National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen will be the next head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday night.
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Cohen, who has headed the National Security Council since 2013, is a former deputy chief of the Mossad and former head of the organization’s Tzomet division, which operates agents. The term of the current Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, ends in January, when Cohen takes over.
Cohen beat out two senior Mossad veterans for the post. One is former Mossad deputy head Ram Ben-Barak, who is now director general of the intelligence ministry, and the current deputy Mossad head, who can only be identified as “N.”
“The decision was difficult,” Netanyahu said. “All three candidates are outstanding and talented.”
Cohen, 54, is a 30-year Mossad veteran who was responsible for numerous sensitive diplomatic and security missions. The Tzomet division that he headed is responsible for HUMINT – collecting intelligence from human sources – in other words, recruiting and operating agents and informers.
While Cohen headed Tzomet, he and his subordinates received the prestigious Israel Defense Prize, which recognizes achievements in improving state security and maintaining Israel’s power and qualitative advantage on the battlefield.
At 6 P.M., the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Netanyahu would name the new Mossad head at 8:15. But the announcement was delayed for nearly an hour, sparking rumors that Netanyahu was being pressured to change his decision.
At around 8:30, Netanyahu called Ben-Barak and N. to tell them they would not receive the coveted position. At 9:10 Netanyahu announced Cohen’s appointment.
A senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said the claims of the last-minute pressure were groundless. He said Netanyahu had conducted a thorough examination process, conducting three rounds of interviews with the candidates.
The official added that in the 24 hours before the announcement, Netanyahu had consulted with Pardo and former Mossad head Meir Dagan, and that he had finalized his decision during the day.
In his announcement, Netanyahu praised the Mossad, saying its agents operated around the clock every day of the year while risking their personal safety to assure Israel’s security against Iranian terror and other threats.
He added that in addition to being an intelligence and operations agency, the Mossad paves the way for contacts with countries with which Israel has no formal relations.
“I took all three of these aspects into account. On the operations side, the Mossad will continue to foil threats to state security through operations best not spoken of. On the intelligence side, the Mossad must adapt itself to the cyber and advanced technology era. It must be one of the best spy agencies in the world,” Netanyahu said.
“And the Mossad will continue to help me develop diplomatic connections throughout the world, including with Arab and Muslim states. These connections were palpable last week in Paris, where I met many leaders who admire Israel.”
The naming of a new head led to tension in the Mossad in recent weeks, particularly after Netanyahu named Roni Alsheich, an external appointment, to head the police.
Cohen, a Jerusalem native, is married and the father of four.