(JTA) – Half a century after the Israeli spy Eli Cohen was executed in Syria, Israel’s intelligence service said it retrieved his wristwatch and returned it to his family.
A “special Mossad operation” recently brought back the watch, according to a statement Thursday from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mossad Director Yossi Cohen gave Eli Cohen’s family the watch he used in Syria at the annual memorial ceremony for the late spy, which was held several weeks ago. The Mossad will hang on to it, however, and place the watch on display at its headquarters as a memorial to the the “legendary fighter,” as the statement described Cohen. In September and the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, the watch will be transferred to the custody of the family.
After Eli Cohen’s execution in May 1965 — he had been arrested in January of that year — the watch remained in “an enemy state,” the statement said.
“Research and intelligence operations were carried out which culminated in the unequivocal determination that this was indeed Eli Cohen’s watch,” it said.
Sophie Ben Dor, the daughter of Eli Cohen, told 103FM radio that the watch had been put on sale online and that a Mossad agent traveled to Syria to buy it there after authenticating it.
“It’s the first and the only thing we have of my father from after he was caught,” she said. “It’s very moving.”
Levi Eshkol, the late Israeli prime minister, credited the information provided by Cohen with saving countless Israeli lives and “having a great deal to do” with Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Among other information he supplied was that Syrian military installations were often found in the shade of eucalyptus trees, allowing for a great improvement in target acquisition in Syria.
Posing as a Syrian nationalist and philanthropist who had returned to his country after years of exile, Cohen befriended the top brass of Syria’s army, traveling with them across the country, including in classified locales.
In his statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “I commend the fighters of the Mossad for the determined and courageous operation, the sole objective of which was to return to Israel a memento from a great fighter who greatly contributed to the security of the state.”