Netanyahu appoints Yoram Cohen as Israel's next Shin Bet chief
Cohen, a former Shin Bet deputy chief and the first observant Jew to be chosen for the top position, will replace Yuval Diskin if Turkel Committee approves PM's recommendation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he has appointed Yoram Cohen as the next chief of Israel's general security services, the Shin Bet.
Pending approval of the Turkel Commisison, charged with authorizing such appointments, Cohen is expected to replace Yuval Diskin when the latter's six-year term ends on May 15.
A former deputy Shin Bet chief, Cohen was not considered to be a leading candidate to replace Diskin.
In announcing his decision on Monday, Netanyahu lauded Diskin for his "important and effective" contribution as Shin Bet chief over the last six years. "I am certain that in thanking him, I am doing so on behalf of all Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said.
"Yoram was the spearhead of activity in the agency over the past few years," Netanyahu said of his choice for Diskin's replacement. "Cohen is a real field man."
The 51-year-old Cohen cut his teeth in the organization by taking part in anti-terrorism operations against Palestinian groups. He has manned a long list of positions throughout his career.
Born in south Tel Aviv, Cohen received his education at the prestigious religious seminary Midrashiyat Noam in Pardes Hana. After his schooling, he enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces' elite Sayeret Golani crack infantry unit.
After completing his military service in 1982, he began his career with the Shin Bet as a field guard in the West Bank. He then went on to the Shin Bet's Arabic language instructional course before taking up the job of coordinator in the Ramallah district.
Aside from one year during which he served in south Lebanon, Cohen spent his entire career in Ramallah, Jerusalem, and the southern West Bank.
For four years he served as deputy Shin Bet chief and the head of the Arab and Iranian anti-terror branch. In 2003, he returned to the West Bank as head of the Shin Bet's Jerusalem bureau.
Cohen's tenure marked the start of tighter cooperation between the IDF and the Shin Bet, who shared information and collaborated on targeted killings of suspected Palestinian terrorists, arrests of terror suspects, and the dismantling of most of the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.
"He has more than left his fingerprints on a very large chunk of the service's abilities and achievements," said MK Israel Hasson, a former deputy Shin Bet chief. "He did most of his service in Judea and Samaria, but he has a very extensive perspective. He has an extraordinary ability to see things in a much wider, organizational context."
Cohen served as deputy to the current Shin Bet chief Diskin. In 2008, he moved to the United States, where he worked as a research fellow with the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy. Some of his position papers and works were published under his name.
Despite his experience in the West Bank, Cohen's works included analyses of the southern front, including Hamas' efforts to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and the Islamist organization's fighting capabilities against the IDF during Operation Cast Lead.
Cohen, a father of five, is the first observant Jew to be named to head the organization.
"The fact that he is religious is quite significant," said a former senior official with the service. "Especially in light of the fact that one of the main fronts that he'll have to deal with is the settlers."
Cohen takes over at a time of tension with the Palestinians, with a sudden escalation in attacks and counterattacks between Israel and Hamas-led Gaza.
Outwardly, he will have to deal with an emerging reality in the Gaza-Sinai-Egypt triangle, and to prepare, with the police, for a possible mix of terror attacks, renewed cooperation between Hamas and Hezbollah, and mass public disturbances - and all this in light of the uncertainty in Israel's domestic politics leading up to new elections.