Her Spy Husband Was Executed by Syria. 50 Years Later, a Gift

Eli Cohen's wristwatch has been recovered by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 6, 2018 12:09 PM CDT
In this Dec. 13, 1999, file photo, Nadia Cohen remembers her husband, Eli Cohen, during an interview in Jerusalem.   (AP Photo/Ruth Fremson, File)

(Newser) – A "special Mossad operation" has turned up what Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu calls "a memento from a great fighter": the wristwatch worn by spy Eli Cohen, hanged in Damascus in 1965 after years of infiltrating Syria's upper political, military, and business echelons and spilling secrets to Israel, reports the BBC. The announcement of the watch's recovery by the Israeli intelligence agency came out of Netanyahu's office, though details were scarce on how and when it came back into Israel's possession. Cohen, who was born in Egypt and moved to Israel in his late 20s, is said to have worn the watch "until the day he was captured," says Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. Eli Cohen's daughter tells Ynet a woman who came into possession of the watch after Cohen was captured was exploited by her own grandchildren, who took advantage of her age to try to sell the watch.

"They approached Israeli officials, because they knew they could get more out of them," Cohen's daughter says, adding that pictures and DNA testing confirmed the watch was her father's. The Mossad presented the watch to Cohen's family at a ceremony in May, though it remains temporarily in Mossad custody, per his widow's request; it will be returned to the family in September for the Jewish new year, the Forward reports. "The moment that they informed me [of the watch's recovery], my mouth went dry and I got the chills," wife Nadia Cohen told Israeli TV. "At that moment I felt that I could feel his hand, I felt that part of him was with us." Israel has long lobbied Syria, which discovered Cohen's spying activity in 1964, to send Cohen's remains back to Israel, but Syria has denied that request. The New York Times has more on Cohen's life as a spy and on the efforts to get his watch back.

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