A Syrian message to those who betray the leadership. A true-life spy story now on Netflix.

16 October 2019 By Paul Martin

The story of Eli Cohen is literally written on his dead body – left as a gruesome message to potential traitors over half a century ago… but still perhaps relevant to those who anger the current Syrian regime. A newly discovered photo (left) has brought it all into sharp focus.

“In the name of the Syrian Arab people,” read a cardboard proclamation tied around the spy’s body after his execution in 1965 in Damascus.

“The Military court has decided in its meeting which was held on Muharram 7th, 1385 / May 8th, 1965 to sentence Eliyahu Ben-Shaul Cohen, a resident of Tel Aviv in Occupied Palestine, to death for committing the following crimes:

1- The crime of disguised entry into a military location.

2- The crime of obtaining secret information that are kept hidden to ensure the safety of the country with the intention of benefiting the enemy.

3- He is being executed according to the two articles 158 and 159 of the military penal code, and articles 271, 272, and 274 of the general penal code.

This is a definitive and final verdict. It was approved by

The head of the presidency council on 17/5/1965.”

The body of Eli Cohen was kept hanging in Marjeh Square in Damascus after his death – before he was finally buried in an unknown location. The Syrian authorities refused to give back the body to Cohen’s family and have never revealed the whereabouts of his remains.

This was part of the punishment. The enraged Syrian regime didn’t believe his body deserved to be honoured or that his family deserved any kind of resolution. It was reported that he was re-buried three times in successful efforts to stop the spy’s remains from being brought back to Israel via a special operation.

In 2018, an Israeli operation somehow managed to obtain his watch from Syria. It is the only remaining item owned by Cohen that Israel was able to get back. The watch was handed over to his wife in a private ceremony.

He left the country where he was born, Egypt, because of increasing anti-Jewish hostility and while he had come under suspicion of pro-Israeli activities.

After he emigrated to Israel he wanted to prove his worth by joining the Mossad. Ironically, he became strongly influencial not inside Israel but in a neighbouring Arab country: Syria.

Astonishinly, Cohen managed to become the third most powerful person in the country – yet all the while continuing to spy for Syria’s arch-enemy.

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