New chief of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, has 30 years of experience in operational, intelligence and executive positions

Yossi Cohen, former head of the national security council, leaves his home the morning after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Cohen will lead the Mossad on December 8, 2015Yossi Cohen, former head of the national security council, leaves his home the morning after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Cohen will lead the Mossad on December 8, 2015

By Yossi Lempkowicz

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week announced the appointment of Yossi Cohen, currently the National Security Advisor since 2013, as new head of Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, after a charismatic career.

The nomination was approved by the advisory committee on senior appointments and positions  which is headed by a former Supreme Court Justice.

Cohen will replace outgoing Mossad director Tamir Pardo, who will retire in January after five years in office.

Before becoming National Security Advisor in 2013, which operates under the Prime Minister’s Office, the new Mossad head has been a part of the defense establishment for the past 30 years. He held various operational and executive positions in the Mossad, including deputy head of the organization and head of Tzomet (Hebrew word for junction), the intelligence agency’s international operations unit responsible for locating, recruiting and running agents to gather the intelligence necessary to make decisions. He was responsible for numerous sensitive diplomatic and security missions.

“Yossi Cohen has 30 years of experience in operational, intelligence and executive positions. His service with the Mossad has seen him acquire extensive knowledge in the workings of complex systems and the international theater, and he has a wealth of experience working with the defense establishment,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Fluent in Arabic, Cohen is a past winner of the prestigious Israel Defense Prize, which he was awarded for a covert operation hailed as a “major intelligence breakthrough.”

When he made the announcement at a special press conference, Netanyahu said: “My first goal as Prime Minister is to bolster Israel’s security opposite the global turmoil prompted by radical Islam. Radical Islam is led by two forces, Iran and Islamic State, which exercise violence and terrorism in our region, and effectively threaten the Middle East and the entire world.”

“Radical Islam’s terrorism has stuck Paris, London, Istanbul, Mali and California, and it has also struck us. Palestinian terrorism stems from a fundamental objection to our very existence, and it is fueled by false religious incitement suggesting we allegedly seek to destroy Al-Aqsa mosque.’’

“Faced with bloodthirsty enemies, we fight back. IDF and police forces operate wherever necessary, and the government, under my leadership, offers them its full backing. Our security forces arrest terrorists, raze murderers’ homes, remain vigilant at all times and do not hesitate to engage the enemy. Working tirelessly to thwart terrorist attacks, the Shin Bet security agency contributes greatly to Israel’s security.”

Turning his attention to the Mossad, Netanyahu  said, “The men and women of the Mossad work year-round, demonstrating exceptional courage and ingenuity, at times at considerable personal risk. They do so to ensure Israel’s security versus the threat of terrorism, the Iranian threat and many other threats.

“The Mossad is an operational body, an intelligence apparatus, and at times the one that paves the way for diplomatic moves, especially where countries with which we do not maintain official ties are concerned,” Netanyahu said.

“When considering the nomination of the next Mossad director I had to consider these three components: The operational tier, where the Mossad will continue to bolster our security via operations whose details are best left unsaid; the intelligence tier, where the Mossad will continue to adjust its abilities to the age of cybertechnology, so it can maintain its position as one of the leading intelligence agencies in the world; and the diplomatic tier, where the Mossad will continue to assist me, as prime minister, in developing international ties, including with Arab and Muslim nations.’’

Despite the Mossad’s impressive abilities, Cohen also will have to adapt the organization to face the new challenges posed by the shifting reality of the Middle East. This reality includes the disintegration of traditional states and the rise of terrorist organizations, including Islamic State, Sinai Province and Syria’s Nusra Front.

The Mossad, whose base is HUMINT (human intelligence), will continue to operate as the main body in this field, but the goal of penetrating and enlisting agents in the new terrorist organizations will be much more difficult.

In the past, the Mossad, together with Military Intelligence, succeeded in gathering information and knowing what was happening in hard Islamist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas (with the cooperation of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency). However, in the face of the unstable reality of brutal and religious terrorist organizations this will not be an easy task, writes The Jerusalem Post.

Cohen, 54, will be the Mossad’s 12th director.  Of the previous 11 Mossad heads, six hailed from the intelligence community, and five came from the military.

Mossad, wich literally means “the Institute”, is short for HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuadim in Hebrew which means “Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations”.

The creation of an intelligence infrastructure goes back to the establishment of the State of Israel and the invasion by the Arab States’ regular armies in 1948.  The idea came at the time of David Ben Gurion, the state’s first Prime Minister.

The new Central Institute (Mossad) for Coordination of the Intelligence and Security Services was established on December 13, 1949. It was meant to coordinate the activity of the other two bodies, Shin Bet (the internal security services) and the intelligence department of the IDF’s operations division.  His first head was Reuven Shiloah, a member of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department.

In early 1951, a decision was made to establish a central authority for intelligence collection abroad, under the Institute for Coordination. This authority later became the Tzomet.

Since its establishment, the Mossad has been involved in intelligence collection based on the needs of the State, which are checked and drafted from time to time in what is known as the EEI — Essential Elements of Information. This is done through various means, such as HUMINT (human intelligence) and SIGINT (signals intelligence).  The routine activity is not exposed publicly, for understandable reasons.

Over the years and until the present, the Mossad has also developed and sustained intelligence relations with intelligence services of other countries, as is accepted in the intelligence world.

It is also involved in establishing covert relations with countries that avoid overt contact with Israel. Several of these kinds of relationships have been publicized, such as the Mossad’s assistance to the State’s leaders in covert negotiations that preceded the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

The Mossad has also been involved in special operations and activity in the service of the State of Israel, such as the pursuit of Nazi criminals, the pinnacle of which was the capture of the Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 and his trial in Israel.

The Mossad worked to rescue Jews from troubled countries and bring them to Israel. The most prominent of these operations was Mivtza Moshe (Operation Moses) for bringing the Jews of Ethiopia to Israel.

By nature, the Mossad was and is a key factor in the war against terror directed at Jewish and Israeli targets abroad.

Over the years, it has assumed a key role in preventing countries that pose a threat to Israel from obtaining non-conventional weapons.

The Mossad has adopted the following verse as its motto. “Where no wise direction is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”