After eight years as head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan will step down in the coming weeks after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday announced the appointment of Tamir Pardo as the next head of the espionage agency.

The announcement ended weeks of speculation as to who would succeed Dagan.

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Pardo is a longtime Mossad veteran who served as Dagan’s deputy before leaving the agency in 2009, reportedly after Dagan refused to back his candidacy to replace him as director.

Dagan was appointed head of the Mossad by Ariel Sharon in 2002 and was tasked with restructuring the agency after a slew of mishaps. He decided to turn the Mossad’s attention to two main objectives – preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and waging a shadow war against the ‘axis of evil’ made up of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas.

In announcing the appointment, Netanyahu said that Pardo had dozens of years of experience and was “the right person to lead the Mossad in the coming years in light of the complex challenges facing the State of Israel.”

Pardo is reportedly a family friend of Netanyahu. He served in the elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, known as Sayeret Matkal, with the prime minister’s older brother Yoni, who was killed during the Entebbe raid in 1976.

He was a communications officer in Sayeret Matkal and was reportedly assigned to missions that required an operative with technical skills.

Pardo joined the Mossad in 1980 and was assigned to its operations branch. He is credited with establishing the infrastructure that led to a strengthening of ties between the Mossad and Military Intelligence in recent years, after spending a year as an adviser to the IDF’s Operations Directorate, including during the Second Lebanon War.

In a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu expressed his deep appreciation to Dagan for his contribution to the nation’s security, and said he was certain he would continue to contribute in the future as well.

Other candidates were former head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin, who will step down from his post in mid-2011.

“I have known Tamir for a number of decades and from different missions that we carried out together,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “He is a professional with rich operational experience and is suitable to lead the Mossad.”

Barak was reported to have been opposed to the appointment since Pardo had seen the so-called Galant Document, after it was shown to him by Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni, the former IDF officer who leaked it to Channel 2.

Pardo was not involved in writing the document, but Siboni had reportedly consulted with him before leaking it to the media.

Pardo’s appointment is subject to approval by the Turkel Committee for senior governmental appointments.

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