Meir Dagan formally took leave of the Mossad on Thursday, passing the reins to Tamir Pardo, with Israel facing a strategic situation vastly different from when he was appointed in August 2002.
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While the Palestinian terrorism that was running rampant when Dagan took office during the height of the second intifada has since largely been brought to heel, Hizbullah is much stronger than it was then, and Iran – of course – is inching closer to nuclear capability.
Pardo is not entering a vacuum; rather, he climbs to the top of the intelligence community pyramid with working assumptions already in place on a number of issues, notably including the following: A strike on Iran
Although a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, at this time a military attack on its nuclear facilities would be counterproductive and would exact an enormous diplomatic, economic and military price.
Iran’s leadership, analysts say, would use an Israeli attack to unify the ethnically fragmented country around the government, and Teheran would leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty with international justification, saying that it had been attacked by a country with nuclear capability and now needed to gain similar capability to defend itself.
The Iranians – who are largely responsible for building up Hizbullah to such an extent that today it has more firepower than 90 percent of the countries of the world – would “call in their chips,” and the organization would launch massive rocket attacks against Israel’s home front.
It is probable some of the Hizbullah attacks would come from Syria, which means that Damascus would be drawn into the conflict. Hamas and Islamic Jihad would also join the fray in a battle that would not be waged against tanks and planes, but against the civilian population.Iran and the US
There is no significant difference in Israeli and US intelligence assessments regarding Iran. The major difference is in the perception of the danger.
While Israel sees a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, the US doesn’t perceive Iran as an existential threat to the US. It views Teheran as an actor that works against its interests in the region, and it is clear to Washington that if Teheran gained a nuclear capability, it would trigger a wild nuclear arms race in the Middle East. But it is not concerned Iran will blow up Boston. Israel, however, takes the Iranian leadership at its word when it talks about wanting to rid the world of the “Zionist entity,” and does not rule out the possibility that the Iranians would use the bomb against Israel at some point.
The US, already spread extremely thin in the Middle East and paying
about $1 billion a day to support its military operations in the region,
is unlikely to take on another military action by attacking Iran. This
is particularly true since Washington is increasingly facing tough going
in Afghanistan, may be unable to withdraw all its troops as planned
from Iraq, and is facing major problems now in Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.Options on Iran
Barring US or Israeli military action against Iran, what is left is to
change the Iranian government’s mind about the wisdom of pursuing a
nuclear bomb, or to buy more time that may create other opportunities
down the line. There are a number of tools that can be used to achieve
these goals, analysts say and WikiLeaks cables indicate, including:
• International pressure on Iran to convince it – through sanctions –
that the price it is paying to gain nuclear capability is too high.
• Keeping the Iranians from getting the parts to produce the bomb.
Thousands of parts go into the production of a nuclear weapon, and not
all of those can be produced in Iran. They need to be purchased from
abroad, and if these parts are not available, then the program cannot go
ahead as planned.
• Economic warfare – not just sanctions, but ensuring that banks don’t
do business with the country, and preventing it from getting lines of
• Fanning the ethnic chasms inside Iran, a country made up of 50% ethnic
Persians, 25% Azeris, 7% Kurds and a smattering of Arabs, Turkmen,
Balochi and other ethnic groups. The creation of ethnic tensions can
rock the government.
• Covert actions to set back the nuclear project.
None of these tools by itself can slow down the Iranians, but taken
together they can have, and have had, an effect. The fact is that when
Dagan took over the Mossad in 2002, the assessments were that Iran would
be able to produce a bomb by 2007. In 2007 this was adjusted to 2009,
and now in 2011 the date being bandied about is the middle of the
There are serious schisms among the ruling elite in Iran about whether
the price of building a bomb is worth it, and the Iranians are well
aware of what the Arab world thinks about the program and their designs
in the Middle East. The WikiLeaks revelations that showed the loathing
of countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia toward Iran didn’t tell Teheran
anything it didn’t already know.Syria
The WikiLeaks cables revealed differences of opinion in the Israeli
government about whether it would be possible to pry Damascus out of the
Iranian orbit. There is wide agreement, however, that just as the
Syrians are demanding an Israeli agreement to leave the Golan Heights in
exchange for peace as a condition for talks, Israel needs to place its
own preconditions on the table: the disarmament of Hizbullah, and Syria
leaving the Iranian orbit.
The Syrians have said themselves that they are not willing to make
either move, and one influential school of thought in Jerusalem posits
that even a peace treaty with Israel would not compel them to do so.Mahmoud al-Mabhouh
While Israel has never claimed responsibility for the Mahmoud al-
Mabhouh assassination in Dubai, the world widely sees it as responsible.
The whole affair – including allegations that Israel used European and
Australian passports to carry out the hit – are not seen as having
caused Israel any long-term intelligence damage.
Israel’s intelligence relationship with Britain, which kicked out an
Israeli intelligence officer as a result, is considered better. While
the Irish expelled a diplomat reported to be connected to the Israeli
intelligence community, the Mossad had no presence there.
While the Mabhouh incident attracted a great deal of media attention, it
did not cause damage to the country’s intelligence relations with key
countries around the world.Gilad Schalit
While not opposed to releasing terrorists to secure the release of
captive soldier Gilad Schalit, the Mossad under Dagan was opposed to
releasing 450 hardened terrorists to the West Bank, because of a concern
that this would lead to the murder of scores of Israelis.
The 400 terrorists who were released in 2004 to gain the return of
businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three IDF soldiers are
believed to have been directly or indirectly involved in the killing of