The voice of “Our Man in Damascus,” Eli Cohen, was heard in Israel for the first time in decades today – in a long-lost recording of an interview he once conducted with Radio Damascus.
Eli Cohen, alias Kamal Amin Ta'abet, rose up in the ranks of the Syrian Defense Ministry and was a candidate for the position of Deputy Defense Minister – until it was discovered that he was actually an Israeli spy and had been passing critical information to Israel every day for three years. An Israeli Jew who was born in Egypt, he moved to Argentina to create his cover as the son of Syrian expatriates. Cohen was hanged in Damascus in May 1965.
His widow, Nadia, an Iraqi Jewess whom he wed in 1959 and mother of his three children, never remarried. “We weren’t so surprised to hear of this recording,” she told Israel National News (INN) Sunday, shortly after the recording was played on Army Radio, “because we knew about it – but shortly after we first heard it, it disappeared, never to be heard from for 45 years. We tried to get it from the party that took it, but in vain – until Army Radio reporter Jackie Hugi came along and was able to get this emotional surprise for us.”
Israel's Greatest Spy
Cohen was considered Israel’s greatest spy, revealing information about the Syrian water project to divert Jordan River waters away from Israel and about Syrian military positions in the Golan Heights. The information was used to tremendous advantage: In early 1964, the Israeli Air Force put an end to the Syrian water diversion scheme by shelling and bombing the equipment involved; during the Six-Day War in 1967, his information helped Israel capture the Golan Heights in two days.
At one point in 1962, he was interviewed on Radio Damascus, and asked various questions about life in Argentina compared with Syria and the like. Little did the interviewer or listeners dream that Hawaja [Mr.] Kamal Amin Ta'abet was actually Eli Cohen from Bat Yam, Israel. He said that in some ways, Syria was nicer than he had thought it would be, and answered questions about the cultural life of the Syrian community in Argentina. He was careful not to mention names or other specifics.
Speaking with INN, Nadia bemoaned the ongoing punishment by Syria of her family: “They continue to ignore my requests to tell us where Eli is buried. We live under constant punishment, and our pain does not end… My children have suffered greatly; two of them barely remember him, while none of them were ever able to enjoy experiences of fatherly love or support. He was an amazing man, and would have been an amazing father.”
The entire recording, in Arabic, will be played on Israel's Army Radio at 7 p.m. this evening.