As’ad AbuKhalil says Arabs are pushing back against the distortions and fabrications in “The Spy,” a new series based on the supposedly true story of Israeli spy Eli Cohen and his exploits in Syria.
By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News
For too long, Israeli propaganda has gotten away with tall tales about the story of failed spy Eli Cohen.
Cohen was inserted into Syria in 1961 (under a false name) and was discovered and hanged by Syrian military intelligence in 1965. In another context, this story would have been deemed a disaster for the intelligence agency which recruited this spy. Instead, Israel has managed to spin and fabricate a large volume of lies about Cohen’s ostensible exploits.
Whenever Israeli intelligence suffers defeats and failures it resorts to its past successes and the relationship between the Mossad and Hollywood and has proven to be invaluable for Israeli propaganda.
Netflix seems as closely tied to Mossad as old Hollywood. In addition to a series about Egyptian spy Ashraf Marwan (who Egyptian intelligence still insists was a double agent, although most likely he was not), Netflix has come up with “The Spy,” a series about Elie Cohen starring Sacha Baron Cohen.
This is not the first American film depiction of Cohen: the book, “Our Man in Damascus” (which clearly was a Mossad propaganda work) was also made into a movie years ago. But Arabs are now more alert to Western distortions and fabrications and have been quite quick to respond to the blatant inaccuracies and lies in the new Netflix series. One Syrian writer counted 10 historical mistakes in the series, while others said that the movie sets had no resemblances to Damascus whatsoever.
As these critics make clear, the entire premise of the Eli Cohen fictitious plot is a figment of the Mossad’s imagination: that Cohen penetrated deep into Syrian society and government and that he was able, during his first phase while posing as a Syrian immigrant in Argentina, to befriend none other than Amin Al-Hafiz (who later served in key positions in Syria). Israeli and Western accounts talk about him befriending “the president of Syria” (in an Israeli TV interview with Cohen’s widow, they even referred to him as Amin Al-Asad, confusing Syrian leaders).
There is only one problem with that story. As Syrian historian Sami Moubayed writes in Gulf News, Col. Amin Al-Hafiz denied being stations as a military attaché during the time when Cohen was there. Al-Hafiz arrived in Argentina in 1962, after Cohen’s departure. And he was not in power when Cohen was in Syria (he was in fact an interior minister and later served as a member of a ruling council).
There is not even a shred of evidence that Al-Hafiz ever met Cohen except in his prison cell because he wanted to ask him questions about his failed mission. And Hafiz denied categorically those claims of acquaintance (they were made into a friendship in the Netflix series) in more than one TV interview. The Netflix series also draws upon the worst Zionist Orientalist sexist portrayal of Arabs, including typical Israeli sexual humiliation of Arabs. There is a scene where, as soon as Amin Al-Hafiz meets Cohen, Hafiz’s wife (a conservative woman from Aleppo in real life) immediately reaches over and squeezes Cohen’s genitals.
Once you expose the lies about Al-Hafiz, the entire Cohen myth collapses.
In the 1960s and 1970s the Syrian Ba`th regime did assist the Mossad’s propaganda about Cohen. The Ba`thists of Syria, who had hated Al-Hafiz due to a bitter factional feud, did not want to tell the truth and deny that Hafiz ever met Cohen. They were not displeased that Israeli propaganda embarrassed Al-Hafiz, who later defected to Iraq and supported Saddam Husayn against the Asad regime.
The Netflix series even introduces the founder of the Ba`th Party, Michel `Aflak, to the story, claiming that he not only knew Cohen but proposed that Cohen hold a party for key leaders on the night of the coup of 1963. `Aflak in the Netflix rendition is a drinking partying man, while in reality he was an austere ascetic known for spending evenings in his modest home.
Much was made by Israeli propaganda of Cohen’s friendship with a senior Syrian military officer, `Abdul-Karim Zahr Ad-Din. Again, there is absolutely no evidence that Cohen ever met him or even saw him. As a 1965 court ruling published in the Syrian paper Ath-Thawrah shows, Cohen knew a nephew of his, Ma`dhi Zahr Ad-Din, but the latter was a recruit who was later discharged and held a low clerical post in the Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs. What kind of secret information would an acquaintance with this employee produce?
It is true that Cohen established a friendship with an employee at the Ministry of Information but the employee was hardly the senior official that Mossad’s accounts made him to be. This Ministry of Information employee, George Sayf, did introduce him to a few friends but none were in top government posts as the Israeli accounts claimed.
And the notion that top military officers were escorting Cohen to the front and sharing with him classified information is as laughable as current claims by Western correspondents in Beirut that top military fighters of Hizbullah share top intelligence secrets with Zionist Western correspondents.
It is true that Cohen once visited the Al-Himmah area, in the southern part of the Golan Heights, but there is no evidence that he obtained any secret information. And as Syrian journalist Ibrahim Hmaydi pointed out in the international Arabic paper Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat recently, Cohen operated in Syria before the Ba`thist coup of 1966, and the new regime changed all military plans and personnel leading to the 1967 war.
