A source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected as “untrue” claims that he faced last-minute pressure regarding the identity of the next head of Israel’s Mossad espionage agency.
In a live televised statement from his office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu announced Monday evening that the next Mossad chief will be National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, 54, a former deputy head of the agency.
Cohen beat two other leading candidates for the post — Intelligence Ministry Director General Ram Ben-Barak and “N.,” respectively the former and current deputy heads of the organization.
The announcement was scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday — just in time for prime-time news broadcasts — but raised eyebrows and speculation when it was delayed repeatedly, with the prime minister only stepping before the news cameras at around 9:10 p.m.
The prime minister faced “last-minute pressure” regarding the announcement, Channel 2 said of the delay.
Moments after the announcement, the source close to Netanyahu rejected the speculation this report sparked.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conducted an orderly, deep and responsible process” to select the next Mossad chief, the source said, including three rounds of interviews with the candidates. “There is no truth to the claims that there were pressures at the last minute.”
The source acknowledged that Netanyahu consulted “over the past 24 hours” with Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and former agency head Meir Dagan before finalizing his decision.
The speculation seemed to surround the strange decision to make the announcement live and during prime time — and then arriving over an hour late to waiting television crews.
After reading out his brief announcement, and just before turning to leave the podium without offering time for questions, Netanyahu faced an exasperated reporter’s question: “Why did this require a prime-time press conference?”
He paused, said “Thank you” into the microphone, and left the room without answering the question.
Netanyahu may have sought to use a fairly straightforward appointment — the prime minister alone is responsible for appointing the Mossad chief, and Cohen’s past roles mean his life and past have already been thoroughly vetted — after recent crises surrounding failed appointments.
Netanyahu’s backing of former Israel Defense Forces brigadier general Gal Hirsch for police commissioner ran aground after questions arose over Hirsch’s business dealings, while an appointee to a senior media role, Ran Baratz, drew fire for Baratz’s outspoken past statements about Israeli and American leaders. Baratz’s appointment has not been confirmed.