Netanyahu at memorial ceremony for Eli Cohen
Netanyahu at memorial ceremony for Eli CohenHaim Zach/GPO

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin on Monday participated in a ceremony in memory of Mossad agent Eli Cohen, on the 50th anniversary of his execution in Damascus.

Mossad Director Tamir Pardo, former Mossad directors, senior Mossad officials and members of the Cohen family – including his widow Nadia and their three children and his siblings – also attended the ceremony, which was held at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

Speaking at the ceremony, Netanyahu said, "Two years after Eli's death erupted the Six Day War, in which the value of the intelligence information that he succeeded in obtaining was proven. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said that, 'The actions of Eli Cohen saved the State of Israel many brigades of soldiers.' Eli Cohen saved many brigades of soldiers. How many mothers, Nadia, were spared what you went through, thanks to Eli.”

“Our presence on the Golan Heights is – to this day – of great importance. Imagine the Syrian army or rebel forces or extremist Islamic terrorist organizations or Hezbollah, under the command of Iranian generals, coming down from the Golan Heights to the Kinneret and the valleys of the north. Thanks to Eli Cohen this has been prevented," he added.

President Rivlin said at the ceremony that “Eli Cohen was an extraordinary hero of Israel. He merited that the entire country would know him well and maintain his legacy. We, citizens of Israel, will forever remember Eli Cohen as a true hero, who sacrificed his life in the defense of our security and for the freedom of our country."

"Sometimes, I imagine Eli on a tour of the Golan, on the Syrian side of the border, in which he would have participated under his assumed identity,” continued Rivlin. “I cannot comprehend how it must have felt. The sense of detachment from a place that was so dear to him. From people who were so dear to him. I picture Eli, standing thrown into silence. Perhaps he called inside for his dear family, his lips moving but his voice silent. Looking afar at the citizens of Israel, whom placed upon him their hopes, without even knowing of his existence. Eli is remembered for good reason – he represents a unique combination of modesty and ingenuity, courage and devotion - to his people, his land and to his state. We see this in his illustrious resume, from his family left behind, and from his final words, which he said to an elderly rabbi, before his execution. He said, ‘Please tell my family, that I fulfilled my mission to its completion, and I stayed faithful to my land and to my people until the very end.’”

Rivlin also said, This memorial ceremony marks a debt of honor to our brother Eli Cohen, and to his legacy. An eternal legacy which forever remains in our hearts. The legacy of our 'man in Damascus', for whom the safety to the State of Israel was ingrained in his very being."

Eli Cohen, who was born in 1924 in Egypt, immigrated to Israel at the age of 33 where he began collaborating with Israeli intelligence agencies and in 1960 was recruited to Military Intelligence's Unit 188.

After having trained as a spy, Cohen was sent by Unit 188 to Argentina, where he built his identity as a businessman of Syrian descent.

In January 1962, after successfully integrating into Argentina's Syrian community, Cohen traveled to Damascus, quickly becoming friends with top government officials and senior military officers.

From these men, he attained classified information about the Syrian army and its connections with Palestinian organizations - information that would later provide a dramatic contribution to Israel's victory in the Six Day Way in 1967.

Cohen was captured in January 1965 while broadcasting information to Israel during a Syrian regime imposed 24-hour period of radio silence. He was publicly hanged in Damascus' Marjeh Square in May, having undergone months of torture and interrogation.

Buried in Damascus, the Syrian government has rebuffed all requests to allow Cohen to be brought home for burial in Israel.