When Meir Dagan was appointed head of the Mossad in 2002, one of the first
things he did was hang an old blackand- white picture, fraying at the corners,
on a wall in his office at the spy agency’s headquarters near Tel
The black-and-white picture is of an old bearded Jew, wearing a
tallit and kneeling down in front of two Nazi soldiers, one with a stick in his
hand, the other carrying a rifle slung over his shoulder.
“Look at this
picture,” Dagan, 65, reportedly often urges visitors to his highly
office. “This man, kneeling down before the Nazis, was my grandfather
before he was murdered. I look at this picture every day and promise
Holocaust will never happen again.”
The injunction “never again” has
characterized Dagan’s eight-year tenure as head of the Mossad. It
two main objectives on which he has focused the organization: preventing
from obtaining nuclear weapons and waging a covert shadow war against
axis of evil – Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas.
Dagan’s work has
reportedly paid off. In recent years, Iranian scientists began to
Equipment sent to Iran for its nuclear program arrived broken,
Warehouses in Europe where equipment for Iran’s nuclear
program was stored before being shipped went up in flames. In 2005, Iran
plagued by a number of mysterious plane crashes, killing dozens of
Guard Corps officers, including several senior officers. All this was
attributed, in the foreign press, to the Mossad.
His successes have
brought frustration for others.
Over the years, three of his deputies
have resigned – angered by the government’s decision to repeatedly
Dagan’s term in office, stymying their career prospects.
successes have certainly brought more funding for the Mossad. According
former senior intelligence operative, by 2007, five years into his
Mossad’s annual budget had jumped significantly.
“Whether you like him or
not, Dagan is one of the greatest Mossad directors ever,” a former top
official said this week. “His achievements are innumerable.”
But now the
Dagan era is drawing to a close. It was announced this week that he
stepping down at the end of the year. And the race to succeed him has
MEIR DAGAN was installed into the top intelligence post by prime
minister Ariel Sharon, who had worked with him in the 1970s running a
elite commandos called Sayeret Rimon whose soldiers disguised themselves
Palestinians and raided the Gaza Strip in search of PLO fighters.
his appointment in 2002, he immediately set out to revolutionize an
that had been rocked by the botched assassination of Hamas’s
chief Khaled Mashaal in Amman in 1997, under the tenure of Mossad chief
former Labor MK Danny Yatom. Two Mossad agents were caught in the
operation. In exchange for their release, and to salvage ties with a
Jordan, Israel was forced to provide the antidote to save Mashaal’s life
release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, notably including Hamas
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
After Yatom came Efraim Halevy, the Mossad veteran
who had salvaged the Israeli-Jordanian relationship after the Mashaal
Some credit Halevy with rehabilitating and restoring proper practices to
battered organization; but one critical former Mossad operative sniped
Halevy preferred talks with Arab diplomats at cocktail parties in Europe
dangerous and risky operations in the Middle East. “Under Halevy, the
‘don’t get in trouble,’” said this source.
If so, that attitude
completely changed under Dagan, who brought a new sense of daring.
given one key task by Sharon – to do everything possible to thwart
pursuit of a nuclear weapon. To do that, Sharon reportedly told Dagan
needed to recreate the Mossad as a spy service “with a knife between its
Indeed, Dagan’s Mossad is credited with orchestrating a string of
assassinations around the world: In February 2008, a car bomb killed
Mughniyeh, Hizbullah’s military commander in Damascus. Later that year,
Muhammad Suleiman, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s liaison to Hamas and
Hizbullah and the head of the country’s covert nuclear program, was shot
a sniper at his vacation home in the port city of Tartus. In January,
reportedly struck again, killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas arch
According to foreign reports, the Mossad was also behind the
discovery of Iran’s uranium enrichment center in Natanz, as well as the
discovery of Syria’s nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by the IAF in
Under Dagan’s tenure, relations with the CIA also peaked due to the
Mossad’s success in once again providing critical intelligence and
itself to be a major player. “There is unprecedented cooperation between
agencies today,” one top Israeli security official said recently.
decision to consistently extend Dagan’s term was a vote of confidence in
Mossad and an appreciation of his achievements. Furthermore, one top
official added, by extending his term, Israel was sending a message to
regarding the severity with which it views the Iranian nuclear threat.
annual extension meant that Israel was keeping Dagan in place in case
sanctions were not imposed and Israel might feel it had no choice but to
Iranian nuclear installations.
If that is true, then the latest round of
sanctions – albeit not as tough as Israel hoped – could be what paved
the way to
the announcement of Dagan’s retirement.
While Dagan’s opinions on a
military strike against Iran are not publicly known, some sources claim
believes there is still time to stop it from obtaining the bomb by
Last year, he stirred controversy when, in an appearance at the
Knesset, he was quoted as saying that Iran would not obtain the bomb
pushing back earlier assessments by a number of years.
At the time,
officials explained that Dagan was referring to the stage when Iran will
the ability to fire a missile tipped with a nuclear warhead into Israel.
could very well develop a testable nuclear device before then, they
THIS WEEK’S news of his imminent departure hasn’t only set off a
race to succeed him. It also raises serious questions regarding the
strategic thinking of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense
Ehud Barak, since it means that, starting in October, all of the
security chiefs will step down within six months. These include Chief of
Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen.
Yadlin, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin and
One possible candidate to replace Dagan is T., who served in the
past as his deputy, stepped down and recently returned to the agency.
candidates are believed to be the head of Tzomet, the Mossad branch that
its worldwide network of agents, and the head of the Tevel branch, which
responsible for ties with foreign intelligence agencies.
Yadlin are candidates, too.
Predictions within the defense establishment
are that Netanyahu will choose a successor to Dagan after Barak chooses a
successor to Ashkenazi, who is to finish up his four-year term in
is because one of the generals vying for the top IDF post, if
could be given the Mossad directorship as a consolation prize.
unknown is how big a role the recent fiasco surrounding the Mabhouh
assassination in Dubai, attributed to the Mossad, played in the decision
extend Dagan’s term. A number of friendly states were angered by the use
their passports in the operation. As a result, diplomats were expelled
Britain, Ireland and Australia and currently an alleged Mossad agent is
arrest in Poland awaiting extradition to Germany, where he will stand
illegally obtaining a German passport reportedly used in the operation,
according to the foreign press.
Either way, it is interesting to compare
the international fallout following the assassination to the recent
an alleged Russian spy ring in the US. According to recent reports, the
claimed that at least one of the alleged spies was in possession of a
Tom Gross, a former Israel correspondent for The Sunday
Telegraph and an expert on British politics and media, is waiting to see
there will be a discrepancy between the way the Foreign Office in London
responded to the reported use of British passports in the Dubai
the way it responds in the Russian case.
“I wonder what outrage the
British government will express concerning the latest reports of forged
passports – this time apparently by the Russian government,” Gross said.
furious denunciations be made, and senior Russian diplomats in the UK be
deported, or is such action only reserved for Israelis?”