Photo Credit: Channel 2 screen grab
Eli Cohen, archive photo

“The search for Eli Cohen’s remains in Syria is currently underway,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, hinting at a significant development on the issue.

“This is all I can say. I am committed to returning each of our fallen and missing,” he said during a TV interview.

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“We brought the remains of Zachary Baumel to Israel. It came as a result of the close ties I have with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he sent his forces, operating under intelligence information that we passed on to them,” Netanyahu said.

The remains of IDF MIA Sgt. Zachary Baumel, who went missing during the tank battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon during the First Lebanon War in 1982, were recovered at the Yarmouk cemetery south of Damascus and returned to Israel, through Russia, in April 2019.

IDF soldiers Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, who likewise went missing in the Sultan Yacoub battle, are still unaccounted for.

“We are continuing these efforts to return Eli Cohen and everyone else,” Netanyahu added.

About two weeks ago, the Arabic-language newspaper Rai al-Youm reported that Russia, in cooperation with Syria and under Israeli pressure, is investing efforts to locate Cohen’s remains and transfer them to Israel. According to the report, Russian soldiers arrived at the cemetery in the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus to search there.

Cohen was an Israeli spy who operated in Syria and was successful in penetrating its upper political and military echelons. He was exposed in January 1965 and was executed on May 18, 1965, by hanging in Damascus.

It is said that the information he provided to the state saved the lives of many Israeli soldiers and civilians.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.