Cohen, Eli

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COHEN, ELI (1924–1965), Israel intelligence officer, executed by the Syrian government. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and educated at a Jewish primary school and a French high school. In 1949 Cohen and all other Jewish students were expelled from Farouk University. His activities in local Zionist organizations, in which he had been involved from childhood, led to several investigations on the part of the Egyptian authorities. During the Sinai Campaign (October 1956) he was arrested and detained until January 1957, and upon his release was expelled from Egypt. He settled in Israel in February 1957, thereafter serving with the Israel intelligence service. In January 1965 he was arrested in Damascus as an Israel secret agent. His public trial before a military tribunal attracted worldwide publicity. The prosecution contended that he had established close ties with various departments and high-placed officials in the Syrian government. Cohen was convicted on a charge of espionage and sentenced to death. Requests that he be represented at his trial by a foreign or even local lawyer were refused. Despite strenuous 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 Damascus city square. Streets, squares, and parks in Israel were named in his honor, but repeated requests to Syria to release the body for burial in Israel have been refused.


Y. Ben-Porat and U. Dan, The Spy from Israel (1969); E. Ben Hanan, Eli Cohen, Our Man in Damascus (1967); Bar-Zohar, in: Midstream, 14, no. 9 (1968), 35–53.