Can A-G block PM’s new Mossad chief appointment? - analysis

Can Mandelblit block Netanyahu’s appointment if the prime minister tries to ignore his guidance?

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit talk at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem in 2015. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit talk at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem in 2015.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Last week, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit sent a legal opinion to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling him that he should not finalize the appointment of “D” as the next head of the Mossad.
Mandelblit said that if Netanyahu finalized the appointment during an election period during which he is only a transitional prime minister, it would be unfair to whoever might become prime minister following the elections.
Can Mandelblit block Netanyahu’s appointment if the prime minister tries to ignore his guidance?
Further, is it possible that all of this has less to do with the Mossad and, underneath, is more of a preemptive strike to prevent Netanyahu from appointing the next chief of the Shin Bet?
D, along with A, the other finalist for the Mossad spymaster role, were both handpicked candidates by current Mossad Director Yossi Cohen.
Cohen gave the two names to Netanyahu, who picked D on December 15, weeks before the government’s status changed to a transitional one.
Taking the perspective of that timing into account, there should be no issue with finalizing D’s appointment. Mandelblit has pushed hard to finalize such appointments as the state attorney, the police chief and the chief of the Israel Prisons Service (IPS).
He took these actions despite that the government is now a transitional one, given that the candidates were selected before election season began.
So why would D be any different?
According to Mandelblit, the main question for finalizing a senior appointment even in election season is not only whether the candidate was picked preelection season, but also whether or not there is an imminent need to fill the role.
In the case of the other three appointments, the role has not been properly filled for one to two years, with those running the organizations all serving in acting capacities. This circumstance made filling the jobs more of a necessity that it be done promptly.
In contrast, Cohen’s term does not end until June.
As such, Mandelblit reasons that there is no pressing need to finalize the appointment before we know who will be the next prime minister.
Incidentally, Mandelblit complimented D, who is currently the deputy chief of the Mossad and highly respected across the spectrum. He said that it is even quite likely that he will be picked for the role regardless of who will be the next prime minister.
However, as a matter of proper procedure and clean politics, Mandelblit said the appointment should not be finalized during the transitional stage lacking a pressing need.
Yet, Mandelblit may not be able to block this appointment in the way he can often block other appointments.
Cohen’s official term ran from January 2016 to January 2021. Netanyahu decided in the summer to extend Cohen’s tenure until June 2021, but this was at Netanyahu’s discretion. Moreover, the Mossad is within the Prime Minister’s Office and it is recognized that he has the highest discretion for selecting the head of the agency.
If Netanyahu could suddenly ask D to start tomorrow and return to the original plan if Cohen ended his term now, what would prevent him from finalizing D now to commence the new position in a few months?
Mandelblit might respond that once Netanyahu changed Cohen’s term to end in June that it was irrelevant that his term originally was due to end now.
With D having wall-to-wall support, the prime minister having tremendous discretion over who heads the Mossad, it is hard to envision the High Court of Justice intervening if Netanyahu declines Mandelblit’s guidance.
Netanyahu is not restrained by his commitment to refrain from involvement in law enforcement appointments while under indictment in this instance, since the Mossad is outside that rubric.
Consequently, this all could mean that perhaps the real battle is not over the Mossad head, but over the next chief of the Shin Bet.
Current Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman’s appointment was announced in February 2016 and he took office on May 8, 2016.
There have been clear indications that Netanyahu may want to appoint current National Security Council Chief Meir Ben Shabbat to replace Argaman.
As reported by The Jerusalem Post, Ben Shabbat has fans, but he also has heavy opposition from officials who say that he has grown too close to the prime minister to objectively run the Shin Bet.
If Netanyahu followed his old timeline, he would be appointing Argaman’s replacement next month, smack in the middle of election season.
He could even claim that the appointment is necessary for the next chief to have time to work a few months alongside Argaman to get up to speed.
If so, Mandelblit’s current move would be a powerful warning shot that this would not stand.
The attorney-general supported the state attorney, police chief, and IPS chief appointments because they were both long overdue and the candidates were selected preelection.
With election day set for March 23, though an extended period of coalition negotiations could run past May 8, Mandelblit has a strong case to say that there is still time following the election to make the appointment.
The only remaining question is whether Netanyahu cares more about the warning shot or more about trying to add facts on the ground.