Eli Cohen's legend lives on across the world

On January 24, 1964, the Syrian police run by the Ba’ath party raided the home of Damascus businessman Kamel Amin Tha’abet, also known as Eli Cohen, and arrested him on multiple charges of espionage.

Tha’abet was the undercover name given to Israeli Mossad agent Eli Cohen. Cohen was born in Egypt to Jewish-Syrian parents and grew up speaking the Syrian dialect of Arabic, making him a perfect candidate in Israel for such a dangerous mission as spying on the Syrian enemy. At first, stationed in Argentina where he developed the identity of a wealthy secular Muslim Syrian businessman, he eventually gained the trust of many Syrian elites who lived in the Buenos Aires area at the time.

It should be noted that Argentina for the better part of the 20th century was extremely friendly to all groups who were both antisemitic and enemies of the new state of Israel; both former Nazi officers and anti-Israeli Arabs could be found dwelling in the South American country. 

Cohen eventually moved to Damascus and befriended the ruling Ba’ath party along with many senior governmental and military figures. All information he would gather would be sent to Israel through morse code, the same method that would eventually lead to his arrest.

One of the most famous declassified missions Eli Cohen was responsible for was the bombing of Syrian bases in the Syrian Golan Heights, by Israeli forces. Cohen instructed military officials in Syria to plant specifically around the Syrian bases so the soldiers could enjoy the shade, meanwhile instructing the Mossad and Israeli security members on what specific trees to look for. Evidence of just how close Chen was to the Ba’ath leadership can be seen in pictures of him taken from the Golan Heights, which at the time was strictly prohibited for Syrian civilians as it was used by the military. 

After his arrest, Cohen was tortured for many months and publicly hanged on May 18, 1965. The intelligence that he had gathered would prove to be crucial in Israel’s victory over the Syrian army during the Six-Day War, two years after his execution.

His story would become the one of a national hero in Israel, told about in every elementary school classroom. In 2019, Zionist Jew Sacha Baron Cohen would play Mr.Cohen in the highly-praised miniseries “The Spy”, in which he was nominated for Best Actor by the Golden Globe Awards committee. 

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