Israeli makes spy exchange request

The daughter of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who was executed by Syria in 1965, has hopes to arrange the release of 11 Syrians in exchange for the return of her father’s body.

Israeli forces took control of the Golan heights
Israeli forces took control of the Golan heights

The London-based al-Hayat newspaper reported on Sunday that Sophie Cohen visited prisoners and families in the Israeli-occupied Golan as part of her bid to obtain her father’s remains.


She claims Israeli officials have been open to the idea, but no Israeli official at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem could be contacted to confirm their support.


But one of the prisoners tipped for the proposed exchange, Amal Mahmoud, told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that she had been approached.


Prisoner pessimism


“At the beginning of the meeting, she told us of her feelings as a daughter who never knew her father,” the Israeli prisoner said.


“She said that she deserves a grave to visit. We understood from her that she had only learned of Syrian prisoners held in Israeli jails a few months ago.”


However, Mahmoud expressed her doubt that Damascus would agree to the exchange.


The 11 prisoners are all from the Syrian Druse town of Majd al-Shams and were arrested in 2001 for helping Palestinian resistance movements.


“We understood from her [Sophie Cohen] that she had only learned of Syrian prisoners held in Israeli jails a few months ago”

Amal Mahmoud,
Syrian prisoner held by Israel

And Syria’s Foreign Ministry policy advisor Ahmad al-Hajj Ali told that to date no official request had been received by Damascus and that the government’s only knowledge of the suggested exchange was through the media.


Over the years, the Cohen family, particularly Eli’s widow Nadia and his brother Morris, have tried but failed to get a Syrian response to its various proposals.


The last attempt involved Nadia appealing directly to Syrian president Bashar al-Asad in a videotaped message.


Profile of a spy


Eli Cohen was born in Alexandria on 26 December 1928 to Syrian Jews originally from Aleppo. Tel Aviv recruited him in 1960, giving him the new identity of Kamal Amin Taabet and training him to lose his Egyptian accent and speak the Syrian dialect.


In early 1961, Chaim Herzog – Chief of Military Intelligence and later president of Israel – signed the document authorising Cohen’s use as a spy.


Cohen was first sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to establish his cover as a Syrian emigrant.


He soon established himself in the social and cultural life of the Syrian community of Buenos Aires and became a close friend of Colonel Amin al-Hafaz, a supporter of the secular-leftist Baath party.


Rise to power


Returning to Damascus in February 1962, he posed as a businessman from Argentina who had returned to his native land at the same time as the Baath party’s fortunes.


Historians agree that it was Cohen’s reports that enabled Israel to prevent Syria from diverting the headwaters of the Jordan away from Israel when they bombed the Golan in 1964.


At the height of his success he was considered for a position as Syria‘s deputy defence minister, a time when he also gave detailed intelligence on the Golan’s defences – which fell to occupation forces within two days in 1967.


Cohen was eventually caught transmitting intelligence in 1965 and was hanged on 18 May of the same year.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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