While David Barnea has assumed the office of the Director of Mossad, there are plenty of positive signs for Israel, including Saudi Arabia’s growing intention of normalizing relations with the Jewish State as one of the key strategies of combating threats posed by Iran and its proxies such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis. Writes Damsana Ranadhiran
According to analysts, news chief of Mossad, David Barnea may have been deeper than Yossi Cohen into the details and helped to invent some of the out-of-box tactics that pulled off some of the Iranian and other operations, he surely is going to face serious of serious challenges posed by possible terrorists acts of Hamas with direct help from Iran and its regional proxies such as Hezbollah and Houthis. At the same time, Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari regime may accelerate their funding and logistic support towards Hamas in destabilizing Israel.
David Barnea, the deputy director of Mossad has already sat on the big seat and become the current boss of this mightiest intelligence agency in the world.
One of the key issues that Mr. Barnea may take into consideration is, despite his tremendous success records, Yossi Cohen failed in finding effective allies in combating anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda in the global media. He even could not make allies with anti-Iran, anti-Hamas and Semitic media in the world, particularly in the Muslim nations. While Mr. Cohen was focusing on achieving successes in physical operations against the enemies of the Jewish State, he had largely ignored the importance of putting emphasis on cyber and digital warfare, which is being considered as equally vital to the physical warfare in today’s world.
Through an article in The Jerusalem Post, Yonah Jeremy Bob asks: what legacy Cohen has left after more than five years at the help of Israel’s vaunted espionage body, and what kind of chief will Barnea be in his place.
He wrote: A list of major accomplishments during Cohen’s era, based on The Jerusalem Post’s sources and foreign sources, indicate that he’s leaving big shoes for Barnea to fill.
Of course, none of the below operations attributed to Cohen, except one, have been officially confirmed by the Mossad or Israel.
The list starts with the assassinations of major enemy weapons experts.
These included a headrest car bomb which blew up the chief of Department 4 of the Syrian Scientific Research Center on August 4-5, 2018.
Other similar high-profile assassinations have included a Hamas electrical engineering expert for designing drones and rockets on April 22, 2018, in Malaysia and a Hamas aeronautical engineer who manufactured drones and unmanned naval vessels on December 15, 2016, in Tunis.
Unlike during the terms of some of Cohen’s predecessors, not a single operation led to the operatives involved being identified.
But Cohen is most known for his constant fight against Iran, his role in laying the groundwork for the Abraham Accords, and the agency’s taking the lead in acquiring medical equipment in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.
On January 31, 2018, he personally managed the heist of the century: the seizure of Iran’s secret nuclear archive right from under its nose.
On July 2, 2020, three-quarters of the Islamic Republic’s Natanz nuclear advanced centrifuge enrichment facility imploded.
An unknown group named the Homeland Cheetahs took credit, but the sophisticated style and audacity seemed to have Cohen’s name written all over it.
This was not enough to hold Tehran back.
Almost immediately it started to build a new replacement facility at Natanz underground, to be less susceptible to physical sabotage or airstrikes.
The rebuilt version of this facility was also hit hard on April 11, 2021, with an explosion, and fingers once again pointed at the Mossad.
But it was not just blowing up facilities or stealing objects that Iran faced during the last 5.5 years.
Next, the US blew up Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020, in a plume of smoke and fire.
But NBC News, Yahoo News and the Post all reported on critical aspects of Israeli intelligence involvement in tracking and targeting Soleimani.
On November 27, 2020, Iran’s chief military nuclear scientist was gunned down in a hail of bullets. Once again, the Islamic Republic looked westward toward a classified operations command center in the Tel Aviv area.
Unlike with Iran, Cohen has been able to take credit for laying the basis for the Abraham Accords far more publicly.
In rare public interviews, statements by Netanyahu and various leaks to the media, it became clear that he was usually meeting with the intelligence chiefs and national leaders of the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco long before normalization deals were signed.
Just as important, foreign reports and the Post have discussed aspects of Cohen’s meetings with, and future predictions about, the Saudis on the way to normalization, as well as other countries he and the Mossad have had special contacts with, such as Oman or even Qatar.
