Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Monday at a ceremony in memory of Mossad spy Eli Cohen that Israel will not rest until it brings Cohen back home for burial, 50 years after he was caught and executed in Damascus.
"Children are named after Eli, streets and neighborhoods across the country commemorate his memory, and thanks to heroes like him, whose extreme modesty is inversely proportional to the greatness of their actions, we are able to survive," Netanyahu said.
"As we speak, Mossad agents are working worldwide to continue Eli's legacy, and they are also worthy men and women, to the full appreciation of our people, even if their actions are not known and I hope are never known," he added.
Netanyahu stressed the importance of Israel's control over the Golan Heights. "Imagine the Syrian army or rebel forces or extremist Islamic terrorist organizations or Hezbollah, under the command of Iranian generals, coming down from the Golan Heights to the Kinneret and the valleys of the north. Thanks to Eli Cohen this has been prevented," he said.
The prime minister also vowed to include Eli Cohen's story in school curriculum.
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"Those who were not raised in the world of covert operations will have a hard time understanding the full significance of the warrior in the Mossad," Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said. "Only a select few are fit to fill this role. It requires a unique personality and a rare combination of qualities. Eli was one such warrior ... the legacy left by Eli, our man in Damascus, will survive for eternity."
Nadia Cohen, the spy's widow, spoke at the ceremony, saying, "Don't forget where Eli is, he is not with us. I'm asking, on this occasion, to do everything to bring him back home, to the country he fought for and for which he paid with his life."
President Reuven Rivlin, who hosted the ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, said: "Few people are remembered for generations. Among those few, there are almost none from the heroes of the intelligence community. Unknown soldiers who put their souls on the line and risk losing their lives at any minute, under a blanket of secrecy.
"Eli Cohen was an extraordinary hero of Israel. He merited that the entire country would know him well and maintain his legacy. We, citizens of Israel, will forever remember Eli Cohen as a true hero, who sacrificed his life in the defense of our security and for the freedom of our country."
The president also talked about the obligation to remember Eli Cohen and his work, "The passing of the years can dim and blur the memory. Yet, our heroic brothers, who sacrificed their lives for our sake, deserve to be forever remembered."
He went on to stress, "This memorial ceremony marks a debt of honor to our brother Eli Cohen, and to his legacy. An eternal legacy which forever remains in our hearts. The legacy of our 'man in Damascus', for whom the safety to the State of Israel was ingrained in his very being."
Cohen's three children and three brothers also attended the ceremony, as well as former Mossad heads Danny Yatom and Zvi Zamir.
Eli Cohen joined Army Intelligence in 1960, and in 1963, he moved to the special operations unit. His unique skills and exceptional professionalism helped him penetrate the top Syrian echelons and produce valuable and vital intelligence that improved Israel's preparedness ahead of the Six-Day War.
Cohen helped thwart Syrian plans against Israel and passed on information on a Syrian plot to sabotage the National Water Carrier of Israel, the formation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and the armament of the Syrian Army - issues of the utmost importance to Israel's defense establishment in those years.
When Cohen was caught, Israel made a great effort to rescue him and made different proposals to the Syrian leadership for Cohen's release, but those were rejected out of hand. On May 18, 1965, Eli Cohen was hanged in Damascus.
Even 50 years after his execution, Eli Cohen is still considered a legendary warriror whose story and operations are told and taught in the Mossad to this very day.