Israel’s secret operation to recover the watch of a legendary spy
The watch belonged to Eli Cohen, whose spying in Syria is credited with serving to Israel to a fast victory within the 1967 struggle, lengthy after he had been caught and executed by the Syrian authorities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “decided and brave motion” of the Israeli spy company, Mossad, for returning “a reminiscence from a heroic fighter who contributed vastly to the safety of the state.”
However the announcement was tantalizingly quick on specifics, setting off a buzz throughout Israel. Cohen was a nationwide hero, with streets and buildings named after him and ceremonies honoring his reminiscence yearly. However had the Mossad, as Netanyahu implied, carried out a secret operation to get better a wristwatch?
The operation, based on an Israeli official with data of it, was a part of a broader 14-year hunt by the Mossad to search out Cohen’s physique, which 53 years after his execution in Damascus had by no means been situated. The principle objective was to get better the physique and return it for a hero’s burial in Israel. However a part of the operation was to get better any private objects belonging to the spy.
The watch that belonged to Eli Cohen, whose spying in Syria is credited with serving to Israel’s fast victory within the 1967 struggle. (Credit score: Amos Ben Gershom/Israel Authorities Press Workplace)
The spy company has invested enormous sums and sources within the bigger quest, together with endangering human life and paying bribes to brokers and crooks, Israeli intelligence officers mentioned. Nonetheless, the physique has not been discovered.
However in the course of the search, the official mentioned, Mossad brokers situated a person who had the watch and commenced an operation to acquire it.
Cohen’s mission in Syria within the early 1960s is maybe probably the most fabled army and intelligence episode in Israel’s historical past, and is taken into account one of many Mossad’s best successes and failures ever.
Cohen, an Egyptian Jew, immigrated to Israel in 1957 and joined Israeli army intelligence in 1960. He was assigned to be an spy posing as a rich Syrian enterprise government lately returned from Argentina.
He befriended high Syrian officers, whom he lured to his condo with lavish events the place he allotted free-flowing liquor and prostitutes. Over time, he was capable of present the Mossad with intensive info on the Syrian order of battle, the placement of fortifications, Syria’s relations with the Soviet Union, parliamentary gossip and energy struggles throughout the management.
Below strain from his handlers in Israel, and overconfident in his personal cowl story, he began broadcasting messages in Morse code on a near-daily foundation utilizing a telegraphic system he stored hidden at his dwelling. However his transmitter brought about interference with the radio utilized by the Syrian military chief of employees command, which was throughout the road from his condo, finally resulting in his seize.
He was arrested, interrogated, brutally tortured, tried and sentenced to demise. Israel did every thing in its energy to cease his execution, asking international diplomats to intervene and providing the Syrians an enormous ransom to no avail.
Cohen was hanged Could 19, 1965, at Marja Sq. on the heart of Damascus, his physique left swaying on the rope for hours as a grim warning.
Syrian authorities, apparently conscious of the significance Israel has hooked up to the return of our bodies of soldier and officers, have since refused repeated Israeli requests to launch the physique.
The Mossad first proposed a plan to get better it in 2004, based on the company’s former chief, Meir Dagan. Nevertheless, that operation and a sequence of others since then haven’t turned up Cohen’s stays.
The Mossad did uncover that the physique had been faraway from the Jewish cemetery in Damascus the place it was initially buried, and transferred as soon as or a number of occasions to different locations, apparently to maintain Israel off monitor. Some Israeli intelligence officers have concluded that even Syrian intelligence not is aware of the place the Israeli spy is buried.
Two years in the past, the present head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, ordered a renewed effort.
Making an attempt to succeed in individuals who took half within the arrest, investigation, trial and execution, the Mossad discovered that one particular person concerned within the investigation had stored the watch, for some purpose with out the strap, and handed it on to somebody near him.
For the previous 18 months, the Mossad has been conducting a fancy operation within the coronary heart of Damascus to acquire the watch from this man. The official didn’t clarify how Mossad brokers acquired the watch.
When the watch arrived in Israel, the Mossad carried out one other operation to confirm that this was certainly Cohen’s watch.
Cohen sometimes traveled to Europe, and from there to Israel to satisfy along with his operators. He used to come back again from these visits, like a rich enterprise government, with luxurious items. From one go to to Europe, he returned with an costly Omega watch. The Mossad has discovered paperwork displaying the watch was bought in Switzerland.
Forensics consultants, picture consultants who examined photos of Cohen along with his watch, and different consultants had been recruited. Swiss archives and data had been additionally examined. About three months in the past, the consultants concluded that this was the well-known spy’s timepiece.
Cohen’s loss was a deep wound for the Mossad.
“We bear in mind Eli Cohen and we don’t overlook his legacy, a legacy of devotion, willpower, braveness and love of the homeland is our heritage,” Mossad chief Yossi Cohen mentioned Thursday in an announcement.
”Of the operational effort,” he added, “we managed to find and produce to Israel the wristwatch of Eli Cohen, which he wore in Syria till the day he was caught, and was a part of Eli’s operational character and a part of his fictitious Arab identification.”
The watch was presupposed to be handed over to the household quickly, however Cohen’s widow, Nadia Cohen, hinted in an interview to Israeli army radio that she may desire that it stay with the Mossad.
“The Mossad advised us a couple of weeks in the past that they obtained info on the watch and that it was about to be offered,” she mentioned within the interview. “We have no idea the place, wherein place, how, wherein nation, or how did they study it.”
The Israeli official, who spoke on situation of anonymity to debate a delicate matter, mentioned the seek for Cohen’s physique would proceed.