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From
SHALEM PRESS




The Handler

By Ella Florsheim, Avi Shilon

Forty years later, new revelations about Israel's most famous spy.


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E
li Cohen, the Israeli spy executed by the Syrians forty years ago this past May, occupies a special place in the history of Israeli espionage. Both the importance of the information he provided to the Israeli army—information crucial to Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights in 1967—and his tragic end have made Cohen a national hero, his name emblazoned on Israeli street signs, public squares, and parks. Yet for all that is known about the master spy’s exploits—his penetration of the highest echelons of Syria’s military establishment, for example, and his charming of the Syrian presi­dent—the most intriguing question remains unanswered: Why did Eli Co­hen get caught? Does the blame for his capture fall to his Mossad handlers, or was it rather misplaced self-confidence that ultimately led to his arrest?
In the four decades since his ignoble hanging in Damascus’ Marjah Square, the tension surrounding the Cohen affair has yet to dissipate, particularly on the Syrian side. Cohen’s family and successive Israeli gov­ernments have pleaded for the return of his remains, only to be met with adamant rejection. Even when Syria engaged in peace talks with Israel, the request for the return of Cohen’s body as a gesture of goodwill was turned down. Apparently, Damascus is still smarting from the humiliation of Co­hen’s infiltration.
Israelis, for their part, have nearly resigned themselves to closing the book on this unresolved chapter in their history, accepting that the reasons for Cohen’s demise would never become public knowledge. But now one of his Mossad handlers, on condition of anonymity, has decided to speak his mind. At the urging of Meir Amit, head of the Mossad during the Cohen affair, “G.” agreed, for the first time, to divulge what he knows about Israel’s most famous spy. Shortly after Cohen’s execution, G. left his unit, and met with Cohen’s family several times in the ensuing months. The emotional weight of the affair, he says, has always lain heavily on him. Given the no­toriously tight-lipped nature of the Mossad, the exclusive interview Azure conducted with him was exceedingly uncommon. While G.’s testimony may not necessarily lay the Cohen controversy to rest, it does shed impor­tant new light on the man most Israelis know only as a legend....

Ella Florsheim is Assistant Editor of Azure. Avi Shilon, a journalist, is working on a biography of Menachem Begin.





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