Actions 'would've landed a lower-ranking official in jail'

Ex-Mossad officials pan ‘power-crazy’ Yossi Cohen for alleged state secrets leak

Investigative report on former spy chief revealing secrets to a woman with whom he was having an affair and her husband draws criticism, but also support from pro-Netanyahu pundits

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Former head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen attends the Jerusalem Post conference, held in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen attends the Jerusalem Post conference, held in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Mossad and intelligence officials have lambasted the former head of the spy agency, Yossi Cohen, following an explosive investigative report that said he had revealed state secrets to a flight attendant with whom he was having an affair, as well as to her then-husband.

In comments reported on Wednesday, a day after the Channel 13 report, one of the former officials described Cohen as “power-crazy” and argued that his actions would have landed a lower-ranking official in jail.

However, right-wing pundits and social media users have seemed to rally behind Cohen, rejecting the allegations in a similar fashion to how they have supported Cohen’s close associate, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Channel 13’s HaMakor investigative program reported Tuesday that the affair began in late 2018 and saw Cohen brag to the couple about various secret details from the spy agency’s operations around the world, as well as provide them with information on his global travels.

“He told lots of stories, including about Mossad,” Guy Shiker, a well-known figure in Israeli capital markets, and former husband of the flight attendant, who was not named, told the program. “He’s a blabbermouth.”

Shiker said Cohen had told them in detail how he was recruited to the Mossad, how he had discovered the whereabouts of the doctor of an Arab leader, and other classified details.

According to the report, Shiker had been informed about Cohen’s global movements as Mossad chief, including a long flight from Chad to the United States after Netanyahu visited the African country as part of warming ties. A separate incident, which reportedly embarrassed Cohen with the top Mossad brass, involved Shiker’s discovery of Cohen’s movements being reported to the spy chief’s deputy.

Guy Shiker (Screen capture: Twitter)

The report said the developments caused Cohen to pay a visit to Shiker’s home to try and appease him, and that following that conversation Cohen arranged for Shiker’s 23-year-old secretary to be recruited to the Mossad and stationed in Bangkok, in line with a request by Shiker.

Shiker said Cohen also shared details about his management style.

“He told me, ‘When I was appointed to be Mossad chief, listen carefully, within 10 days, I fired six [top officials]… because they weren’t loyal to the system. They weren’t good. They thought I was their best friend when we were equals. The moment I was appointed [I fired them], without mercy.’”

Shiker also said Cohen would send his wife messages in which he referred to her as “my princess” and “my beauty.”

“You love my wife, she loves you, you’re destroying a family right now,” Shiker said.

Responding to the report, Cohen said he never shared any security secrets or any information he was not supposed to.

Lawyers for Shiker’s ex-wife also rejected the accusations, saying: “Our client denies the claim related to an affair with Mr. Yossi Cohen. Mr. Cohen didn’t reveal to her or to Mr. Shiker any state secrets or details about the management of the organization headed by him.”

But Channel 13 quoted several ex-intelligence officials attacking Cohen following the report.

“Yossi is being revealed as a very big blabbermouth,” said retired IDF Col. Yossi Langotsky, who even filed a High Court petition against Cohen. “He is being revealed as an uncontrolled, power-crazy person who allows himself to say things that would have landed a lower-ranking official in jail.”

Yossi Langotsky. (Screenshot)

Former Mossad operations official Gad Shomron commented that Cohen “spoke way more than what is allowed for an operations official.”

And Ram Ben-Barak, a former Mossad deputy chief and a current coalition lawmaker for the centrist Yesh Atid party who heads the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Army Radio that “it seems there are things [in the report] that are truly concerning.”

Ben-Barak said any action against Cohen would have to wait until the second part of the investigation is broadcast next week, “and we will see what will develop from there.”

The report has significant political undercurrents, as Cohen has been long rumored to be weighing a political run and reported to be opposition chief Netanyahu’s preferred successor as leader of the right-wing Likud party.

Though Cohen is yet to enter the political arena, pro-Netanyahu social media users and pundits have generally reacted to the report similarly to past reports about Netanyahu’s own alleged misdeeds. Many have defended Cohen, expressing confidence in him, bashing Shiker as jealous and vindictive, and casting the investigation as mere “gossip.”

Cohen, who was appointed by Netanyahu, has said he would not rule out seeking to become prime minister one day, though he is not yet contemplating such an ambition.

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

Netanyahu is currently under trial in three corruption cases, which mostly originate in media investigations. His supporters have long rallied behind him, arguing that the cases against him are a witch hunt by a “leftist” law enforcement apparatus seeking to oust the popular right-wing leader.

Judging by responses to this week’s investigation by pro-Netanyahu Twitter users and media pundits, the allegations against Cohen are being treated the same way.

Earlier this year, Cohen faced criticism over an interview in which he intimated that the Mossad blew up Iran’s underground centrifuge facility at Natanz, gave a precise description of the 2018 operation in which the agency stole Iran’s nuclear archive from safes in a Tehran warehouse, confirmed that Iran’s assassinated top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh had been in the Mossad’s sights for years, and said that the regime needs to understand that Israel means what it says when it vows to prevent Iran attaining nuclear weapons.

Since leaving the Mossad, Cohen has faced several accusations of ethics violations, including a report earlier this month that said he helped secure his daughter a job at a firm with links to a senior Emirati official while still serving as Israel’s top spy.

In August, police began probing several claims against Cohen, including that he was illicitly gifted $20,000.

Cohen admits receiving the cash gift from billionaire Australian businessman James Packer for his daughter’s wedding, as first reported by Haaretz in May. In a TV interview in June, shortly after retiring as the head of the spy agency, Cohen spoke for the first time about the incident. He claimed to have accepted the funds after consulting Mossad’s legal adviser, and said he was committed to returning the gift.

Cohen’s term as Mossad chief ended in June, when he was succeeded by David Barnea.

Days later, he was appointed as the head of Israel operations for Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank.

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