But almost all of the aggressive strikes on Iran and normalization deals happened in an era when the US supported Netanyahu and Cohen’s grand strategy of bloodying the Islamic Republic and using it as the common enemy to unite the region.
In contrast, no one expects the same blank check for action under the Biden administration, which already disassociated itself from the April 11, 2021, strike on Natanz.
More importantly, most analysts expect the Biden team to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in the coming weeks or months. In some sense, this relieves Israel of immediate concerns about Iran, but significantly increases future concerns.
How will Barnea handle the new context?
By the same token, though Washington may still be officially pro-normalization, it has done little publicly to date to push it forward, and its fighting with the Saudis over human rights, while laudable in the general moral sense, may reduce progress.
Many analysts have also questioned the viability of the Abraham Accords in light of the recent war with Hamas.
How will Barnea help hold the accords together, and will he be able to expand them further?
BARNEA WAS in an elite IDF reconnaissance unit prior to joining the Mossad in 1996.
He has served in a wide variety of Mossad divisions, including as head of the Tsomet spy recruitment division from 2013-2019 and as deputy head of the Keshet electronic eavesdropping division.
While Barnea ran the Tsomet division, the unit won four national security prizes.
He has served as deputy director since 2019, and beat out A., a former deputy chief, for the job.
The most important details here are probably that Barnea’s positions from 2013 to the present mean that he was involved in all or almost all of the operations which Cohen led.
He is definitely viewed as a risk-taker, in the vein of Cohen, who wants to get up in the face of Israel’s enemies.
In fact, the way organizations often operate, Barnea may have been deeper than Cohen into the details and helped to invent some of the out-of-the-box tactics that pulled off some of the Iranian and other operations.
The same is true with normalization.
Barnea may lack the same degree of familiarity with top foreign officials as Cohen has and may not have spent quite as much face time with them. But he has been intimately involved with the strategy, process and progress, such that he has the right experience to step into Cohen’s shoes on the peace front as well as the attack front.
After Netanyahu nominated Barnea in December, former Mossad director Danny Yatom and former deputy director Ram Ben Barak praised the move to the Post.
Since Yatom and Ben Barak, currently a Yesh Atid MK, are both intense critics of Netanyahu, their support signaled that Barnea is broadly respected within the intelligence community.
Still, Barnea does have the new context to cope with as opposed to the balance of power and interests during Cohen’s term.
SEVERAL FORMER Mossad chiefs who often comment on current events declined to comment on Cohen and Barnea for this story, apparently due to extra sensitivities at a time of transition.
However, Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of IDF Military Intelligence’s research division, discussed two alternate challenges in the changed context for Israeli intelligence with the Post.
One is the current situation in which the Islamic Republic “keeps advancing toward a nuclear program. [IAEA Director-General Rafael] Grossi even admitted the consequences… and discussed 60% enrichment” as being of major concern, said Kuperwasser.
The former IDF intelligence official noted Iran “is getting closer, and achieving more capabilities from which we cannot send them back. They cannot be made to forget how to operate IR-4s, IR-6s” and other advanced centrifuge machines for enriching uranium which they were “not supposed to get to use for five more years.”
Another likely scenario is where the US and Iran cut a deal for a return to the JCPOA in the coming weeks or months.
There is a high likelihood of this happening around the June 18-24 time period. This is when Iran will hold its presidential elections and when a recent IAEA-Iran deal to extend inspections expires if US sanctions are not lifted.
Kuperwasser is concerned that, after a deal, “the international community will not pay attention and will not try to reveal” if Tehran is cheating on the deal.
He stressed that Israeli intelligence would need to double its “efforts to find the truth,” adding that “Iran does not even need to violate the deal,” if it decides to produce a nuclear weapon in 2030 when the deal expires.
Still, he said, “they will still violate it, even though they don’t need to,” citing that Iran’s nuclear scientists never turned over their data or physical progress from past nuclear military dimensions.
