New Mossad chief: Netanyahu's real foreign minister
Analysis: The prime minister's decision to appoint his national security advisor, Yossi Cohen, as the secret service's new director reflects his clear preference for secret relations with countries that have no official diplomatic ties with Israel and with foreign intelligence communities.
Many members of the secret service arrived at Cohen's home Monday evening to congratulate him. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan described the appointment of the man who had served as his deputy as "very good." Cohen's mother told Ynet, "We are so excited and happy and hope for the best. We hope our dear son will succeed for the sake of all the people of Israel."
Standing outside his home in Modiin, Cohen said: "I would like to thank the prime minister for his faith in me. I am excited by the magnitude and importance of this position. I promise to do everything I can in order to offer the people of Israel and the State of Israel good operations and high-quality intelligence. I wish all the people of Israel and the Mossad workers a happy Hanukkah."
The Mossad focuses on three areas. The most important area is collecting crucial intelligence for security around the world. The second is secret operations, some of which are aimed at obtaining intelligence and most of which are aimed at thwarting and disrupting threats to the security of the State of Israel and its citizens, both in the field of counterterrorism and in other areas like disrupting and delaying the Iranian nuclear program.
The Mossad also engages in operations aimed at securing the integrity and safety of Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
The third area is the State of Israel's secret foreign relations, particularly with countries we have no diplomatic relations with, as well as maintaining relations with intelligence communities in friendlier and less friendly countries, which take place even when the official relations are not very good. For example, the relationship with the American intelligence community and the CIA is being maintained as always despite the strained relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government.
The decision to appoint Cohen as the new Mossad chief reflects Netanyahu's clear preference at this time for the secret foreign relations maintained through the organization. These relations are needed, first of all, in order to garner international cooperation in the war on terror and in order to allow the State of Israel to take part in and influence the international activity focusing on thwarting the terrorist activities of the militant radical Islam.
Without international cooperation, it would also be impossible to thwart and effectively fight the terror produced by the Iran-led Shi'ite radical axis, and mainly the Sunni jihadist terror led by the Islamic State and other organizations.
International cooperation in which Israel contributes information, abilities and technologies, and receives information and operational abilities from others, is the only way to effectively fight the threats faced by the State of Israel, which usually threaten world peace too.
Minimizing damages in the US
The second reason for the need to increase the secret diplomacy activity through the Mossad is the State of Israel's growing diplomatic isolation. Many countries, like Sweden for example, whose policies are hostile towards Israel, are gladly willing to cooperate with us when it comes to a dialogue between the intelligence communities.
The third reason for the clear preference of the secret foreign policy is seizing opportunities. It's no secret that Arab and Muslim states have strong shared interests with the State of Israel in one area. These countries, however, are unprepared to hold open relations and normalize their ties with Israel before a solution is found for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Mossad is the channel through which these open and secret relations are maintained.
Yossi Cohen is the right person to head the Mossad at this time as the international experience he has accumulated, both as head of the Mossad branch in Europe and as national security advisor, is priceless. He proved his skills in this area as the person in charge of the dialogue with the Americans, together with Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General Jeremy Issacharoff, during the world powers' nuclear negotiations with Iran.
As head of the National Security Council, Cohen was more involved in the negotiations than meets the eye and influenced the final outcome, although Israel did not approve of it. He minimized damages. Cohen and Issacharoff also dealt with other sensitive issues vis-à-vis the American administration even when the hostility between Obama and Netanyahu reached new levels.
The natural candidate
And that's not all. Cohen has rich experience in the HUMINT (human intelligence) operational field (intelligence gathered by means of interpersonal contact) as well. He also served as head of the Tzomet operational unit, which activated intelligence collection officers and agent during at the height of the secret battle against the Iranian nuclear program. A Tzomet team led by Cohen even won the Israel Defense Prize for this activity.
What Cohen is missing is experience and expertise in the field of cyber and technology, which outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and his deputy, N., specialize in. N. was one of the candidates to replace Pardo, but lost to Cohen.
Another virtue which the prime minister likely appreciates is the fact that Cohen comes from a deep rooted Jerusalemite family and that his father was a senior Irgun member in Jerusalem. So as far as Netanyahu and his family are concerned, Cohen was a natural choice both politically and due to his background.
The other candidates, N. and Ram Ben Barak, are worthy people too. There was another candidate, David Meidan, who mediated in the negotiation for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and was as worthy as the other three candidates. After the successful conclusion of the Shalit affair, Netanyahu even gave Meidan a letter in which he more or less promised that he would have the highest chances of replacing Pardo as Mossad chief, but his nomination eventually faded away despite his secret diplomacy skills.
Yossi Cohen, who will move to the Mossad headquarters from the National Security Council building, will be able to take over pretty fast not only because he is familiar with the Mossad's work and served as the Mossad chief's deputy, but also because his work in the National Security Council overlapped with the Mossad's work in many areas. So don’t expect any shocks, resignations or insults. Cohen was a natural candidate, and it's only natural that he received the job.