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Who Sent Our Man Back to Damascus?

Estee Rieder

Forty-five years have passed since Eli Cohen, “our man in Damascus,” was caught and hanged by the Syrians the events that led to his capture are a mystery. Was the secret service sloppy, sending him back into a trap while being tailed? Once his identity was leaked, why wasn’t he pulled from the mission? New evidence, including a letter from a Syrian friend, shocking discoveries from a research journalist, and interviews with family members sheds new light on a case that has no answers.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A short while after midnight on Tuesday, May 18, 1965, Eli Cohen knew that his time had come to die. He’d had midnight visits before, but as soon as he saw the stooped figure of the elderly Rav Nissim Andabo, it was clear that the time for execution had arrived.

In a trembling voice, the rav recited Shema Yisrael, Vidui, and Kel Malei Rachamim. Eli repeated the words after him, and when he saw that the rav could not hold back his tears, Eli offered him words of encouragement.

One hundred days had passed since the fateful morning when he had been caught in his apartment in the center of Damascus; his identity as an Israeli spy had been exposed. Tens of thousands went out to Martyrs’ Square to watch the execution. They looked on as he refused an offer by one of the guards to lean on him as he ascended the guillotine, declined to hide his face behind a cowl, and as he listened once again to the holy verses tearfully recited by the elderly rabbi. And then he was hanged.

Syrian President General Amin al-Hafiz ordered his body to be left hanging in the square. The white sack in which his body was encased had the following words printed on it: “Eliyahu the son of Shaul Cohen was sentenced to death in the name of the Arab nation of Syria after he was found guilty of entering a closed military zone and providing secret information to the enemy.” He was then buried in the Jewish cemetery in the city. To this day, the government of Syria refuses to return his remains to Israel. Israel’s security services have surmised that the bones and remains of the body were exhumed and transferred to a construction site in the city.


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