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Israel News

David Barnea appointed as new Mossad head, to replace Cohen next week

CM 24/05/2021

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Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday announced that he had cleared the way for David Barnea, the Mossad’s current deputy chief, to succeed Yossi Cohen as head of the famed spy agency.
A few months ago, Mandelblit had frozen the appointment saying that it should wait for a new permanent government to be finalized.
However, the attorney-general said on Monday that the political situation currently looks like there may be no new government in place by June 1 when Cohen steps down.
Accordingly, he said that the general legal objection for a transition government to make major appointments could be overruled out of necessity for having a new chief in place next week. 

The appointment was later approved by the Civil Service Advisory Committee, led by former Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg.Generally the prime minister has almost complete discretion on who runs Israel’s elite spy agency. Technically, the agency is a part of the prime minister’s office so no cabinet or Knesset approvals are needed.

Barnea, 56 and father of four, has served as deputy chief since 2019 and beat out “A,” a former deputy chief, for the job.

Besides serving in an elite IDF reconnaissance unit, he has served in a wide variety of Mossad divisions, but especially as head of the Tsomet spy recruitment division from 2013-2019 where he won four intelligence awards and as deputy head of the Keshet electronic eavesdropping division.

The appointment of Barnea was praised at the time to The Jerusalem Post by both former Mossad chief Danny Yatom and former Mossad deputy chief Ram Ben Barak.

Both Yatom and Ben Barak are intense critics of Netanyahu, so their support signaled that Barnea is broadly respected within the intelligence community.

At the same time, the impression is that Barnea is likely to be an aggressive risk-taking Mossad chief along the lines of Cohen.

That is in contrast to Cohen’s predecessor, Tamir Pardo, who emphasized continued collecting of intelligence, took fewer audacious operational risks and tried to keep the agency more behind the scenes.  
Also, he was involved in normalization deals that the current Mossad chief helped push forward with moderate Sunni Arab countries.Sometimes, the next chief of the Mossad is picked as little as a month before the current chief is set to exit. For example, Cohen’s appointment was only announced in December 2015 with his taking over in January 2016.

Likewise, Netanyahu often agonizes over such appointments until the last moment and also uses them to garner loyalty from those seeking an appointment.
However, it appeared that Netanyahu wanted to announce the appointment in December before the March elections were announced.
He had hoped this would avoid either the scenario where critics try to block any future appointment during election season or the scenario where he might lose the premiership before Cohen was due to step down in June following a five year term plus a six month extension.
Blue and White party leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz was notably left off of Netanyahu’s announcement despite their coalition deal that he could veto any senior appointments.

Gantz issued a statement following Netanyahu’s statement saying, “the Mossad has many significant and crucial challenges for keeping the State of Israel and its citizens safe. We will wait for the approval of the Goldberg Committee and wish Barnea the best of luck in his role.”

However, behind the scenes it was clear that Gantz had been cut out of the process, was fuming and had conveyed his displeasure to Netanyahu.
Further, Gantz’s spokeswoman had told the Post in the past that he would make sure to weigh in on such roles.
However, Netanyahu has been known to sidestep Gantz on a range of decisions. 
There were some reports that the early announcement of Barnea might lead to Cohen stepping down before June, given that his original five-year term expires next month, but the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that as of now, Cohen is expected to serve through June.
If Cohen did step down before June, it could be related to his likely plans to enter into politics after waiting for a three-year cooling off period that only starts once he is out of office.
It was also possible that Cohen was less excited about dealing with the incoming Biden administration having dealt with the strongly anti-Iran Trump administration for the last four years.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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