Ex-Mossad chief Cohen: Stop the overhaul for the sake of Israel’s national security

In Ynet op-ed, Netanyahu confidant says legislative package causing ‘immediate’ threat to security resilience and compromising country’s ability to handle Iranian threat

Yossi Cohen, then the national security adviser, is seen in a committee meeting at the Knesset on December 8, 2015, sitting behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yossi Cohen, then the national security adviser, is seen in a committee meeting at the Knesset on December 8, 2015, sitting behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen on Sunday called for the government to halt the judicial overhaul and return to negotiations, saying the advancement of the legislative package was causing an immediate threat to national security.

In an op-ed for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Cohen — a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — wrote that even if judicial reform was “right and justified,” it was being done in a way that “endangers the national security resilience of the State of Israel in the immediate timeframe.”

After recent announcements by some 10,000 reservists that they will not continue volunteering if overhaul legislation passes, Cohen urged them “to keep the dispute out of the boundaries of the IDF and the security organizations completely” because “the Iranian threat hovers over our heads on a number of fronts [and] we must ensure that Israel’s security resilience is not harmed.”

Other former heads of security organizations have come out sharply against the judicial overhaul — on Saturday a group said they hold Netanyahu “directly responsible for the serious harm” to Israel’s security, while accusing him of “completely ignoring the harm to Israeli democracy” caused by the legislation.

However, Cohen, who finished his tenure as Mossad chief in 2021, is particularly notable as he is considered a Netanyahu loyalist. It has been rumored in the past that the prime minister views Cohen as a potential successor.

In February, he was one of a number of former security officials who urged the two sides to reach a compromise on judicial reform.

At a press conference on Saturday, leaders of the Brothers in Arms protest group announced that some 10,000 reservists have said they would no longer volunteer for duty if the overhaul legislation passed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen during a toast ceremony for the Jewish New Year on October 2, 2017 (Haim Zach/GPO)

It was the latest announcement to send shockwaves through the Israel Defense Forces, which is struggling to stem a growing flood of reserve troops dropping out of volunteer duty to protest the overhaul, as defense officials warn the phenomenon could affect national preparedness.

In an unprecedented move on Friday, over 1,142 members of the Israeli Air Force, including over 400 pilots, announced that they would be halting their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the government’s effort to radically overhaul the judiciary, saying that they were not willing to serve under a “dictatorship.”

In response, coalition members and members of the government lashed out at the reservists, saying that their actions constitute a military coup.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich penned an open letter to the IAF protesters in which he urged them to retract a “mistake” that risks seriously harming the country. Other far-right lawmakers employed much more combative language against the pilots.

They asserted that the government would be moving forward with the passage of the first piece of overhaul legislation this week, and then continuing with the remainder of the controversial package to significantly curb the judiciary’s power in the following months.

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