Family of "Our Man in Damascus" Tells Story

Maurice Cohen, brother of Israel's greatest spy Eli Cohen, talks of his brother’s courageous acts of espionage and his family’s yearning to bring Eli’s remains to a proper Jewish burial.

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Debbie Berman, | updated: 15:06

Maurice Cohen spoke with Israel National Radio's Tovia Singer.
Press "Play" below to listen to interview with Eli Cohen's brother.Click here if player does not appear.



Eli Cohen worked as an operative for Israel's Mossad intelligence service in Damascus and successfully infiltrated the highest ranking levels of Syrian government. Cohen was responsible for transmitting crucial information that enabled the Israeli army a swift and decisive victory in their battle with the Syrians over the Golan Heights in the Six Day War. With the assistance of Soviet intelligence, the Syrians caught Eli while he was transmitting a message to Israel. Despite international protests, Eli Cohen was executed by the Syrians in a brutal public hanging on May 18, 1965 (pictured above).

“I am very proud of my brother, but it also a big agony that I lost him. I could not help him, I could not save his life,” Maurice Cohen, himself a retired Mossad agent, stated.

Eli tried in Syrian military tribunal, March, 1965
Remarkably, Cohen was recruited to work in the same Mossad unit as his brother Eli, but neither of the brothers had any knowledge of the nature of the other's work. “We didn’t discuss anything about his job. When he was recruited he told us that he was going to work for the Ministry of Defense to assist in the import of computer parts for military purposes. He said he would be working for the army and would be staying in Europe,” explained Cohen, adding, “I was also recruited and served in the same company that communicated with my brother. We did not know anything about each other.”

Cohen explained how he accidentally happened on information that revealed to him his brother's true identity as an Israeli Mossad agent in Syria. “At the end of one official message, Eli sent a private message where he asked ‘Did Nadia receive the sewing machine?’” said Cohen, saying that his superiors in the Mossad claimed not to understand the code words "Nadia" or "sewing machine." Cohen says he became suspicious of his brother when he visited his sister-in-law Nadia’s home and indeed saw a brand new Singer sewing machine that she had just received from Eli.

“After several weeks, the Mossad sent a private message to Eli, which read ‘Miss Fifi has taken her first steps.' Immediately, I knew that Fifi was my brother’s nickname for his daughter Sophie. I went to my sister-in-law’s house and saw my chubby little niece walking. I didn’t have any doubt then that our man in Damascus was none other than my own brother,” Cohen conveyed.

After finding out the truth about Eli, Maurice kept the secret from his family and the two brothers never even discussed the matter amongst themselves. “At the time I couldn’t reveal it to anybody. I kept this secret buried deep in my heart. To reveal it would endanger Eli and betray my own country, which would go against the goals of my brother. I was partially very anxious about it, but also very proud of my brother who was serving his country and homeland,” Cohen stated.

Eli Cohen convinced high ranking Syrian military officials to plant trees near their bunkers in the Golan Heights. "Eli suggested the planting of eucalyptus trees to create shade for the Syrian soldiers and to camouflage all the bunkers,” explained Maurice. “Israel needed the information that Eli supplied to the Mossad." In the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli pilots bombarded houses surrounded by eucalyptus trees, scoring direct hits on all the enemy's secret installations.

Despite his determination to convince Syria to return Eli’s body to Israel, Maurice Cohen says he would not be willing to give up the Golan Heights in negotiations with Syria. “My brother gave up his life for this. My brother’s soul is already in heaven, his body has become dust, and nothing remains of him. I would not want to give back the Golan Heights to Syria. They hurt their own country, and kill their own brothers. So we have to protect ourselves and keep the Golan Heights. Nobody else will protect us. My brother and other soldiers gave their souls and bodies to get this place. Syria is the worst enemy we ever had,” explained Cohen.
Eli Cohen weds Nadia, August, 1959

Eli's wife Nadia also expressed her strong desire for the return of her husband's remains. She told dignitaries who were headed for Syria to raise the subject with the Syrian dictator Assad. Assad's only words uttered in response were, "When the time comes, we'll discuss it."

Click "play" below to view the TV report on Eli Cohen and interview with wife (November, 2002).
click here if video does not appear



Maurice Cohen spoke about the desire of the Cohen family to secure the transfer of Eli’s remains to Israel as something that would grant them tremendous personal peace. “I want to see my brother’s remains back in Israel, because I made a promise to my mother on her deathbed to bring Eli back to be buried in Israel,” said Cohen, adding “It would be a humanitarian act. Dead bodies cannot harm anybody. We should be able to lay a stone and go to pray and visit and say Kaddish for his soul. Our family has suffered for forty years not having the remains of our brother.”

More information about Israeli spy Eli Cohen can be seen at his website: www.elicohen.org

Maurice Cohen conducts a tour of the Golan Heights several times a year and tells his brother's story.





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