Tel Aviv: The news came in a brief announcement from the Israeli Prime Minister's office: A watch belonging to a legendary Israeli spy had been recovered in a secret operation and brought back to Israel.
The watch belonged to Eli Cohen, whose spying in Syria is credited with helping Israel to a quick victory in the 1967 war, long after he had been caught and executed by the Syrian government.
Eli Cohen wearing the watch in Damascus, early 1960s
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the "determined and courageous action" of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, for returning "a memory from a heroic fighter who contributed greatly to the security of the state."But the Thursday announcement was tantalisingly short on specifics, setting off a buzz across Israel. Cohen was a national hero, with streets and buildings named after him and ceremonies honouring his memory every year. But had Mossad, as Netanyahu implied, carried out a secret operation to recover a wristwatch?
In part, yes.
The spy agency has invested huge sums and resources in the larger quest, including endangering human life and paying bribes to agents and crooks, Israeli intelligence officials said. Still, the body has not been found.
But during the search, the official said, Mossad agents located a man who had the watch and began an operation to obtain it.