Eli Cohen

Israel's most famous and successful spy.

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In the 1967 Six Day War,  Israel was able to quickly and efficiently conquer the Golan Heights. This feat would not have been possible without the information provided by Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who had been executed in Syria two years earlier. Cohen worked undercover in Syria for years before his capture, and his reputation as Israel's greatest spy continues to this day.

Eli Cohen, CenterEli Cohen (pictured, at center) was born in Egypt in 1928 to Jewish parents who had immigrated to Alexandria from Aleppo, Syria. In 1949, shortly after the State of Israel was established, Cohen's parents and brothers moved to Israel. Eli stayed behind, helping to coordinate Jewish and Zionist activities in Egypt, even though it was a dangerous and risky endeavor. In 1955 Cohen underwent intensive espionage training in Israel. He returned to Egypt with hopes of helping Israel, but was put under immediate surveillance by the Egyptian authorities. In 1956, as Egypt and Israel were fighting in the Sinai Campaign, the remaining Jews of Alexandria were expelled, and Cohen finally made his home in Israel. In 1959 he married an Iraqi Jew, Nadia Majald, and together they had three children.

Recruitment into the Mossad

In 1960, Cohen was approached by the Mossad for a mission in Syria. Israeli intelligence was particularly excited about Cohen because of his Arab features and his knowledge of Arabic, English, and French. Cohen immediately began training and developing his cover. The first part of his mission would be spent in Buenos Aires establishing his identity as Kamal Amin Ta'abet, a Syrian émigré living in Argentina. In 1961, Nadia saw him off at the airport. She was told only that her husband would be working for the Ministry of Defense.

Cohen spent a year in Argentina, cultivating a reputation as a wealthy businessman and a social butterfly with contacts that included many politicians and diplomats. In 1962, he traveled to Damascus. Using the contacts he had established in South America, he began to befriend members of the leadership of the Ba'ath party, which was poised to take control of Syria.

Kamal Amin Ta'abet became known as an avid host whose apartment was open for government officials who wanted to come enjoy the company of women and wine. While those around him became drunk and let down their guards, talking freely of secret and sensitive information, Cohen feigned intoxication and listened carefully. Every few days he used a radio transmitter that he had hidden in his room to send information back to Israel.

In 1964, Syria began a project that was intended to divert water from the Jordan River away from Lake Kinneret, the source of much of Israel's water supply. Cohen notified Israeli officials, and subsequently the Israeli Air Force was able to bomb the equipment being used to carry out the diversion.

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Tamar Fox

Tamar Fox is an associate editor at MyJewishLearning.com. She has an MFA in fiction writing from Vanderbilt University, and a BA from the University of Iowa. She has worked as the editor of the religion blog at Jewcy.com. She spent a summer as a fellow at Yeshivat Hadar, and was a Senior Apprentice Artist for four years at Gallery 37 in Chicago.