It was in Israeli interest to claim that Cohen’s espionage was so crucial that it contributed to its decisive victory in 1967. But the reasons for that outcome are well-known and had nothing to do with secrets. It was because Arab armies were woefully ill-prepared and Israel had a huge advantage of Western military and financial support. The only evidence of Cohen’s usefulness to Mossad was that he would smuggle Syrian newspapers from Damascus in shipment of Syrian artifacts. But the brilliant Mossad could have obtained Syrian newspapers from Lebanon with great ease, and without any need for dangerous missions and the use of mustaches for disguises.
Israeli propaganda also claimed that Amin Hafiz (who he never met) offered him the post of deputy minister of defense. And it’s common for Western accounts of Cohen to mention that that he almost assumed this title. But Arab critics are pointing out a problem with that story: The position of deputy minister of defense did not exist in Syria until after the coup of Hafidh Al-Asad in 1970. The series also puts the chief of Syrian military intelligence, Ahmad Suwaydani, in Argentina at the time of Cohen’s stay when he never served there. It also claims Ahmad Suwaydani was acquainted with Cohen when in reality he was the one who caught him.
Israeli Mossad-Netflix propaganda also carries a purposeful classical Israeli sexual insults to Arabs: the story of Cohen insists that Cohen had 17 or more Damascene female lovers, that he was one of the most eligible bachelors in Syria’s capital city. He was Israeli after all, and Israeli are supposed to be — according to Israeli propaganda — sexually irresistible. But how would Israel know that? Cohen, after all, was its only source in Damascus. Either Cohen invented the idea that he was a sexual magnet for Syrian women (as the Netflix series showed) or that Israeli intelligence made this up after his hanging in order to compensate its ultimate humiliation: having a spy get caught, tried and hanged.
Israeli intelligence has suffered many losses over the years. There was the botched assassination attempt of Khalid Mish`al in Amman in 1997; the assassination of Hamas official, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010, when Dubai Chief of police released the pictures of all the members of the Mossad hit team and they were circulated worldwide. There are also the failures of Mossad in the face of Hizbullah (and the subsequent discovery of many Israeli spy networks in Lebanon in the last 10 years). All of this has damaged the image of an organization that former CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner once said was based more on PR than actual effectiveness.
An intelligence organization that hopes to rescue its reputation through a Netflix series is a desperate organization seeking glory from past — fake — exploits. Elie Cohen was a failed spy who was not able to secure access to the government or the military of Syria but who sent Syrian newspapers to Israel and ran what appeared to be a brothel in Damascus.
As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism” (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil
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Netflix is puzzlingly mixed in what is published. As this article demonstrates, there is zionism scattered throughout, yet they also feature series like “The Family”, about the secretive pathological evangelist cabal, “untold History of the US”,and several other excellent revealing anti-empire programs. Board meetings must be quite lively.
“…and ran what appeared to be a brothel in Damascus.”
Shades of Jeffrey Epstein.
Thank you AA.
I had given the propaganda piece a thumb down
The oft repeated phrase throughout the article, “there is no proof that” he did this or that, could also be turned around to read, “there’s no proof that he didn’t”. Bitter, bitter, bitter.
Barry Epstein that’s called proving a negative. For example, you can’t prove that I didn’t visit Saturn either. The onus is on the one making the allegation that Cohen did the incredible things Israel claims. Usually the Israeli narrative is the one that makes it to American and world history books. The Arab one is ignored, dismissed, etc
This article is clearly an attempt to save face by Arab powers that be who were made to look incredibly foolish by Eli Cohen’s infiltration and deceit. And from the onset it lacks factual credibility . Hafiz was President from July 1963 to February 1966. He was president during the Cohen incident – this information is factual and in the public domain. So I’m not sure how the writer can deny this. His time in Argentina overlapped with Cohen’s, again dates and details are all in the public domain. He arrived in Buenos Aires in Sept 1961 and Cohen left in spring 1962. And all the actions of the Syrian government around his unveiling and execution point to a deeply emotional and personal reaction from a leadership who were angry, deeply humiliated, hurt and seeking retribution. Afterall why the whole fanfare around his execution ? If he wasn’t such a big deal as you claim and his infiltration wasn’t at such a high level he could have been quietly executed or jailed like other spies before him. Why the huge production, then the refusal to give back his body? Why were many military officials linked to him jailed? This was because for Hafiz who was president at the time the whole incident was a deeply personal embarrassment, represented a huge loss of face and he wanted vengeance. To deny this inthe face of all the historical facts and data in the public domain just makes the writer look silly .
What I noticed most about the The Spy” was the very same template Epstein used…..coincidence?
Very astute observation Emma, Thanks.
