The order stated –
I will send and in the night I woke a slumbering man
And he awoke and opened his eyes in front of me
And saw my face and hurried and arose
And Saul will not ask my purpose and my secret
And will leave with me to a place which is there
And without words will give his life for me.
In Eli’s case, the State of Israel called him – and he went and gave his life for it, for its words were to him an order.
These lines by Alterman – which are appropriate for many of the members of our Intelligence community – symbolize the profound significance of Eli Cohen’s heroic image, our man in Damascus, the fighter who became a legend when he entered the lion’s den alone – and from there he provided information supremely crucial to the security of the State.
Even after 40 years, the wonder at the courage and operational accomplishments of Eli Cohen has remained. After months of torture, Eli stood in front of his judges not as a broken man, but as an upright and proud man. When the judge turned to him and the other defendants – Syrian citizens who stood trial with him – and told them “You are mercenaries or traitorous agents”, Eli answered in a clear voice – “I am not a traitor. I am an emissary of the State of Israel”. His last words to the Rabbi of the Jewish community in Damascus were – “Tell my wife I fully discharged my duty”.
Eli’s death exposed him as one of the anonymous fighters of the State of Israel’s Intelligence community, who each perform tasks that should not be kept hidden – but should be glorified and receive the gratitude of the nation.
In remembering Eli, we also remember those who continue on his path, those who, from the darkness in which they operate, ensure our security.
We owe our thanks not only to the fighters, but to their families as well – those who see their loved ones shut themselves off in a world in which there is no room for others, not even those who are closest.
Nadia, Sophie, Irit and Shai – you deserve not only our thanks. We also owe it you to return Eli home.
Over the past year, the President of Syria has made a series of statements in which he presented himself as one who desires peace with Israel. It is hard to take these statements seriously when Syria continues to encourage terror against Israel. Giving permission to return Eli Cohen’s remains to Israel is the simplest humane step the government of Syria must undertake. To date, Damascus has refused all requests on this subject – but we are not despairing.
Dear Nadia, Sophie, Irit and Shai – on behalf of the Government of Israel, I promise not only to cherish and nurture in the public the memory of Eli Cohen, but also to continue every effort to return Eli to you – and to bestow on him here, in the country for which he sacrificed his life, the hero’s honor which he deserves.
I wish you strength.