Is Mossad’s Yossi Cohen the future after Bibi-Gantz? - analysis

The spy chief has racked up major wins against Iran and the coronavirus, is scandal-free, has charisma and leans to the Right.

Former Mossad Director Yossi Cohen (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Former Mossad Director Yossi Cohen
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White head Benny Gantz have still not finalized their national-unity deal which should frame Israel’s politics for at least the next three years. Nonetheless, there might already be someone waiting in the wings to step up when their terms are completed: Mossad director Yossi Cohen.
What makes Cohen different from other Mossad directors? And why would he have a shot at leading the country one day?
Former Mossad chiefs Isser Harel, Meir Amit and Danny Yatom all made it into the Knesset. Amit even briefly served in minor ministerial positions. But none of them – or other Mossad chiefs who were far more private both during and after their years with the secret service – ever had a serious chance to lead the country.
But Cohen is different.
First, he has name recognition.
Both he and the prime minister have made the deeds of the Mossad under his reign more public than they were under any previous director.
Every Israeli, whether he carefully follows national security and the spy world or not, already knows that Cohen masterminded and carried out two operations of historic proportions.
The first was the agency’s appropriation of Iran’s nuclear secrets from the heart of Tehran in January 2018; the second is his leading the drive to bring medical equipment to Israel to combat the coronavirus crisis.
Bringing Iran’s secrets to Israel led the US, for better or worse, to pull out of the Iran deal and altered the discussion that the Islamic Republic was having with the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency over whether it was concealing aspects of its nuclear program.
Ten million masks and up to four million test kits arriving in Israel at rapid speed, not to mention ventilators and other items, are numbers that are impossible to miss.
WHY HAS Netanyahu allowed Cohen such exposure?
He made it very clear.
He made it known in an interview that the two best people to succeed him when he retires were not any of his current ministers, but rather Cohen or US Ambassador Ron Dermer.
Besides the above well-known operations, details have begun to leak of Cohen’s other military-style operations and assassinations of top terrorist-scientists, as well as his still not fully disclosed involvement in America’s taking out Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force chief (this according to NBC, Avigdor Liberman and information known to The Jerusalem Post). These details will continue to be revealed by the time he steps into the political arena.
In addition, his role in opening up diplomatic opportunities with the Saudis and other Gulf countries as well as with Sudan has leaked out bit by bit over the years, and more of that will leak out in the future as well.
So he has both security and diplomacy experience covered in his resume.
Many Mossad chiefs also might have had more political opportunity, but were sidelined by scandals. They had operations that went wrong and burst out into public view – something that is often an unavoidable aspect of running a high-risk spy ring.
Cohen’s star may yet dim if he is engulfed by a future botched operation that goes public.
But, to date, after more than four of his at least five-year term, he has managed to keep his hands publicly clean.
THERE IS also the personal factor of Cohen himself.
Mossad chiefs in the vein of Shabtai Shavit, Efrayim Halevy and Tamir Pardo not only liked their privacy, but came off much more professorial instead of exuding the political charisma needed to conquer the general public.
Both in his carefully crafted physical appearance and in his presentation skills, Cohen has palpable charisma and a knack for being able to persuade, whether it is recruiting agents or persuading the public.
Amit reportedly had this kind of charisma. But his exploits were less public, and he did not have a prime minister giving him unmatched free press exposure.
Former Mossad director Meir Dagan had this charisma. However, he was sick and died before he ever joined the game, as well as having one major embarrassing mission, in Dubai in 2010.
Another key aspect may be that Cohen’s political views lean Right.
Most recent former Mossad chiefs were on the Center-Left. They were appreciated for helping to build security bona fides of center-left parties. But the Right might be more comfortable with a past spy chief as their leader in a way that many on the Left might not. Some on the Left may want the IDF to take out terrorists, but they might not want the manager of those operations to run the country.
Cohen still must finish his term and have a cooling-off period.
But being only 58 years old, he may still be in his early 60s and in prime shape when he becomes eligible.
If no one else has taken Netanyahu’s mantle on the Right at that point, Cohen may get an opening to put the Mossad on the political map in a new way, beyond what the country has seen until now.