Nasser Friend Yeruham Cohen Dies Cohen pictured in the 1940s. Photo: The Palmach Archive

August 12, 1991

Yeruham Cohen, an Israeli intelligence officer known for his friendship with Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, dies at age 75.

Cohen was born into a Yemeni family in Tel Aviv in 1916 and was a fluent Arabic speaker. He joined the Palmach in 1941 and served in the Arab unit of Yiftach Brigade. The soldiers in his unit disguised themselves as Arabs to cross enemy lines during Israel’s War of Independence.

Cohen rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and became an intelligence aide to Gen. Yigal Allon, whose forces surrounded an Egyptian army in the southern Negev in 1948. While Allon negotiated a truce with the Egyptians, Cohen met and became friendly with Nasser, who was a major and a top aide to the Egyptian commander, Taha Bey. When the Egyptians later retreated under the truce, Cohen spotted Nasser, ran to him and shook his hand. The two men supposedly kept in contact and exchanged birthday greetings.

Nasser was a leader of the officers’ coup that seized power in 1952. He became prime minister in 1954 and president in 1956 and was an intractable enemy of Israel, leading Egypt in the 1956 Suez crisis, the June 1967 war and the 1969-1970 War of Attrition. Few Israelis other than Cohen ever met Nasser.