Yossi Cohen has had Iran in his sights for over a year

In a previously unseen video, new Mossad chief tells his former high school he doesn’t see ‘conventional war’ on the horizon

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Yossi Cohen, Mossad chief, speaks at a committee meeting in the Knesset on December 2, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)
Yossi Cohen, Mossad chief, speaks at a committee meeting in the Knesset on December 2, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

Yossi Cohen, tapped on Monday to lead the Mossad spy agency, declared a nuclear Iran to be the primary threat to the international community and Israel in particular, during a 2014 speech to his former high school, which was shown by Channel 10 news for the first time on Tuesday evening.

Speaking to the Or Etzion Yeshiva high school, where he coincidentally studied alongside newly named police commissioner Roni Alsheich, Cohen told the religious academy’s students that handling the Iranian nuclear threat “must be and still is at the top of the international list of priorities.”

Cohen, who currently serves as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, also told the teenagers that large-scale warfare between Israel and a Muslim country is not foreseeable in the near future.

“What is a conventional war? Tank versus tank battles aren’t expected to occur in the next five years. There’s not even someone to have one with. The Syrian army practically doesn’t exist, the Jordanians aren’t going to fight us, Hezbollah doesn’t have tanks and we have a peace treaty with Egypt, which I hope will cause stability,” Cohen said.

Instead, Israel is destined to fight asymmetric wars, of formal armies against non-state, terror organizations, the newly named Mossad chief said.

Cohen, a 54-year-old father of four, was born to a modern Orthodox family in Jerusalem, and lived near the Netanyahus. His father, a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, was a veteran of the pre-state Irgun paramilitary force.

In the Mossad, Cohen was the only religious candidate in the organization’s case-officer course. As a Mossad case officer, he was charged with recruiting and handling spies — the very heart of the clandestine organization.

“The Mossad wasn’t necessarily part of my dreams. The Mossad came to me, and in simpler words they enlisted me to their ranks,” he said.

Cohen, who no longer wears a skullcap, rose up through those ranks, commanding the Tzomet department, in charge of all case officers; and serving as the deputy head from 2011-2013, when he left for the National Security Council. One of his operational nicknames was “the model” for his famously stylish and immaculate appearance.

“I am a Jerusalemite. I am from Rehavia, not far from where the prime minister grew up, I grew up, next door to one another, more or less. I remember the family, the Netanyahus,” he said.

During his speech, Cohen praised the Or Etzion Yeshiva high school run by rabbi and former MK Haim Druckman. “This yeshiva brings about outstanding Zionism. Rabbi Haim Druckman, who I knew as head of the yeshiva, always spoke about three things: the Torah of Israel, the state of Israel and the land of Israel — and sometimes that order was reversed. On that triumvirate we grew up, just like you,” Cohen said.

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