Netanyahu Taps Mossad Deputy Chief as Spy Agency's Next Head

Judy Maltz
Chaim Levinson
Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent
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Netanyahu with current Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu with current Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in Jerusalem. Credit: Haim Tzach / GPO
Judy Maltz
Chaim Levinson
Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to appoint the Mossad’s current deputy chief as the spy agency's next head.

D., whose name is withheld from publication, has years of experience in the organization. The appointment is currently under review by the Goldberg Commission, which is responsible for reviewing all senior state appointments.

The new Mossad chief was supposed to be appointed in coordination with and with the consent of the Kahol Lavan party, as per their coalition agreement with Netanyahu's Likud. Despite this, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz was not notified about the prime minister's decision, and was upset to discover the appointment had been made.  

In July, Netanyahu extended the term of outgoing Mossad chief Yossi Cohen by six months, through June 2021. The decision was described in a statement as the result of "the security challenges facing the State of Israel."

Cohen, who considered close to Netanyahu, has held the role since January 2016, and his name was floated in recent weeks as a potential ambassador to Washington, D.C.

Walla news once reported that Netanyahu brought up the names of Cohen and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer in closed conversations as his possible successors. Cohen also has a particularly high public profile for a Mossad chief: He regularly briefs reporters and even attends diplomatic events, such as the one marking the U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Israeli law stipulates that senior security officials must wait three years or one election cycle before running for Knesset. If the Knesset dissolves at the end of December, Cohen will be able to run in the next election cycle.  

Cohen previously led the National Security Council and served as the prime minister's national security adviser from 2013 to 2016, before assuming the role of Mossad chief. In the Mossad, Cohen previously served as deputy chief and the head of the agency's Tzomet division, which handles agents.

Cohen played a key role in the efforts that have led in recent months to normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. Last month, Haaretz reported that Cohen took part in a meeting Netanyahu held in Saudi Arabia with Crown Price Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

During his tenure as Mossad chief, Cohen oversaw an operation to steal Iran's nuclear archive in 2018. Operations attributed to the Mossad during this time include the assassinations Mohammed Zawahri, an engineer working with Hamas on drone development, and of Hamas engineer Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh.

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