PostScript: De-fuse Dagan

Dagan example is more than enough for Israel seriously to reconsider whether heads of security organizations should be known to public.

Meir Dagan at Jpost Conference 370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Meir Dagan at Jpost Conference 370
(photo credit: Screenshot)
There was a time, not so long ago, when the names of the heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet were secret. These people remained, for the most part, anonymous for a good part of their lives after handing over to the next generation. These were people who had the state’s most sacred secrets in their heads, and who did not flaunt their travel plans around, even deep into retirement.
Nowadays it seems these blokes just can’t shut up, and they make a beeline for every microphone they can lay their hands on, resulting in a disservice to both the country and themselves.
Meir Dagan, the immediate former head of the Mossad, for example, would have vastly served both better by remaining silent. The damage he has done by opening the public debate in Israel and the world on the Iranian nuclear issue and the indelible, unfair and irresponsible aspersions he has cast on Israel’s leadership, are not worthy of a person who people have to believe was responsible, even-headed, and loyal.
Instead, he has come out as impulsive, self-serving, totally irresponsible and void of self-control to the point where at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, he stooped to calling a minister in the government “a liar” in front of an audience of 1,200 people who had come to celebrate Israel, not watch its leadership squabble on the stage.
By virtue of the position he held, when Dagan speaks about Iran we have to take him seriously. When he speaks about irresponsible Israeli leadership, we have to take heed – or so one would think. The sinking feeling I have as I watch his public performances, however, has made me lose all respect for him and left me wondering how on earth we could have placed the country’s security in the hands of a man incapable of displaying appropriate behavior and national solidarity in front of an audience determined the cheer Israel on.
When Ariel Sharon brought Dagan into the Mossad, the talk was that Sharon had chosen a bulldozer like himself to shake the place up, which Dagan did very quickly and, some would argue, all-too thoroughly, throwing some of the baby out with the bathwater and leading to operational catastrophes such as the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas strongman, in Dubai in January 2010. While successful, unfortunately for Israel, the operation was filmed in real time by some two dozen surveillance cameras at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, where Mabhouh met his death at the hands of two of the most unlikely tennis players you would ever meet, and presented to the world as a 27-minute edited spy thriller by Dubai’s police chief, Dhai Khalfan Tamim, exposing legions of Israeli agents, their methods and the passports stolen from some of Israel’s best friends such as Britain and Canada, to mention but a few, the Israeli agents used on their mission.
That said, it was widely believed that Dagan had done a good job, that he had restored confidence to the organization, brought in young people with scientific minds, taking the Iranians by surprise when their centrifuges began to spin out of control and Stutnex arrived on their doorstep. Then Iranian nuclear scientists began to disappear when they traveled abroad, and others died while on their way to work in Tehran and other cities. There were impressive demises of Hezbollah leaders in Beirut and even in the heart of Damascus, and generally, as far as the public was concerned, Dagan was something of a national hero. Until he opened his mouth, that is.
Several months ago, when the public debate in Israel over whether to attack Iran or not was at its height, I asked a person I trust implicitly why, if we were going to attack, is everyone speaking so much about it? He answered me in one word: “Dagan.”
It was Dagan who started the whole snowball rolling when giving his parting remarks to defense correspondents as he was leaving his job, saying that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be irresponsible, useless, counter-productive and have extremely negative consequences for Israel for little gain. He also accused the prime minister and the defense minister of wanting such an attack for essentially political purposes, and as being about to sacrifice the country on the alter of political expediency.
His message was repeated on television and in a backgrounder with Yediot Aharonot, the country’s largest newspaper, and again and again since, including a devastating interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes in March of this year, and culminating in his latest performance at The Jerusalem Post Conference this week.
I have no personal beef with Meir Dagan, and perhaps he is right and both Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are irresponsible cowboys taking the country to the brink of catastrophe. One wonders, though, where he was from August 2002 till his replacement Tamir Pardo was named in November 2010, when at the pinnacle of power and very much privy to the road the country was following; how convenient to forget who baked the pie he is now telling the country is unhealthy, even toxic.
I have not gone into the Yuval Diskin case. The immediate past head of the Shin Bet is also warning us we have dangerous leaders at the helm. He too would have done us all a favor had he been silent and not tried a mini-Dagan without being quite so categorical on the Iranian element.
The Dagan example, however, is more than enough on its own for Israel seriously to reconsider whether the heads of its security organizations should be known to the public, what they should be allowed to say once they are out of service, and how long they are expected to hold their tongues before treading on the country’s security as a stepping stone into politics.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His latest book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, won the National Jewish Book Award in the History category for 2011.