Clean, Religious and Close to Netanyahu's Wife: Who Is Yossi Cohen, Israel's Next Mossad Chief

Sources say Cohen, a politically-savvy observant Jew, was the 'natural choice' for the job.

Olivier Fitoussi

Yossi Cohen, named Israel's new Mossad chief on Sunday evening, was born to an observant family in Jerusalem in 1961. He studied at the Ohr Etzion Yeshiva seminary under Rabbi Haim Drukman and, after serving in the Israeli army, was accepted into the Mossad's prestigious intelligence officers' course.

During his service, Cohen specialized in enlisting and handling agents for the Mossad, and headed the Mossad's Tzomet collectives division. He also headed a technological intelligence collection division within the Mossad before being named deputy head.

Cohen had a number of professional disagreements with Tamir Pardo, the outgoing Mossad chief, that eventually led him to look for a position outside the secretive service's ranks, until, finally, he was named Israel's National Security Adviser in 2013.

As head of the National Security Council, Cohen invested himself in politics as well as professional endeavors, and according to a political source he grew close to Sara Netanyahu – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife – and forged ties with some ultra-Orthodox leaders. On Sunday, before his appointment was announced, Cohen even joined Shas leader Arye Dery in meeting with Menahem Gescheid - a senior ultra-Orthodox politico and public relations figure considered familiar with Israel's corridors of power.

For years, Cohen had lived in Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood, a neighbor of Israel's state prosecutor Shai Nizan and the head of the Shin Bet Yoram Cohen. A decade ago, he left the city and moved to the suburb of Modi'inm where he lives with his four children. Cohen's family identifies as Masorti (traditionally observant Jews), though he doesn’t wear a skullcap (kippa) on weekdays, but only on Shabbat.

A source with knowledge of the Mossad's inner workings told Haaretz following the announcement that Cohen was the "natural choice" for the position. According to the source, Cohen has a clean reputation and "has a close relationship with Netanyahu which is very important for the type of work characteristic of the Mossad." According to the source, Cohen will have to invest in enhancing the organization's operational activities, which have been somewhat neglected in favor of technological developments in recent years.