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Yossi Cohen – Former Mossad chief and future leader of Likud?

| Published: February 4, 2024  

Benjamin Netanyahu is the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history. He entered his current term with high hopes of securing a peace deal with Saudi Arabia. 

However, he has also attracted a fair number of political critics and enemies throughout his tenure. Due to past disagreements, Netanyahu has had to partner with a couple of parties he might not have otherwise in order to form his coalition.

Protests against Netanyahu and his political partners began shortly after his most recent term began in 2023. Some question if we are seeing the end of the Netanyahu era in Israel. 

A recent survey published by Israel HaYom tackled the question head-on. The poll looked at how well the Likud party should expect to do in an election if Netanyahu is no longer the party head.

The survey asked specifically about three leaders: Benjamin Netanyahu, Nir Barkat (the former Jerusalem mayor), and Yossi Cohen (former Mossad chief). 

The survey results showed Netanyahu and Barkat garnering the same number of seats (19), while Cohen showed an increase in the number of seats to 22. 

Cohen was the director of Mossad, Israel’s Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, during the secret mission to smuggle Iranian nuclear secrets out of Tehran and bring them to Israel in 2018. He also oversaw several high-profile assassinations. 

Before his tenure as Mossad chief, Cohen was Netanyahu’s national security advisor from 2013 until his appointment to Mossad director in 2015. He is considered to be one of the officials closest to Netanyahu. 

Cohen stepped down as Mossad chief in 2021 and was replaced by current Mossad Director David Barnea. According to Israeli policy, Cohen would be unable to enter politics for 3 years after leaving his position. That limitation expires in 2024, explaining his presence in the survey. 

The decision to put Cohen as head of Likud party affected the number of votes going to other parties, as well. 

With Cohen leading Likud, a greater percentage of current Likud voters would continue to vote for the party, with the rest moving to other parties. At the same time, he would garner a greater number of centrist voters who are willing to switch their vote to Likud. 

If Barkat leads the Likud, fewer would continue to vote for the party. He would bring in slightly fewer centrist votes and slightly more right-wing votes for Likud. If he becomes the leader of Likud, Barkat would draw away more voters from right-wing political parties, but reduce the overall coalition strength, while Cohen would attract slightly less right-wing votes, yet bring in more centrist votes. 

In either scenario, the current coalition would be too weak to form a ruling coalition, requiring a realignment of parties. According to Israeli political analysts, Cohen would likely have more success forming a coalition with the National Unity, Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu political parties.

The same poll asked about a new party headed by Yossi Cohen and former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The results showed that their collaboration would take a significant number of votes away from both centrist and right-wing parties, becoming one of the three largest political parties. 

During an interview Friday on Israel’s KAN 11 news, Cohen refused to say whether or now he plans to enter the political arena. 

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