One most memorable story of spying during the Arab- Israeli conflict is attributed to Elie Cohen who was born in Alexandria, made aliya to Israel and subsequently was selected by the army secret services, for a most daring attempt to infiltrate Syria which at that time was on Golan Hights, and very frequently shelled at Israeli farmers down below. Maurice Mizrahi, the author of «l'Egypte et ses Juifs». «Le temps révolu (19-20e siècles)», reports on the fact that Elie Cohenworked in his business. Mizrahi noticed that Elie took a long time to carry out his duties outside the business. At that time, Cohen was connected with the movement of the young Zionists which explained these long absences. In 1949, Cohen and all other Jewish students were expelled from Farouk University and an investigation was carried out because of their Zionist activities. In 1956, he was jailed during the Sinai campaign and subsequently expelled from Egypt in 1957.
Elie Cohen settled in Israel and was recruited by the Israeli Intelligence Service. Because of his extremely good memory, good looks and facility with the Arabic langage, he was given a new identification with the name Kamel Amin Tabet.
Elie Cohen was sent to Argentina where he passed as a very succeeful business man and was able to become very friendly with the Syrian leadeship. He became the most eligible bachelor in the community. In 1961, he moved to Syria and in no time developed friendships with the leadership of the country because of the magnificent parties he gave in his home, his expression of great nationalistic feelings, and the availability of funds which he bestowed around. He rented an elegant villa in the Abu- Ramana quarter which looked out on the Syrian Army Headquarters and faced the entrance where the Syrian Government put up its official guests. Elie Cohen managed to sit in on the meetings of the national Ba'ath party, was invited several times to the front line where he could observe the fortifications established by the Syrian army and he became friendly with President General Amin El- Hafez. Elie Cohen was able to transmit to Israel all kinds of information which could be used by the Israeli Army. Because of his reports on the Syrian fortifications, the Iraeli army was able to capture and secure the Golan Heights within a very short time with a minimal loss of lives. Elie Cohen was uncovered only after he accompagnied Egyptian General Ali Amer on an inspection trip to the Syrian Israeli border. Eli Cohen, in a photo taken during this visit , was identified as the person who had been arrested while he lived in Egypt. Eli was jailed in Damascus and after a long trial during which he did not get appropriare defense, he received the death sentence by hanging. Despite many efforts to persuade the Syrian government to commute the death sentence, including the intervention of Pope Paul VI and the heads of the French, Belgian, and Canadian governments, Cohen was publicly hanged in the Al Marjeh Square ( Martyr's) of Damascus before an excited mob. As E. Ben Hanan pointed out at the endof his book, Our Man in Damascus, an excellent recount of the story, Elie Cohen was a hero. Even his enemies had to admit it. Cohen's brave deed has not been forgotten in Israel. Recently, the Ministry of Culture commemorated the 32nd year following his death.
Victor D. Sanua
Victor D. Sanua PhD. Is a research Professor in the Department of Psychology at St. Jon's University. You can write to him c/° Sephardic National Alliance P.O.Bax 290-642, Brooklyn, NY 11229-0642. Some of the material which was used in his article was taken from the book by E.Ben Hanan, Elie Cohen, Our Man in Damascus? A.D.M. Publishing House Israel 1967.
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