Roger L. Simon

Is There a New Eli Cohen?

In recent years the once vaunted Mossad has had its reputation slightly tarnished. But now with the assassination of Hamas leader Iz a Din al-Sheikh Khalil in Damascus, it is certainly back. Hamas, of course, will find more recruits for its endless cycle of suicide bombers, but it is getting more difficult for them to operate. But according to veteran Haaretz columnist Amos Harel, the real loser here may be Syria.

More than for Hamas, the assassination is an embarrassment for Damascus. Bashar Assad’s regime already suffered a blow earlier this year with a series of Muslim Brotherhood attacks in the Syrian capital. Now it’s someone from Hamas who was targeted – after Hamas ostensibly ceased operating in Damascus. And it’s all happening while Assad is under intensifying pressure from the Americans to stop aiding terror and to pull his troops out of Lebanon.

Lately, France surprisingly joined that call, with a joint resolution at the UN with the U.S. for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Assad, already facing a severe economic crisis at home, now has to find work for thousands of soldiers (who moonlighted as construction workers in Lebanon) and officers (who earned their extra money by selling drugs). Syria, in any case, probably couldn’t respond with force.

Et tu Chirac? Bashar must feel surrounded. And this won’t be the first time for Syria. One of the most fascinating stories in the history of spying is tale of Israeli intelligence operative Eli Cohen. This man, a Syrian Jew from Aleppo who became an Israeli citizen, went underground and arrived in Damascus in 1962 as an Argentinian businessman. Gaining the confidence of the Baathists, he was able to rise in the Syrian government almost to a high ministerial level and was ultimately responsible for much of the Israeli success in the Golan Heights. An Israeli agent could almost have been running Syria, before his transmissions were caught by the Russians and he was hanged.

Much more of the story is available at the above link. And don’t think for a moment the Syrians don’t remember it. They are worried right now there is another Eli Cohen in their midst. Could be.

WHODUNIT UPDATE: Haaretz and Maariv Inernational say the information for the assassination came from an Arab intelligence agency, Egypt. Debka has another theory. And Maariv itself has Egypt in opposition to Israel over Iran in another report… Hmmm… Maybe it’s none of the above. Maybe it’s all of the above.