Let Dagan speak

If Dagan’s critics think his analysis is wrong they should explain why.

Dagan 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Dagan 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan has been making headlines. A military strike on Iran would be a “stupid idea,” Dagan said a few weeks ago at a Hebrew University conference. At a Tel Aviv University conference last week he elaborated that such an attack “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.”
In the Tel Aviv forum, Dagan also complained that Israel had failed to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians and that it had foolishly ignored the Saudi peace initiative, which promised full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 lines. With Palestinians geared up to push through a declaration in the UN General Assembly recognizing a Palestinian along the 1949 armistice lines, Dagan worried that Israel would soon be pushed into a diplomatic corner.
One day later, last Thursday, he got more specific, questioning the leadership skills of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – this time through a leaked statement to journalists. Dagan reportedly expressed his belief that his retirement and the near-simultaneous retirement of other top security chiefs – former chief of General Staff Lt-.-Gen. (res.) Gadi Ashkenazi and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin – had taken away a necessary alternative voice in decision making, particularly regarding any military attack on Iran.
Spoken by a seasoned military commander and spy master with impeccable credentials and privy to Israel’s most guarded secrets, Dagan’s comments have understandably shaken up the political establishment. Here is a man who had remained silent for nearly a decade, with a long history of dedicated military service behind him, now apparently morally impelled to speak out against what he perceives to be existential dangers.
Dagan stepped down at the beginning of the year as a widely lauded Mossad chief of eight years who was reappointed twice and reportedly oversaw a string of highly successful operations – from forcing delays in Iran’s nuclear program, through sabotaging its computers and assassinating scientists, to setting the groundwork for an attack on a nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007, to assassinating Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s terror chief, in 2008.
And this man, decorated with a medal of courage and deeply influenced by the “never again” dictate of the Holocaust – he kept a picture on the wall of his office of his rabbi grandfather wearing a pair of tefillin and talit kneeling before a group of Nazi officers minutes before he was murdered – has conveyed an unchanging message of warning against an attack on Iran.
A MAJOR counteroffensive has been launched against Dagan. Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled (Likud), a former head of IDF Northern command and Holocaust survivor, claims Dagan’s outspokenness “damages state security.” Netanyahu’s associates and advisers in the Prime Minister’s Office have reportedly accused Dagan of “sabotaging democratic institutions.” Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) went one step further on Sunday, stating that Dagan should stand trial for his comments. Others have cynically claimed that Dagan is motivated not by the nation’s best interests but by his personal political ambitions.
Yet if anyone seems motivated by narrow politics it is Dagan’s critics. One might disagree with him politically, but what damage to state security can Dagan have possibly caused by publicly expressing support for the Saudi initiative or voicing concern over the ramifications of a UN declaration come September? Understandably, Netanyahu and Barak are not thrilled that they have been singled out for criticism by the respected former Mossad chief. But to try to silence Dagan with the claim that he is “sabotaging democratic institutions” is itself hardly the most democratic act.
And if Dagan believes that it would be unwise for Israel to singlehandedly attack Iran, not only does he have the right to say so, he has a moral obligation. As Dagan has rightly pointed out, it was a collective misconception and a lack of independent thinking that helped lead to Israel’s unpreparedness for the Yom Kippur War. Though his critics would have us believe otherwise, Dagan is in no way belittling the danger Iran’s Islamist regime poses to Israel, nor has he taken the military option “off the table.”
Dagan’s point is that if Israel worked alone – rather than in conjunction with the US and Europe – a military strike would probably fail to halt Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb. Worse, it would provide Iran with ostensible justification for developing nuclear capability to protect itself against “a belligerent Zionist entity.”
If Dagan’s critics think his analysis is wrong they should explain why. That, rather than trying to question his motives and pressing for his silence, is the way to respond to heartfelt concerns expressed by a man with many merits and priceless experience.

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