Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said he sees the head of the Mossad intelligence agency or Israel’s ambassador to the United States as his prospective successor after he bows out of political life, according to a report on Thursday.
“There are two people I consider fit to lead the State of Israel — Yossi Cohen and Ron Dermer,” Netanyahu was quoted by the Walla news site as telling his associates, in a rare comment on the country’s future leadership after his retirement.
Political sources who overheard the comment told Walla they were surprised no Likud bigwigs, such as popular MK Gideon Sa’ar or Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan — or any other politicians for that matter — made the list.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, says he has no plans to leave his post despite looming criminal indictments against him. He has long been accused of sidelining prospective rivals within the Likud party who could threaten his leadership.
According to Walla, Dermer, 48, is not believed to have any interest in pursuing a political career when his diplomatic posting ends. Spymaster Cohen, however, may well be eyeing the top political office when his tenure as Mossad chief expires, the report said, though he currently denies it.
Cohen, 57, a former national security adviser under Netanyahu, became Mossad chief in 2016, succeeding Tamir Pardo. His term (as far as is publicly acknowledged) has focused on combating the Iranian nuclear program and cultivating ties with Arab states.
A close confidant of Netanyahu, Dermer was a vociferous opponent of the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Tehran and six world powers including the US. He famously orchestrated Netanyahu’s backdoor invitation to address Congress and lambaste the accord, angering the Obama administration, and has overseen the warming of Trump-Netanyahu ties.
Dermer began serving as Israel’s envoy in Washington in 2013, shortly after former president Barack Obama began his second term. He is currently set to finish his term after the September elections, though Netanyahu has vowed to extend his term by another year.
Netanyahu faces a pre-indictment hearing in October on one charge of bribery and three charges of fraud and breach of trust in the corruption cases against him. He denies any wrongdoing and has said he won’t resign if charged.