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April 24, 2019 4:38 pm

Brother of Legendary Israeli Spy Eli Cohen Recounts Secret History of Search for His Body

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

A detail of the commemorative stamp honoring Eli Cohen issued by the State of Israel in 2000, on the 34th anniversary of his hanging. Photo: Reuters.

Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had extensive information on the possible whereabouts of the body of legendary spy Eli Cohen, and made at least one major attempt to retrieve it, Cohen’s late brother revealed in an interview broadcast Wednesday in the Israeli media.

Cohen is perhaps the Mossad’s most famous deep-penetration agent. During the early 1960s, he succeeded in infiltrating the highest levels of the Syrian defense establishment. The information he provided is believed to have been important to Israel’s military victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Syrian counter-intelligence eventually exposed Cohen’s activities and he was executed in 1965. His family and the Israeli government has sought the return of his body ever since.

In recent weeks, rumors flew that Cohen’s body had been found and was being transferred to Israel by Russian intermediaries. The IDF officially denied the reports, as did the Russian government.

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In the interview broadcast by Israel’s Channel 12, Cohen’s brother Maurice, himself a former Mossad agent who passed away in 2006, detailed the long history of rumors as to the whereabouts of Eli’s body.

He recounted one rumor that former Syrian President Amin al-Hafiz had the body buried and “put a tank brigade to guard it.” Following this, his successor Hafez Assad, the late father of current Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, “dug it up, planted a gas charge, and poured concrete on it.”

“There are other people, another version, who say that hotheads burned the body,” he added. “I’m afraid this version could be true, because it’s a very valuable political bargaining chip.”

Maurice revealed that the Mossad came close to retrieving Eli’s body 40 years ago in southern Lebanon, though the operation failed.

“I’m almost convinced that today they keep it a secret in Syria,” he said of the whereabouts of his brother’s body. “They ignore this information and few Syrians themselves know where he is. Because there was an attempt in the past to retrieve the body. It was moved to the Lebanon-Syria border.”

Eli’s daughter Sophie also spoke to the media, and said she had never been told any of the information cited by Maurice.

“I didn’t know, I never heard any of this story, this is the first time I’ve been exposed to these different versions, and I have no idea if they’re true or not,” she said.

“I call on whoever is responsible to open it up, to open up the information,” she added. “There is no value in this hermetic closure.”

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