In a special interview, Sophie Ben-Dor, the daughter of legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen, appealed to the United Arab Emirates and its ambassador in Israel to help her bring the body of her father back to Israel from Syria, where it has been held since he was executed in Damascus in 1965.
"I am asking the Emiratis, who occupy a greater place among our country and in the international arena, to help us mediate, and to ask and reach agreements with the Syrians to return my father's body," Ben-Dor said.
Cohen was sentenced to death by a special military court in Damascus on May 8, 1965, and 10 days later was hanged publicly in the city's Al Marjeh Square. The Egyptian-born Israeli spy had successfully infiltrated Syria. His undercover work from 1961 until 1965 brought him into the country's political and military inner circle before his cover was blown.
Syria refused to return Cohen's body to his family in Israel. His wife, Nadia Cohen, sent a letter to then-Syrian president Amin al-Hafiz in November 1965 requesting her late husband's remains but was denied.
Cohen's family also appealed to Russia last year to assist in recovering the body. Arab media reported in 2021 that Moscow was actively searching for Cohen's remains at the Yarmouk refugee camp cemetery in south Damascus, which is one of the locations in Syria where his remains are believed to be interred.
However, no real progress was made on the matter. Israel has tried to bring his remains home for decades.
Asked whether there are any new international parties besides Russia that the family turned to, Ben-Dor said that "Russia is now very isolated in the Western world," explaining that she believes the Emirati channel can be unique and more effective.
"I think it's an excellent idea, I didn't think of it alone, but it seems to me that it's an unusual channel, it's also an Arab channel. And I think we will get clearer answers. And if there is motivation, it has a chance to happen faster. There will be an official appeal from the family to the Emirati ambassador in Israel (Mohamed Al Khaja)," she said.
The UAE established diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020 as part of the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords and since then the two countries have increased their military and security cooperation.
The Emirates is considered an important regional player that can perhaps prod Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the matter. In March, Assad visited the UAE in his first state visit to an Arab country since Syria's civil war broke out 11 years ago. In November 2021, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin traveled to Damascus for a meeting with Assad.
Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS.