January 24, 1964
Syrian police raided the home of Damascus businessman Kamel Amin Tha’abet and arrested him on charges of espionage.
Tha’abet was the undercover name of Israeli Mossad agent Eli Cohen. Cohen, who had been born and raised in Egypt to Syrian Jewish parents was eventually sought out for espionage work because he spoke Arabic with an authentic Syrian accent.
Stationed first in Argentina where he posed as a wealthy Syrian businessman, he gained the trust of many Syrian expatriates by throwing lavish parties. Cohen eventually moved to Damascus and befriended ruling Ba’ath party and other senior governmental and military personalities.
One of the most famous stories of Cohen’s work as a spy in Syria was his suggestion to have the Syrian military plant Eucalyptus trees near their bunkers on the Golan Heights in order to protect their soldiers from the sun, thus allowing Israeli air force pilots to more easily locate the Syrian targets.
After his arrest, Cohen was tortured and publicly hanged on May 18, 1965. The intelligence that he had gathered would prove to be crucial in Israel’s victory over Syria in the Six Day War. His body was never been returned to Israel despite numerous pleas from his family to the Syrian government.
The photo shows Cohen (center) on the Golan Heights with Syrian military officials. Syrian civilians were not allowed in the Golan Heights, proof of Cohen’s high standing and access in his work.