Mossad head says IDF chief ‘irresponsible’ for panning US on Iran policy: report

Hitting back, defense source says spy agency leader doesn’t have exclusive say on Iranian nuclear threat, should not be defaming army’s top officer in public

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at a Tel Aviv University cyber conference on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at a Tel Aviv University cyber conference on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

The head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, panned as “irresponsible” a speech that IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi delivered last week in which he disparaged the Biden administration’s policy on Iran’s nuclear program, according to reports on Sunday.

In private conversations, Cohen criticized Kohavi for having come out publicly against the US government and argued that the top military officer should have waited to see how the new administration approaches the issue, according to Army Radio. Cohen further said that the speech was “irresponsible” and a mistake, and that Kohavi had acted of his own accord, the report said.

An unnamed defense source responded by telling Army Radio, “It is a shame that there is someone in the defense establishment who chooses to publicly defame the chief of staff.”

“The chief of staff relayed his position to the Israeli public and is not required to update the head of the Mossad before he speaks,” the source said. “The Iranian issue doesn’t belong to Yossi Cohen and even if there are differences of opinion it is better that they stay behind closed doors.”

Cohen is reportedly finalizing a trip to the US scheduled for the second half of February to meet with senior officials in the Biden administration on the Iran deal. Cohen is set to meet US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, CIA chief William Burns and possibly US President Joe Biden, according to a Friday Channel 13 report.

In his remarks last Tuesday, Kohavi denounced US President Joe Biden’s stated intentions to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal as “bad” and said he had ordered the military to develop fresh operational plans for striking Iran’s nuclear program.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank’s annual conference on January 26, 2021. (Screen capture/INSS)

While a number of Israeli politicians — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have openly spoken out against Biden’s plan to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran and threatened military action against Iran, it is highly uncommon for an IDF chief of staff to make public comments critical of an American administration, which provides significant financial and logistical support to the Israeli military.

“With the changing of the administration in the United States, the Iranians have said they want to return to the previous agreement. I want to state my position, the position that I give to all my colleagues when I meet them around the world: Returning to the 2015 nuclear agreement or even to an agreement that is similar but with a few improvements is a bad thing and it is not the right thing to do,” Kohavi said.

Kohavi made his remarks during a live-streamed speech at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank’s annual conference, which was held this year entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday indicated that he believed Kohavi should not have made such remarks in a public speech. His comments also seemed to reveal he had not been aware of the speech beforehand.

“A nuclear Iran is a danger to the world, to the region and is a challenge to the security of Israel. Of course Israel must be prepared to defend itself in any way, but red lines are drawn in closed rooms,” Gantz said.

Channel 13 news reported last Friday that Kohavi did not coordinate with Netanyahu or Gantz before giving his speech. The Prime Minister’s Office has refused to comment on the matter.

Gantz was not alone in his criticism of Kohavi’s speech. Amos Gilad, a former head of Military Intelligence and former top Defense Ministry official, also denounced the remarks as counterproductive.

In addition to his criticism of the US, Kohavi also indicated he had ordered the military to prepare plans to strike the country’s nuclear program to prevent it from obtaining an atomic bomb if need be.

(L-R) Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Commander of the United States Central Command General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Gantz and Kohavi met with the head of the United States military’s Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie in Tel Aviv on Friday. Kohavi briefed McKenzie on Israel’s defense policy and the defense chiefs reviewed priorities and challenges shared by the two militaries, including regional threats such as Iran, Gantz’s office said. On Sunday Gantz, Kohavi and McKenzie visited the IDF corps responsible for long-range operations outside of the country’s borders.

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