Israel’s vaunted intelligence agency is today doing much more than spying and liquidating top terrorists

by Yochanan Visser

Yossi Cohen, the current director of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, has earned himself a reputation as an out-of-the-box thinker and a highly intelligent man who has restored the agency’s allure.

Yossi Cohen

The Mossad was responsible for the spectacular operation in Tehran in which much of Iran’s secret classified nuclear archive was stolen and flown to Israel via Azerbaijan without the Iranian security services being able to do anything about it.

Cohen was also behind the current rapprochement between Israel and moderate Arab countries such as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan. In his position as Mossad director, Cohen frequently traveled secretly to Arab countries to hold talks with his Arab counterparts, and those talks were not just about the danger Iran poses to these countries and Israel, as has now become apparent.

It was announced last week that Cohen revealed that normalization in relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel have become a real possibility and that this normalization will likely to take place after the presidential elections in the United States. The Mossad director told this to his closest associates, but the news was leaked to Israeli media such as the news site N12 and The Jerusalem Post.

Cohen said during the same conversations that Oman will be the next Arab country to normalize relations with Israel, but again it will have to wait until after the US presidential election.

According to the Zogby research group, 80 percent of the residents of Saudi Arabia want a peace agreement with Israel, and the Israeli think tank Mitvim says the same applies to the citizens of Israel.

Mitvim researcher Eli Podeh said in a recent article for Israeli news site Walla that secret contacts between the Gulf Arab states and Israel have existed for more than 50 years, and that there is now an ideal opportunity for officially normalizing relations between Israel and these Arab nations.

Mossad becomes world’s second largest spy agency

The Mossad under Cohen’s leadership has become an organization with an ever-growing budget, while the IDF has to deal with shrinking budgets. A State Comptroller report from August 2020 disclosed that the spy agency exceeded its NIS 1.5 billion budget, reaching NIS 2.6 billion currently.

This makes the Mossad the second-largest spy agency in the world after the American CIA in terms of budget.

The organization is currently doing much more than spying and liquidating senior terrorists, as described in the book Rise and Kill First by Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman. Bergman has contacts in Israeli intelligence and wrote this book about the Mossad’s clandestine operations in the 72 years that the State of Israel has existed and detailed many liquidations of terrorists who posed a direct threat to Israel’s existence.

A multi-faceted agency

During the current Corona crisis, the Mossad under Cohen’s leadership became a major player in the fight against COVID-19 as well.

The Mossad was the first Israeli organization to bring tens of thousands of quality face masks to Israel last March, and this too was the work of Cohen, who obtained the masks from one of the Arabian Gulf states, most likely the United Arab Emirates, the first nation to close a normalization deal with Israel last month.

At the same time, Cohen brought ventilators, testing kits and protective clothing for doctors and nurses, as well as other medical equipment to Israel that was needed to fight the Coronavirus.

The Mossad director was at the time head of the Joint Procurement Command Center in Israel, a role that was only later taken over by the Ministry of Health.

Political ambitions? Many hope that Cohen will one day soon challenge Netanyahu for the premiership. Haim Zach/GPO

It was revealed this week that Cohen has also secretly brought a Chinese Corona vaccine to Israel, something that could not be independently confirmed as the Israeli government is silent about this new Mossad operation. This silence is probably related to tensions in relations between the United States and China. Israel has been pressured by the US government to reduce its trade relations with China to prevent Beijing from gaining too much influence over the infrastructure and other sensitive matters in the Jewish state.

Channel 12 News in Israel, however, is confident that the Mossad has brought the vaccine to Israel, where it will first be tested in so-called “trials.”

Researchers in Israel and around the world have been frantically searching for months for an effective vaccine against COVID-19 and a drug that can cure Corona patients. The Israel Institute for Biological Research announced on Sunday that it has also developed a vaccine against Coronavirus that has already been approved by the Ministry of Health for human trials. According to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, some 25,000 doses of the vaccine are already ready, and he said on Monday that “this was a day of hope for the citizens of Israel.”

Yossi Cohen’s term as Mossad director, which has already been extended by one year, will expire next year, and some in Israel hope he will enter politics, as they see him as the only alternative to current Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

It remains to be seen, however, if Cohen has political ambitions.

Yochanan started his career in journalism during the Second Lebanon War when he decided to counter the many falsehoods about Israel in the international media. Visser became Israel Today’s Middle East analyst at the beginning of 2019 where this piece first appeared.