Analysis: The challenges facing Israel's next Mossad chief

Faced with the unstable reality of brutal and religious terror organizations like ISIS, Yossi Cohen does not have an easy task.

New Mossad chief vows to bring 'good intelligence' and security to Israel
The appointment of Yossi Cohen to serve as the 12th head of the Mossad should not come as a surprise since he was the leading choice among the three candidates.
However, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggles to make decisions and postpones them until the last minute, Netanyahu on Monday evening delivered his statement on Cohen almost an hour after it was scheduled, causing unnecessary drama and wild speculation over the appointment.
The televised event looked like a reality show or Oscar evening. The Mossad deserved more respect.
During Netanyahu’s address, in which he described his considerations in choosing the candidate, he spoke of the clandestine diplomatic experience required of a Mossad chief, who sometimes must act as a kind of “second Foreign Ministry.”
The moment he said this, it was clear the choice would be Cohen.
He 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.
During the last years in which he served in the Mossad in senior positions, the agency was focused on exposing Iran’s nuclear program – operations in which intelligence was gathered on the progress of the Iranian project and its aims, which included, according to foreign reports, sabotage and assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Such operations are impressive and require, first and foremost, precise information and operational capabilities.
Netanyahu deliberated about the other two candidates up until the final moment. They each served as deputy Mossad chief, as well. Ram Ben Barak, who today serves as director general of the Intelligence Ministry and “N,” who served as deputy Mossad chief up until a few weeks ago, are no less capable than Cohen and they were certainly worthy candidates.
However, the prime minister chose Cohen because he has been close to him for the last two-and-a-half years during which he served as head of the National Security Council and as national security adviser. In these roles, Cohen led secret delegations abroad for Netanyahu and provided recommendations on various issues tied to the prime minister’s activities.
Netanyahu held an orderly process of consultations. He personally met with the three candidates, and asked Pardo and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan their opinions of the candidates.
Dagan told him Cohen was the preferred nominee, while Pardo said all three were suitable.
Cohen, 54, is a married father of four and grandfather of one.
He studied at a yeshiva in Jerusalem and joined the Mossad 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.
The prime minister also discussed the importance of cyber warfare and the need to be at the technological forefront in his announcement of Cohen’s appointment. Indeed, for more than a decade, the Mossad has leaned heavily on technology and its capabilities in the field do not fall short of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Unit 8200, although on a smaller scale. According to foreign reports, sabotaging Iran’s centrifuges by inserting the malicious Stuxnet virus in to its computers is just one example.
Netanyahu will also expect that the Mossad, under Cohen, maintain its lethal operations capabilities as deterrence against foes, especially should Iran renew its nuclear military project.
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.