli’s legacy, our man in Damascus, will last forever. It remains our obligation to bring Eli home, to bury him in Israel.”
Nadia Cohen, while thanking the president for his assistance and support, made an emotional appeal, saying “Do not forget where Eli lies. He is not with us. I ask, on this special occasion, that you do all you can to bring him home to the country for which he fought and paid for with his life.”