Israel appoints new head of internal security services

11:06, March 30, 2011      

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by Adam Gonn

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed Yoram Cohen to succeed Yuval Diskin as head of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), also known as the Shin Bet, when Diskin ends his six year term in May.

The appointment was the latest in an intense six month period in Israel that saw a new chief of staff for the Israeli Defense Forces, a new director for the Mossad overseas intelligence services, a new head of Military Intelligence, a new chief of police and a new director of the National Security Council.

In his announcement on Monday, Netanyahu described the new ISA chief Cohen as "someone who has been in the field."

"He has grown from it and knows it," the prime minister said, adding that "I am convinced he is also familiar with the challenges we face. I am convinced he possesses the abilities, the experience and the leadership necessary to meet these challenges."

Cohen served as Diskin's deputy from 2006 to 2008, after serving in a variety of posts within the secretive agency, including head of the department charged with preventing Arab and Iranian espionage in Israel. In 2008, he moved to Washington, D.C. where he was a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Cohen, who was born in Tel Aviv, has been with the Shin Bet for more than 30 years, and, like so many others in Israel's senior military echelon, served in one of the Israeli army's elite units during his mandatory service: the Golani infantry reconnaissance unit.

He joined the Shin Bet as a security guard in the West Bank, from there he went on to take the organization's Arabic language instructional course before becoming a coordinator in the Ramallah district.

Cohen spent most of his career in operations in Ramallah, Jerusalem, and the southern West Bank, the Israeli newspaper Ha' aretz reported.

Diskin praised the appointment, noting in a statement that Cohen's "wealth of experience combined with his personal and professional abilities will enable him to lead the service successfully through the challenges of the present and the future. "

Meir Elran, director of the Homeland Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua that Cohen will have three main areas to deal with: the Palestinians, counter-terrorism, and subversion by Israeli Jews against the state.

"The most important thing, as always, will be his engagement in what we term counter-terrorism," Elran said. "The main issues will be to see to it that the situation in the West Bank stays the way it is presently. The other issue is Hamas in the Gaza Strip."

Cohen, according to Elran, will also be busy with counter- espionage duties, as well as what is referred to as "the Jewish division" which focuses on prevention of subversive activity from Israeli Jews, both against the state and towards minority group such as Arab Israelis.

Some Israeli newspapers in their coverage of the appointment pointed out that the Cohen is religiously observant. Elran, however, argues that it was a non-issue and that one can't predict what a person's policy will be based on the fact that he wears a skullcap.

The Jerusalem Post's Defense Correspondent Ya'akov Katz wrote, following the appointment, that despite his years of experience Cohen will face some major challenges.

Katz believes that, regarding the Palestinians, there is some concerns within the defense establishment that the army and the Shin Bet have lost some of their previous advantages due to the dramatic drop in military activity in the West Bank.

Without having "boots on the ground" inside almost every West Bank city, it is argued that the army and the Shin Bet have difficulty gathering information like they were able to during the second intifada, when arrest raids took place on a daily basis, he added.

Amir Oren, a senior correspondent for Ha'aretz, who the day prior to the appointment of Cohen wrote an article supporting another candidate for the post, wrote following the announcement that "although it's not clear at the Shin Bet how Netanyahu picked Cohen to head the agency, advocates of Cohen will point to his familiarity with the Iranian threat, a key issue on Netanyahu's plate."

He added that "for three years, (Cohen) was out of the Shin Bet and after that coordinated specific areas of responsibility, rather than the broad sweep of the agency's work. He will have a lot of material to digest in his new job."

Elran maintains that, when it comes to Iran, the Shin Bet will only be involved in regular counter-espionage activities and that overseas operations are the territory of the Mossad.

Israel has long seen Iran as one of its major security threats, accusing Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons under civilian disguise, which has been denied by Tehran.

Source: Xinhua
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