Sacha Baron Cohen to Play Israeli Spy Eli Cohen in New Netflix Show

Mossad agent was known in Israel as 'Our Man in Damascus,' and the six-part Netflix show will detail his rise through Syrian society in the 1960s. Baron Cohen is best known for playing comic characters Ali G and Borat

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Sacha Baron Cohen arriving at an Oscars party in Beverly Hills, March 4, 2018.
Sacha Baron Cohen arriving at an Oscars party in Beverly Hills, March 4, 2018.Credit: Evan Agostini/AP

British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is set to play one of Israel's most famous spies, Eli Cohen, in a new Netflix series, Variety reported on Wednesday.

The British-Jewish actor is best known for broad comedy characters such as Ali G and Borat, but he'll be playing it straight in "The Spy."

Eli Cohen is known in Israel as "Our Man in Damascus." The Mossad agent infiltrated Syrian high society in the 1960s and became a key intelligence source for Israel as tensions between the two countries ran high.

The six-part series will chronicle Eli Cohen's rise in Damascus society until his capture by the Syrian authorities in 1965. 

Eli Cohen had immigrated to Israel in 1957 after being deported from Egypt, where he was born. In 1959, he was recruited to Unit 188 of the Israel Defense Forces, which dealt with gathering intelligence and special missions in enemy countries.

Eli Cohen (left) at his trial in Damascus in 1965.Credit: AFP

In 1961, he was sent to Argentina to establish a cover story as an Argentinian of Syrian descent called Kamel Amin Thaabet. At the end of that year he was sent to Europe to bolster his cover story as the representative of a Belgian company, who was being dispatched to Syria.

In January 1962, Cohen came to Syria for the first time and settled in Damascus. He forged close ties with many senior Syrian officials and obtained detailed intelligence on the Syrian army and its activities, both on the Golan Heights front and decision-making in the Syrian regime. 

Syrian security forces stormed Cohen's Damascus apartment in January 1965, arresting him while he was transmitting to his operators in Israel. Two months later, he was put on trial. His trial lasted less than two weeks, during which he was not given a legal defense or the right to appeal.

Cohen was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on May 18, 1965. His body was left hanging in a Damascus square for seven hours before being taken to an unknown burial site.

Cohen's body has never been returned to Israel. In March 2017, following a request from Israel, Russia asked Syria to return his remains to Israel. However, Syrian officials told the Russians they do not know where he is buried.

"The Spy" will be written and directed by Gideon Raff, who created the Israeli show "Hatufim" upon which "Homeland" is based. Raff also created the 2015 American show "Dig," set on an Israeli archaeological site.

Baron Cohen played a completely different type of spy in the British 2016 comedy "Grimsby." There, he portrayed the slobbish brother of a spy (played by Mark Strong), who himself gets caught up in various espionage high jinks.

"The Spy" will be Baron Cohen's first regular TV gig since he starred in "Da Ali G Show" over a decade ago.

Netflix is also making a one-off film about the story of Ashraf Marwan, a Mossad agent in Egypt who was suspected of being a double agent. Spy thriller "Hamalach" (The Angel) is by director Ariel Vromen and is set to be completed this summer.

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