President Reuven Rivlin’s office refused to confirm or deny a report that appeared in Yediot Aharonot on Wednesday to the effect that while in Russia last month, Rivlin asked President Vladimir Putin to use his influence with Syria in order to return the remains of master spy Eli Cohen to Israel.
According to the report Rivlin was briefed by Israel’s defense establishment prior to leaving for Moscow. The meeting was also attended by Cohen’s widow Nadia Cohen, who for more than half a century has asked a succession of Israeli administrations to find a way to bring her husband’s remains back to Israel for burial in a consecrated Jewish grave.
To this day, Cohen is widely regarded as one of the best espionage agents that Israel ever had. Born to Syrian parents in Alexandria Egypt, he accompanied his family to Israel in 1949.
He unsuccessfully offered his services to Mossad several times before he was eventually accepted in 1961. He underwent intensive training before he was sent to Syria in 1962. Cohen performed extraordinary service for Israeli Intelligence until he was exposed, tortured, denied a defense and executed. He was hung in the main Damascus Square on May 18, 1965.
His place of burial is unknown.
When officials from other countries sympathetic to Israel, tried to persuade the Syrians to allow Cohen’s remains to be transferred back to Israel, the reply was usually that there is no record of the location of his grave. Nadia Cohen does not believe this.
According to the Yediot report, Putin listened to what Rivlin had to say and agreed to look into the matter.