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Editorial - Recovered from enemy territory

Editorial Recovered from enemy territory

A vintage Eternamatic Centenaire 61 that belonged to a spy has been brought back to Israel by the Mossad.

I could scarcely believe my eyes when the BBC chose to run it as one of its top stories, but the return to Israel of a watch worn by Eli Cohen, a spy who had infiltrated the Syrian regime, was treated as big news in the country. But it has been a while since the story broke and I was surprised that no other watch media seem to have run it.

It’s hard to imagine Her Majesty’s Government sending in MI6 to recover James Bond’s Omega Seamaster in the highly unlikely event that he was hanged. But this is just what the state of Israel did for the family of Eli Cohen, who was unmasked by the Syrians and executed on 18th May 1965. Unlike James Bond, Cohen was a very real spy who left behind a family. The recovery of one of his few remaining possessions, especially one that had been in contact with his skin, therefore takes on an emotional dimension for Cohen’s widow, Nadia, to whom the watch was presented in a special ceremony.

To go to such lengths to recover the watch, however, seems a little excessive. The celebratory press release issued by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office sounded more like the country had just made a successful military strike. “I commend the fighters of the Mossad for the determined and courageous operation,” it quotes Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu as saying. But the courageous operation was to rescue a horological, rather than human, hostage, in the form of a humble Eternamatic Centenaire 61. It doesn’t seem to be in great condition and is missing its strap. In fact, you can pick up one in much better condition on the Internet for around a thousand US dollars. This isn’t the point, of course, since this is an object of sentimental value recovered in an operation carried out successfully behind enemy lines. As such it is a double success for Mossad, on the one hand returning a precious item to someone who has never been allowed closure since her husband’s remains have never been recovered; on the other hand it is also a slap in the face to the “enemy state” from which the watch was recovered.

The true story behind this daring rescue would no doubt make a great book or even a film, but it is unlikely ever to be told, at least as long as the operatives involved remain active. Questions about how the watch was located and how it was extracted are also likely to remain unanswered. It’s also a story that harks back to a bygone decade when a watch was a watch. Is such a story likely to be told 30 years hence and would as much effort be spent to recover an obsolete smart watch?


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