Details of when or how Israel got hold of the watch were not disclosed

In a daring operation, Israel's espionage agency Mossad has claimed to have recovered the watch of Eli Cohen, more than 50 years after the legendary spy was caught and publicly hanged in Syria.

"I commend the fighters of the Mossad for the determined and courageous operation, the sole objective of which was to return to Israel a memento from a great fighter who greatly contributed to the security of the state," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

The wristwatch was recovered from Syria in a special Mossad operation which took place recently, the spy agency claimed.

Cohen, an Egyptian-born Jew recruited by Mossad in the early 1960s, managed to infiltrate the highest echelons of the Syrian regime to gather information about the Arabs. The information shared by him is said to have been instrumental in Israel's victory in the 1967 Arab-Israel war.

Cohen was unmasked by Syrian security officials in 1964. He was sentenced to death after a military trial and subsequently hanged on May 18, 1965.

In the annual memorial ceremony for Cohen, which was held several weeks ago, Mossad's Director Yossi Cohen is said to have returned to the Cohen family the wristwatch that the celebrated spy is said to have used in Syria.

"The watch is currently on display at the Mossad headquarters as a memorial to the legendary fighter. This Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) it will be transferred to the custody of the family," the espionage agency said.

"We remember Eli Cohen and do not forget. His heritage, of dedication, determination, courage and love of the homeland, is our heritage. We remember and have maintained a close connection over the years with his family, Nadia (his wife) and the children," the Mossad's director said.

"This year, at the conclusion of an operational effort, we succeeded in locating and bringing to Israel the wristwatch that Cohen wore in Syria until the day he was captured. The watch was part of Cohen's operational image and part of his fabricated Arab identity," he added.

Details of when or how Israel got hold of the watch were not disclosed. The prime minister's office only said that it was recovered "in a special Mossad operation".

"The wristwatch was held by an enemy state. Upon the watch's return to Israel, special research and intelligence operations were carried out which culminated in the unequivocal determination that this was indeed Cohen's watch," it said.

Masquerading as Kamal Amin Taabet, a fictitious Syrian businessman, Cohen made multiple trips to Syria from 1962. He also succeeded in befriending influential political, business and military figures.

The mystique of his story is such that some say he was even considered for the position of Syrian deputy defence minister, though there is no proof of it.

Details he gave of Syrian troops on the Golan Heights are said to have played an important part in helping Israel defeat Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel has repeatedly asked for the repatriation of Cohen's remains, but Syria always refused.

"The moment that they informed me [of the watch's recovery] my mouth went dry and I got the chills," Cohen's wife, Nadia, told local media.

"At that moment I felt that I could feel his hand, I felt that part of him was with us," she added.