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David Barnea, former top agent, appointed next Mossad chief

Current deputy head of spy agency has served for 25 years, including as head of the department handling its agents; will replace Yossi Cohen

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, outgoing Mossad director Yossi Cohen, right, and incoming director David Barnea at a ceremony conferring the Prime Minister's Award on exceptional Mossad agents, May 24, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, outgoing Mossad director Yossi Cohen, right, and incoming director David Barnea at a ceremony conferring the Prime Minister's Award on exceptional Mossad agents, May 24, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that the next director of Israel’s Mossad espionage agency will be David Barnea, 56, a veteran of the organization who has been its deputy head for the past two years.

Barnea, who is also known by his nickname Dedi, will replace outgoing director Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu said at the annual ceremony conferring the Prime Minister’s Award for exceptional Mossad officers.

Barnea’s top task, the prime minister declared, “is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

The appointment of Barnea, a married father of four, was expected. He served as a combat soldier in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit and has been in the Mossad for the past 25 years, including in prominent operational roles that saw him rise to lead the branch that handles the organization’s agents worldwide.

He was appointed Cohen’s deputy in 2019, and will take over as director on June 1.

Incoming Mossad director David Barnea. (Courtesy)

The appointment was held up for months — Netanyahu announced he had chosen Cohen’s replacement back in December, though the name was kept secret until Monday — by legal concerns as to whether an interim government is permitted to appoint a Mossad director. But Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Netanyahu recently that he saw no legal impediments, and the appointment went ahead.

“I wish [Barnea] all success in the post, and I’m convinced the incoming Mossad director will do great things and will continue to lead the Mossad to operational successes and meaningful achievements,” Cohen said in a brief statement at the event.

Barnea’s appointment was welcomed by President Reuven Rivlin, who wished him luck.

“Dear Dedi, I have no doubt that you will lead our excellent Mossad members with professionalism, wisdom, and courage,” Rivlin said in a statement. “I am confident that your diverse and impressive abilities and your many years of service for the country will guide you on your path to ensuring the security and operational superiority of Israel.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also wished Barnea luck and thanked Cohen for “building new abilities for the Mossad and leading daring and significant operations.”

“The defense apparatus will continue to work closely with the Mossad and will help with any necessary task in the important battle to safeguard the security of Israel,” Gantz added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, October 15, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Cohen has served as head of the Mossad since January 2016. He has reportedly served as Netanyahu’s special envoy for various tasks, and is said to be seen by Netanyahu as his preferred successor as prime minister.

Cohen played a prominent role in recent deals to normalize ties with Arab countries. He traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as the US brokered deals between them and Israel.

He also reportedly joined Netanyahu on a 2020 visit to Saudi Arabia, for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Saudi Arabia denies the meeting occurred.

Cohen was linked to Israel’s killing last year of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, although Israel has not commented on the incident.

AFP contributed to this report.

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