Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Yossi Cohen, the head of the National Security Council, as the 12th head of the Mossad on Monday night.
Cohen will take over from outgoing Mossad head Tamir Pardo, who leaves the post in January after five years.
The announcement put an end to weeks of speculation over who would be named to one of the most important security positions in the country.
Cohen has served as National Security Council head since August 2013, replacing Yaakov Amidror. During that time he served as a trusted interlocutor for Netanyahu with many governments around the world, including in Washington, where he is widely respected by key administration officials.
In marked contrast to the situation that existed up until the 1990s, when the name of the Mossad chief was kept a secret, Netanyahu made the announcement at a hastily called press opportunity in his office. The fact that the statement was delayed for nearly an hour added to a sense of high drama.
The premier prefaced his remarks by delineating three primary tasks for the Mossad: operational tasks to thwart threats to the country, intelligence gathering, and paving the way for contact with countries in the Arab and Islamic world with whom Israel does not have diplomatic relations.
The head of the Mossad, Netanyahu said, “must have the ability to lead the organization with daring, wisdom and professionalism.”
Noting that Cohen had a long career in the Mossad and has also been the head of the NSC for the last two years, Netanyahu said he has “much experience and many achievements, and proven ability in a wide range of Mossad activities. He has leadership abilities and professional understanding, which are necessary for the person to lead the organization.”
Prior to heading up the NSC, Cohen was a 30-year veteran of the Mossad who rose through the ranks and held a wide variety of positions, including director of the department responsible for running agents around the world.
While serving in the Mossad, Cohen received the prestigious Israel Security Prize, given to Israelis recognized for achievements in improving state security and maintaining its power and qualitative advantage on the battlefield, both technologically and operationally.
Netanyahu said that in addition to Cohen there were two other candidates for the job, former Mossad deputy Rami Ben-Barak, who was a deputy to Pardo’s predecessor Meir Dagan, before being named direct-general of the Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Ministry in 2014 by then minister Yuval Steinitz. He served in the Sayeret Matkal unit, and then in the Mossad’s Keshet Division, responsible for electronic intelligence and wiretaps, and as head of its Operations Division.
The other leading candidate is the current deputy chief of the Mossad, known only by the initial of his first name, “N.”
Of the previous 11 Mossad heads, six hailed from the intelligence community, and five came from the military.
Cohen’s appointment means that Netanyahu will have to name a new head of the National Security Council.