David Barnea appointed as new Mossad head, replaces Cohen next week

Barnea approved by A-G; was nominated by Netanyahu in December; Gantz cut out of the process

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.

In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put Barnea forth as his nominee to replace Cohen..

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday announced he has cleared the way for Mossad Deputy Director David Barnea to succeed Yossi Cohen as head of the famed spy agency.

A few months ago, Mandelblit had frozen the appointment, saying it should wait for a new, permanent government to be finalized.

On Monday, he said the political situation looks like there may be no new government in place by June 1 when Cohen steps down.

The general legal objection for a transition government to make major appointments could be overruled due to the necessity of having a new Mossad director in place next week, Mandelblit said.

In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nominated Barnea to replace Cohen. Barnea, 56, is married and has four children.

The appointment was later approved by the Civil Service Advisory Committee, led by former Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg.

The prime minister generally has almost complete discretion on who runs the Mossad. Technically, the agency is a part of the Prime Minister’s Office, so no cabinet or Knesset approvals are needed.

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

He was in an elite IDF reconnaissance unit prior to joining the Mossad in 1996. He has served in a wide variety of Mossad divisions, including as head of the Tsomet spy recruitment division from 2013-2019 and as deputy head of the Keshet electronic eavesdropping division.

While Barnea ran the Tsomet division, the unit won four national security prizes.

At a Mossad change of command ceremony on Monday, Netanyahu said: “James Bond is a sucker compared to all of you. Every operation is more daring, requires greater imagination and is more astonishing… in every situation – with a [nuclear] agreement [with Iran] or without one – we will do everything we can to prevent Iran from arming itself with a nuclear weapon because this is about our very existence. This is your primary mission.”

Cohen said he was sure the new director would display courage and continue to lead the Mossad to successful and vital operations and achievements.

“We carry out operations at all times, in all places… which bring crucial intelligence for the State of Israel, blocking nonconventional weapons, eliminating terrorism, spying and finding new breakthroughs toward peace and to cooperation within the region,” he said.

Barnea has two master’s degrees in business administration from a university in New York and worked as a senior banker at an Israeli investment bank.

After Netanyahu nominated Barnea in December, former Mossad director Danny Yatom and former deputy director Ram Ben Barak praised the move to The Jerusalem Post.

Since Yatom and Ben Barak, currently a Yesh Atid MK, are both intense critics of Netanyahu, 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 director 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 director helped push forward with moderate Sunni Arab countries.

SOMETIMES, the Mossad director is picked only a month before the current one is set to leave. For example, Cohen’s appointment was announced in December 2015, and he took 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 of two scenarios: where critics try to block any future appointment during election season or 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 out of Netanyahu’s announcement despite their coalition deal that he could veto any senior appointments.

Gantz issued his own statement following Netanyahu’s.

“The Mossad has many significant and crucial challenges for keeping the State of Israel and its citizens safe,” he said. “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. He had said would make sure to weigh in on such roles, Gantz’s spokeswoman told the Post in the past.

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 does step down before next month, it could be related to his likely plans to enter 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.

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