Sacha Baron Cohen is to star in a Netflix series about one of Israel’s most famous spies.
The Borat actor will be getting in touch with his serious side portraying Eli Cohen in The Spy, an upcoming six-part series written and directed by Gideon Raff, the creator of Prisoners of War, the Israeli show which inspired Homeland.
Cohen spent years infiltrating the highest circles of Syrian society and sending information back to Israel.
The date for the release of the show has not yet been announced.
It is not the first time Baron Cohen has shown interest in Syria. In 2015 he and his wife, actress Isla Fisher, donated £670,000 to charities helping people caught up in the ongoing conflict there.
Eli Cohen – Israeli super-spy
Eli Cohen was one of the most audacious spies of the 20th century. A Jew from Egypt who fled to Israel in the 1950s during a campaign of repression conducted against Jews by the Egyptian government, he was subsequently recruited by Mossad.
A false identity was established for Cohen – a Syrian businessman living in Argentina called Kamel Amin Thaabet. In 1961, Cohen moved to Argentina to establish the alias, “returning” to Syria in 1962.
He played the part of a rich playboy, working himself into the upper echelons of Syrian society through hosting lavish parties. While pretending to be drunk, Cohen would listen carefully to the chatter of highly-placed government officials and army officers, reporting it all back to Israel.
His infiltration was so successful that it was even rumoured that he had been considered for the post of Syrian Defence Secretary, although this was strongly denied by Syrian politicians after his unmasking.
His masterstroke, however, was carried out during a tour of the Golan Heights, which was controlled by Syria at the time. Pretending to have sympathy for all the soldiers who were at the mercy of a punishingly hot sun, Cohen suggested that shade-giving trees be planted at every army position. A few years later, these trees would be used by the Israeli Air Force to determine where exactly where the Syrian army positions were.
His sketches of the Syrian army’s southern positions, revealing additional lines of defence, would also prove invaluable during the 1967 war.
It became increasingly apparent to the Syrian authorities that there was a high-level mole operating in Damascus. Using advanced tracking equipment, they managed to pinpoint the source of regular illicit transmissions – and in January 1965, he was discovered by security forces while in the middle of a transmission.
Interrogated and tortured, he was publicly hanged in a Damascus square in May 1965. The Syrians authorities have consistently refused to return his body to Israel, rejecting a request as recently as 2012.