Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Spy.
Cohen (Sacha Baron Cohen) was the kind of guy to leave his wife spontaneous love letters throughout the house. While undercover in Argentina in The Spy, Cohen struggles to resist drafting her notes, even if it puts him in danger. Given their history of a paper trail, it’s fitting — but heartbreaking — to learn that their final exchange also took place over written correspondence.
For a while, Cohen tried his hand at civilian life. He worked as an accountant and translator. But his knowledge of the Arab language and Arab culture, as well as prior work in espionage in Egypt, made him a good candidate for the Mossad. In 1960, Cohen was recruited to be part of a dangerous mission to Syria. Cohen accepted the calling.
For four years, Cohen posed as a Syrian textile businessman named Kamal Amin Thabet, first in Argentina and later in Damascus. He made friends who moved in highly influential Syrian circles, transmitting his findings back to Israel via radio.
His successes couldn't be vocally shared with his family, however. The Spy alternates between Cohen’s risky schemes with Nadia’s far more ordinary life. Still, the memory of those domestic joys sustains Cohen while he’s away. Returning to Nadia is Cohen’s ultimate goal.
In real life, Cohen was only able to return to Israel a few times during his mission. His final visit was in 1964. A year later, in 1965, Cohen was caught transmitting over the radio back to Tel Aviv. He was interrogated and tortured. At the same time, Israeli officials devised escape schemes and appealed to international organizations.
Cohen was convicted of espionage. At the age of 41, Cohen was hanged in Damascus in front of a crowd of 10,000.
Before he was executed, Cohen met with a rabbi, as per his request, and sent his wife a letter. "I beg you my dear Nadia do not spend your life weeping for what has past," his final letter read. "Concentrate on yourself; look forward to a better future!"
Nadia, understandably, has remained fixated on her loss. For more than 50 years, Nadia has fought to have her husband’s body returned to Israel. “All these years, I remained faithful to him. I want him, here and now, because I've reached the age that I deserve tranquillity. I don't want to go to my death longing for my Eli to rest in the soil of the land that he loved and for which he gave his life. I hope, pray, that he will be returned home by the time I die," Nadia told Haaretz in 2010.
The location of Cohen's body remains unknown. But in 2018, Cohen’s watch was retrieved in a secret Mossad scheme. "The moment that they informed me [of the watch's recovery] my mouth went dry and I got the chills," Nadia told Israeli TV.
Nadia lives in Israel to this day.