Rumors circulated last week that Russians handed over the remains of the notorious spy Eli Cohen to Israel.

Unconfirmed Syrian reports provided by opposition source have claimed that a Russian delegation that recently left Syria departed with an Israeli coffin containing the body of Cohen. Despite zero evidence, these claims caused a huge commotion in Syria and Israel, forcing both countries to pay closer attention to Russia’s actions. Who maybe behind it?

The first report was issued on Twitter on April 14, 2019, by someone in the Syrian opposition, and it concerned the remains of the Israeli spy Eli Cohen.

The tweet stated:

There are unverified leaks within Damascus itself about a coffin that was transferred with the Russian delegation that left Syria. The leaks say the coffin may contain the remains of the Israeli spy Eli Cohen. We are awaiting verification.

Eliyahu Ben-Shaul Cohen, commonly known as Eli Cohen, was an Israeli spy of Mossad intelligence agency. He successfully infiltrated the highest echelons of the Syrian government, taking the position of senior adviser to the Minister of Defense in the 1950-s and established close ties with the top Syrian political and military leadership. . Cohen’s transmissions were instrumental in helping the IDF prepare for the 1967 war with Syria. He provided information about the Syrian Air Force and military positions on the Golan Heights. After large amounts of radio interference were detected and traced to their source, on 24 January the Syrian security services broke into Cohen’s apartment where he was caught in the middle of transmission to Israel. After a trial before a military tribunal, he was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death under ‘martial law’. On 18 May 1965, Cohen was publicly hanged in the Marjeh Square in Damascus.

The Israeli government and Cohen’s family have multiple times requested the Syrian authorities to return Cohen’s remains, but until recently it was believed that the whereabouts of his body was lost.

Russia issued a statement, strongly denying these rumors and urging the media to show a more “accurate, professional and honest approach to coverage of such sensitive issues:”

Moreover, Israel officially denied reports that Russian operatives had exhumed the remains of former Mossad spy Eli Cohen from Syria. Further, the Israeli Defense Forces officially rejected the reports and said no progress had been made on Cohen’s remains:

The most recent reports of Cohen’s whereabouts emerge weeks after Russia assisted with the operation to return the remains of fallen soldier Zachary Baumel, nearly four decades after he was declared missing during the First Lebanon War in 1982. However, any comparison between the two cases would obviously be incorrect due to the sensitivity of the Cohen’s issue.

Neither the absence of evidence, not the dubious character of the sources prevented the “Russia returned Cohen’s remains to Israel” story from spreading in the media like wildfire. The incredibly appropriate circumstances – lucky timing and sensational nature of the news – hint at a planned in advance dissemination operation. Who could stand behind it? Those who benefit from tensions between Syria and Russia, as well as
between Russia and Israel.

Not only “anonymous sources in the Syrian opposition” but also their foreign backers, namely the US, fit perfectly in this scheme. Washington has multiple times expressed discontent over the rising Russian influence in the US allies in the Middle East, including Lebanon, Jordan, and of course Israel. Exploiting such a sensitive issue as the fate of the remains of Eli Cohen, who is considered a national hero in Israel and universally hated in Syria, is an ideal instrument to pursue the US interests in the region.

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