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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In 2002, when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed his longtime friend and former IDF subordinate Maj.-Gen. (res.) Meir Dagan as head of the Mossad, the intelligence agency was described as lacking imagination and courage, of being in a state of stagnation.
Seven years later, there is no one in the defense establishment who will say that the Mossad lacks courage. While there is criticism of the continued extension of Dagan's tenure - the prime minister approved an eighth year for the Mossad chief on Sunday - it refers mainly to the concern that the organization will find itself at a loss for fresh blood if it does not shake up its top ranks.
Dagan is said to have returned the agency to its glory days.
"Dagan has done some great things," former Mossad deputy chief Ilan Mizrachi told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Mizrachi was the Mossad No. 2 under Ephriam Halevy and was beaten out for the top job by Dagan in 2002.
"He has put the Mossad back on the map, restored its prestige in Israel and abroad, particularly when it comes to Israeli deterrence," Mizrachi said.
The agency started to feature prominently in foreign press reports about five years ago, following a series of accidents relating to Iran's nuclear program. Scientists were found dead in mysterious circumstances; Revolutionary Guard jets crashed one after another.
The most recent operation attributed to the agency by foreign media was in January, when during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, the Israel Air Force reportedly bombed a weapons convoy deep in the Sudanese desert.
A year earlier, fingers were pointed at the Mossad by the foreign press after a car bomb went off in the heart of Damascus killing Imad Mughniyeh, one of the most-wanted terrorists in the world, and Hizbullah's chief military commander, believed to have been behind the bombings in Buenos Aires in the 1990s and the July 12, 2006, abduction of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.
Last summer, Syrian Gen. Muhammad Suleiman was assassinated by a sniper in the seaside resort town of Tartus. He was reportedly a close adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and a liaison to Hizbullah and Hamas.
But possibly one of the greatest achievements attributed to the Mossad by the foreign media was the discovery of the Deir a-Zour nuclear reactor that was destroyed by the IAF in September 2007. While officials still refuse to publicly discuss the strike, it is described as one of the greatest operations in recent IDF history.
Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet when extending Dagan's tenure last year that "Meir Dagan is doing his job with exceptional success and the list of Mossad's achievements over the last six years is most impressive."
While Dagan receives across-the-board compliments, he has been criticized for the way he has handled appointments in the agency. During his tenure, a number of senior Mossad officials have left their positions prematurely and after fighting with the boss.
His appearance last week before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has also drawn criticism after Dagan was quoted as saying that Iran would only obtain a nuclear weapon in 2014.
This was a sharp break from Military Intelligence assessments and Israeli diplomatic claims that 2009-2010 are the critical years to stop Iran. He also predicted that the demonstrations in Iran would die out in a number of days. That was last Tuesday, and on Sunday the demonstrations seemed to be far from dissipating.