A brief look at Eliahu Cohen:
In 1965, the Cohen spy affair broke in Syria. Eliahu (Elie) Cohen was an Egyptian Jew found guilty of being a member of the Lavon espionage ring that in order to sow American distrust of Egypt, firebombed American cultural and information centres in Cairo and Alexandria and several other sites in Egypt in 1954. Following his release from prison two years later, he joined Israel’s secret service (the Mossad) which sent him to Damascus where he served as a spy under the alias Kamal Amin Tabas. Being an Arab Jew and fluent in Arabic he was indistinguishable from the average Syrian.
Cohen cleverly worked his way into the upper social and political circles in Damascus and even became acquainted with Baathist General Amin el-Hafez who came to power in 1963. Before being found out and arrested in early 1965 by Syrian counter-intelligence, Cohen had managed to transmit top secret information to the Mossad that proved invaluable to Israel during the 1967 war.
“Through his contacts Cohen was able to ascertain the number, type, and placement of MIG-21 planes, T-54 tanks, and other Soviet armaments, which Syria was receiving from the Soviet Union…” (Dr. Alfred Lilienthal, The Zionist Connection, p. 366)
“Indeed, Cohen’s accomplishments had been phenomenal. He had provided the spymasters in Tel Aviv with top political and military intelligence from the very core of the Hafez government, including detailed descriptions and photographs of Syria’s heavily fortified positions along the Golan Heights overlooking Israel. It was information of immense value to Israel, and would be used with stunning effect in the 1967 war.” (Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days That Changed the Middle East; Amana Books, Brattleboro, Vermont, 1988, p. 37)
Cohen was subjected to public trial in Damascus from February 28 to March 19 and although only selected parts of the testimony were televised, the already unpopular regime of General el-Hafez came off as being utterly incompetent and corrupt. Egypt’s Nasser severely criticized the Syrian government for jeopardizing Arab security as did the leaders of other Arab countries. Cohen was found guilty and publicly hanged in Martyrs Square in Damascus on May 19, 1965.
Cohen was portrayed in the Israeli and pro-Israel western media as a victim rather than a spy. A photograph of his hanging body along with an article condemning Syria was published on the front page of the New York Times. With the intent of turning him into a martyr and glorifying his exploits, two books, Our Man in Damascus; The Story of Elie Cohen, Israel’s Greatest Spy by Elie Ben-Hanan and The Silent Warriors by Joshua Tadmor were published in 1969. Eventually a movie was also made.
Regrettably, but not surprisingly, the arrest and trial of Elie Cohen dealt a severe blow to the trustworthiness of Jewish citizens of Arab countries.
Well, Netflix did manage to popularize and promote the White Helmets, an organization comprised of civilian murdering, organ harvesting, false-flag creating, head-chopping jihadist terrorists, depicted instead as praiseworthy “humanitarians”in the Netflix “documentary,” so I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised by this latest bit of fantasy in service to empire.
I’d love to see the MSM pundits, the leaders of both our corrupt political parties and the fawning neoliberal “yet-progressive” Hollywood celebrities who have promoted these terrorist thugs, finally put their money where their mouths are, and all donate a kidney, or two, to the White Helmets fund raising efforts.
Thank you very much, Professor Abu Khalil, for this important item of enlightenment about Netflix. I had already suspected that Netflix had Zionist tendencies given many of the films, television series and so on that it promotes.
That Netfliz would be engaged in propaganda is hardly all that surprising when one realizes that one of the two men who started and head up the online corporation is a descendant of Edward Bernays [author of the 1928 book, Propaganda] and distantly related to Sigmund Freud. A marriage of propaganda and psychology….
Sacha Baron Cohen has been an anti-Syrian propagandist for years.
He supported the campaign to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the White Helmets in 2016.
He also joined other celebrities in 2018 to sign a letter calling the UN to “take action” against the Syrian government which was just about to liberate Ghouta from jihadists. Of course, the letter did not mention the extremists who occupied Ghouta, only the usual fiction about “children suffocating from chlorine gas” and “rescue workers driving towards bombs”.
He also made a comedy film in 2012 called “The Dictator”, parodying Muammar Gaddafi who was brutally murdered while the film was being made and six months before it was released.
Whenever Sacha Baron Cohen expresses himself about Arab countries, either on- or off-screen, he always seems to support the Western establishment’s campaigns for regime change.
Brendan – thanks for the info on Sacha Cohen. Hollywood is certainly a very important segment of the empire’s propaganda system and sadly there appears to be no shortage of amoral shills willing to do their part as actors.
Thank you I had a suspicion that what you stated about Sacha Baron Cohen was the truth. Why are celebrities taken seriously by anyone is beyond me. Was he related to this Eli character?
Thank you for saying the stuff that was in my head
Well, the Mossad’s motto is “By way of deception, thou shalt do war” , yes?
I wonder how accurate “The Red Sea Diving Resort” is? Yet another tribute to the Mossad brought to the world by Netflix.
One can only hope that the Israelis can find their way out of the evermore pathological schizophrenia they are descending in to.
It’s hard to be a hero in Occupied Palestine!
Thanks for deconstructing this series.