Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad, addresses a rally calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's defeat in the upcoming elections.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad from 2002-2011, died on Thursday at the age of 71 following a long battle with cancer. The spy chief underwent a liver transplant in Belarus in 2012, and his health subsequently declined.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eulogized the late Mossad director as a “courageous fighter and commander who contributed greatly to Israel’s security.”
Netanyahu made mention of a picture Dagan kept in his office of a bearded Jew draped in a prayer shawl kneeling in front of two Nazi soldiers with his hands raised in the air.
That man was Dagan’s grandfather.
“The picture of his grandfather humiliated by the Nazis, just a short time before he was murdered in the Holocaust, was always in front of his eyes,” Netanyahu said. “Meir was determined to ensure that the Jewish people would never be without strength or protection, and dedicated his life to ensuring the strength of the State of Israel. In the eight years that he was the head of the Mossad he led the organization on courageous, groundbreaking missions that crossed borders. A great fighter has left us, may his memory be blessed.”
Netanyahu praised the deceased notwithstanding Dagan’s frequent criticism of his policies on Iran and the Palestinians. In recent years, Dagan was a vociferous critic of the premier’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue.
Dagan took over the reins of Israel’s spy agency in 2002.
On appointing him, then prime minister Ariel Sharon reportedly told him that he wanted “a Mossad with a knife between its teeth.”
During his tenure, Dagan repeatedly used that knife and other weapons with lethal effect. Under his direction, the Mossad invested considerable resources in covert and daring operations to frustrate Iran’s nuclear weapons program, according to foreign reports.
Dagan’s agents were credited with the assassination of five Iranian scientists, the destruction of specialized equipment relating to the country’s nuclear program and the introduction of the Stuxnet computer virus that ruined many of the centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment site, foreign reports claimed.
Another of Dagan’s attributed achievements was the assassination in Damascus in 2008 of Imad Mughniyeh, who was considered Hezbollah’s “minister of defense” and was a senior member of Lebanon’s Islamic Jihad. That killing may have been a joint CIA and Mossad operation, foreign reports claimed.
President Reuven Rivlin, who is currently on a state visit to Moscow, expressed his condolences over Dagan’s death and said he was one of the “greatest and bravest warriors.”
Like Netanyahu, Rivlin noted how the murder of Dagan’s grandfather in the Holocaust impacted his life.
“Last year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, [Dagan] asked me to read out the names of his family [who perished in the Holocaust] and show the horrible photo of his grandfather,” Rivlin said.
“Dagan represented for me the Holocaust and the rebirth that came after it.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog expressed his deepest sorrows on social media upon hearing of Dagan’s passing.
“Meir was an Israeli hero who fought bravely against our enemies and those who wished us harm and worked with the same determination for the peace that he so desired,” Herzog wrote on his Facebook page. “The State of Israel owes him a great debt of gratitude for all he did during his service,” he continued. “I share in deep mourning with his wife, children, grandchildren and friends on the passing of Meir who fought his illness for a long time with the inner strength reserved for heroes.”
Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said, “The State of Israel, its citizens and Jews from all around the world owe a great debt to Meir Dagan for his many long years of security service and for his time as the Mossad chief. He contributed an incredible amount to the security and strength of the State of Israel against our enemies near and afar.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni also expressed her remorse for the loss of a man who “looked deeply into the country and spoke his mind fearlessly from a place of heavy responsibility for the future of the country. I loved and admired him greatly as did everyone who worked for him. May his memory be a blessing.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman called Dagan a courageous man who displayed in his persona the courage and strength of the Israeli defense establishment.
“There are few who have contributed as much to the security of Israel,” said Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi). “Dagan stood at the battlefront with courage creativity and determination and Israel owes him a great debt.”
After leaving the Mossad, Dagan joined the board of directors of the emergency medical service organization United Hatzalah. The organization’s founder, Eli Beer, credited Dagan with helping the organization expand its activities in Israel and abroad.
Dagan was born Meir Huberman on January 30, 1945, reportedly aboard a train somewhere between Poland and the USSR, to refugee parents who were Holocaust survivors.
Herb Keinon, Gil Hoffman, Yossi Melman and Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.