In addition, Kuperwasser warned that a return to the nuclear deal will not stop the Islamic Republic’s “ballistic missiles from advancing, which could carry nuclear missiles without violating the JCPOA. The international community will not even follow this, because it embarrasses them” that they left this critical issue out of the nuclear deal.
He warned that Israeli intelligence “understands that a nuclear deal paves the way for Iran to get a nuclear weapon” at the end of the deal, and that Jerusalem “is not obligated by the deal and must do what we need to do to stop Iran from making a nuclear bomb.”
Kuperwasser was pressed on whether he supports more than just spying, but also Israeli intelligence covert strike operations on Iran – even at the risk of angering the Biden administration.
Though he did not want to get explicit, he clearly would not want Israel to hold back if action were needed, saying the important thing is not broadcasting in advance, but that the job of stopping the Islamic Republic from getting to a nuclear weapon needs to be done – regardless of whether by covert or overt actions or spying.
In March, former Military Intelligence chief Aharon Ze’evi Farkash told the Post that he does not believe broad military force will resolve the standoff with Iran, but at this stage says, “When everyone is trying to define their position, Israel must continue covert operations, not just in Syria – in all places.
“The nation of Israel doesn’t believe in miracles. It’s built on them, but we don’t count on them. We always prepare…. Some of what we do is publicized, most is not,” he said, waxing a unique mix of bold and philosophical.
In addition, Ze’evi Farkash said that Israel can slow down Iran and adversaries using its cyber capabilities, since “cyber has no boundaries. You can do things without leaving any fingerprints.”
Next, Kuperwasser said that Israeli intelligence would be on its own “to be on guard to stop Iran within the region,” since the US and the West would drop the issue after a return to the JCPOA.
He said US statements about a “longer and stronger” deal being negotiated after the US had already lifted sanctions was a fiction – “none of this will happen.”
Barnea will need to make some tough calls here about when to keep following intelligence leads and when to burn those leads by using them to strike a clear blow.
As Kuperwasser explained, Barnea and Israel will need to act according to the Jewish state’s interest, but the playing field for this will be harder now.
Regarding normalization, Kuperwasser said he was not concerned that either the lesser focus of Biden on the issue or the recent war with Hamas will prevent Israeli intelligence from maintaining the trend.
“We built relations when there was much less support from the US” than there will even be now, so “we can continue to improve,” he said.
He explained that “one needs to understand [that] this is in the interest of both sides – also for the moderate Arabs,” who continue to view Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood as dangers.
“They will be even more worried if the US goes back to the Iran deal,” he asserted.
In addition, he said that the Arab states were impressed by what Israel “did to Hamas… how we dealt with the rocket threat using anti-missile defense. It is very important for them to know how to do this – especially if the US frees up Iranian funds which could let it widen its forces” and pose a greater rocket and drone threat.
Saudi Arabia has already suffered devastating attacks from Iranian rockets and drones, and all of the moderate Arab states want Israeli help to defend against such attacks.
Of course, these multidimensional challenges are always evolving dynamically, so the only thing for sure is that Barnea has his work cut out for him.
The good news is that he has the experience, institutional backing and a successful operational legacy from his work with Cohen to do the job.
While David Barnea has assumed the office of the Director of Mossad, there are plenty of positive signs for Israel, including Saudi Arabia’s growing intention of normalizing relations with the Jewish State as one of the key strategies of combating threats posed by Iran and its proxies such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis. At the end of the tenure of Yossi Cohen, at least one important Muslim nation such as Bangladesh, after fifty years has removed “except Israel” words from its passports. This may not have any visible impact yet, but certainly, this removal is not insignificant at all. In this particular case, if Israel and Israelis as well as Jewish community throughout the world would look for someone to be thanked is internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist and editor of Weekly Blitz, Mr. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. He is the only individual in the whole world who had to serve seven-year’s rigorous imprisonment for the “crimes” of denouncing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial; for denouncing radical Islam and jihad; and for promoting interfaith harmony. Israelis are grateful nation indeed so are the Jewish populace around the world. They definitely acknowledge the courage of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and bravery of his newspaper the Weekly Blitz.
Damsana Ranadhiran is a security analyst
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