The new head of Mossad, Israel’s Intelligence agency said Iran continues to be Israel’s primary and most significant challenge despite, in fact, even because of the nuclear deal it signed with the world powers.
Yossi Cohen officially assumed his role on Tuesday as Israel’s 12th head of the Mossad , taking over from Tamir Pardo, whose five-year term has come to an end.
At a ceremony to mark the start of his term in office, Cohen said, “The key challenge is the Iranian threat,” saying that July’s long-term nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers (UK, US, France, Russia, China and Germany) had increased the danger. He commented, “Despite the nuclear deal — I think because of it — the threat has significantly increased.”
Meanwhile, said Cohen, “Iran continues to call for Israel’s destruction, while intensifying its military capabilities and strengthening its grip on the region,” using terror cells “as a means to achieve these goals.” He added determinedly, “I am confident the Mossad will be able to build the strength necessary and form an appropriate response.”
Outlining Israel’s regional position, Cohen said, “Israel is at the epicentre of the storm gripping the Middle East in recent years,” and that, “Fanatical Islamic extremism is rolling across countries, and causing their collapse.”
Cohen said that the internal religious battles within Islam, as well as the strengthening of the terrorist organizations, makes it incumbent upon the Mossad to understand those threats, thwart them, and to contribute to Israeli security “discretely and with creativity.”
The ceremony was attended by numerous dignitaries, including Cohen’s predecessor Tamir Pardo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Cohen is thought to have developed a close working relationship with Netanyahu since being appointed to head the National Security Council in 2013.
Speaking at the ceremony, Netanyahu said, “The responsibility that the Mossad bears is immense,” adding, “Our strength is contingent on the willingness of some of our best sons and daughters to bear the burden of ensuring life, liberty and prosperity of the nation.” He added, “I trust you, Yossi, as does all of Israel.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu announced yesterday that Yaakov Nagel will be Cohen’s interim replacement heading the National Security Council until a permanent replacement is found. Nagel currently serves as the Council’s deputy director for defence and strategic policy.
Yossi Cohen joined Mossad in 1982 and rose through the ranks, developing particular expertise in the recruitment and handling of agents abroad. Although his exact activities within Mossad are not public, several commentators have credited Cohen with spearheading the Mossad’s attempts to thwart Iran’s nuclear development, which are thought to include sophisticated computer viruses and the assassination of key scientists. He has been awarded the Israel Defence Prize for an operation in which he participated.
According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Mossad under Pardo placed a focus on thwarting Iran’s nuclear capabilities, preventing terrorist attacks and the development of terrorist infrastructure around the world, fighting the smuggling of weapons to terrorist organizations, and developing and promoting ties with states with whom Israel does not have diplomatic ties.
Netanyahu, who said that Israel is facing more challenges than any other country in the world, said the country is a “bastion of Democracy in the heart of a neighborhood full of threats.
54-year-old Cohen has experience in all three areas addressed by the prime minister – the diplomatic field, from his time as Tamir Pardo’s deputy Mossad chief and his current tenure as head of the National Security Council; in the intelligence field, from his stint as the head of the Mossad’s most important department Tzomet (junction) – the division responsible for locating, recruiting and running agents to gather the intelligence necessary to make decisions; and third, the operational aspect in which Cohen also has abundant experience.
The new Mossad head, who is a married father of four, studied at a yeshiva in Jerusalem and joined the organisation at the very young age of 22. In 1983. he trained to become a katsa (the Hebrew acronym collection officer A – field agent’s runner), and from there began to climb the ladder of the organization. He was the head of a station in Europe – locating, recruiting and operating agents from enemy states and terror organizations, and later served in various roles at headquarters until he was appointed by Meir Dagan to be the head of Tzomet. He was next appointed as Pardo’s deputy.
Cohen wants to make the Mossad more combative and daring than it was under Pardo and return to the “good old days” when Meir Dagan led the organization. He strongly believes, like Netanyahu, that Iran remains Israel’s No. 1 enemy – that it continues to support terrorism and has never abandoned its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons. One of his major tasks will be to monitor and to verify that Iran is not once again cheating the international community and violating the July 2015 nuclear deal it signed with the world powers.
He will also continue to carry out on behalf of Netanyahu sensitive missions and deliver messages to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt and even Turkey. Netanyahu hopes to establish an anti-Iranian coalition with those countries, but their leaders are reluctant to go out into the open and be seen in the company of Israel unless there is progress on the Palestinian issue. The Mossad has no input on the Palestinian issue, perhaps Israel’s most challenging front.
However, 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.