(JNS) Rumors circulated over the weekend that a Russian team, possibly assisted by Syrian opposition groups, had extricated the remains of venerated Israeli spy Eli Cohen, evacuating him from Syria in an Israeli coffin and preparing to return him to Israel.
The legendary “our man in Damascus,” Cohen spied on the Syrian military establishment for four years after befriending top-level officials and celebrities under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet. After being found out, he was tortured by the Syrians before being executed on May 18, 1965.
In Israel, his name became synonymous with self-sacrifice and heroism, the information he provided having been fundamental to Israel’s decisive victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israeli officials have kept silent regarding the reports, which came in just two weeks after Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Baumel was buried on Mount Herzl, 37 years after he went missing during a battle of the First Lebanon War. Baumel was also exhumed by Russia, and his personal effects, including his tzitzit, were honored in a special ceremony in Moscow attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since Cohen’s execution, widow Nadia Cohen has been working to bring his remains home, to no avail. In 2008, a former bureau chief of former Syrian leader Hafez Assad said no one knew where Cohen was buried because the grave had been relocated when officials became concerned that Israel would find it.