Article sheds light on life of legendary Israeli spy Jacob Cohen
April 28, 2014 1 Comment
By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Within the ranks of the Israeli intelligence community, Jacob “Yakuba” Cohen is considered a legend. An intelligence officer for the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad, and finally for Shin Bet, Cohen remains a deeply mysterious figure in the history of Israeli intelligence. Now a new article, published in Israel Defense magazine, which includes parts of a testimony Cohen allegedly gave to a close friend in the years before his death, sheds light on the life and times of one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic intelligence operatives. Cohen was born in 1924 in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of central Jerusalem. His family, however, had Persian origins, and he spent most of his childhood fraternizing with the Arab populations of nearby neighborhoods and villages. In the late 1930s, Cohen joined the Haganah, a violent paramilitary force set up by nationalist Jews to resist the formation of the British Mandate for Palestine. Cohen eventually entered the ranks of the Palmach, a special-forces outfit of the Haganah, which also conducted intelligence operations. Cohen’s asset, which eventually made him a good fit for Israeli intelligence, was his ability to assimilate into Arab society. He spoke fluent Arabic and was able to observe Arab Muslim cultural conventions and religious practices, regularly attending Mosque services. Soon after the establishment of the state of Israel, Cohen assumed the cover of Jamil Mohammad Rushdi, a Syrian Arab, and moved to Lebanon, where he worked as a taxi driver, regularly transporting customers from Lebanese capital Beirut to Tripoli, Syria, and back. Israeli intelligence historians credit Cohen’s stint in Lebanon as having been instrumental in laying the infrastructure that enabled the eventual creation in Arab countries of Israeli intelligence networks consisting of long-term sleeper agents and other non-official-cover operatives. After Israel’s Sinai campaign of 1956, Cohen was tasked with interrogating thousands of Egyptian prisoners of war. In the following year, when two former prisoners of war recognized him in a restaurant in Port Said, he was immediately pulled out of Egypt and had his facial features surgically altered, so that he could return to the field. In 1958 and 1959 he spent nearly a year in Latin America, where he allegedly created the infrastructure for the deployment of Israeli spy cells in countries such as Argentina and Brazil. In the late 1970s, following a three-year stint in Milan, Italy, where he operated on behalf of the Mossad, Cohen retired to a Kibbutz, serving as a handyman. He continued to train Israeli intelligence agents until his death.