PostScript: The iceman’s meltdown

When Meir Dagan says the machine of government is broke, and that this is ultimately going to lead to Israel’s downfall, we all know he is right.

Mier Dagan speaking_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mier Dagan speaking_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Meir Dagan, the immediate former head of the Mossad who is called the “iceman” by some, has had a meltdown. Like a foodaholic released into an ice cream store after years of denial, Dagan, the former spy, has hit the headlines insatiably, giving interviews to television, radio, print and Internet reporters at every opportunity.
Thankfully, he has withdrawn from his earliest public comments made when just out of service demanding there be a public debate on whether Israel should attack Iran’s nukes, and intimating that without his guidance the country was being left in inexperienced hands and with leaders who were going to make the wrong decision.
The arrogance of it all was stunning, as was the about-face from being advocate of an aggressive policy on Iran, to suggesting that the military option be taken off the table by Israel, though Dagan, like few others, knows just how important the fear of such an option by the Iranians is to the advancement of any diplomatic efforts to contain them.
He also knows that like the truism that terror alone will not conquer Israel, so sabotage alone will not stop the progress of the program if the Iranians want to make advances. The Stuxnet worm that struck Iran’s nuclear computers in June 2010 was extremely effective. Within months, however, they had more sophisticated, and more advanced, centrifuges separating fissile material than before.
The assassination of key Iranian atomic scientists, the defection of others to the West, the massive explosions that have hit nuclear producing facilities, the uncovering of others and exposing them to the world, have all taken their toll, but none has been existential to the Iranian program.
Israel has no option but to have the threat of preemptive military action against Iran on the table, and it is reckless and more than inappropriate of Dagan to have suggested that if it is carried out, those doing so were irresponsible and ill equipped to do so.
That said, in the deluge of interviews in which he must have said that he could not possibly answer this or that three hundred times, he did say something of tremendous importance that should not go unnoticed.
He pointed to a threat he considered, and I concur, is a far greater threat to Israel’s existence than any misguided and delusional ayatollah: Israel’s political system. He was going to dedicate his future energies, he said, to start a wellfunded, apolitical campaign to bring some order and manageability to how this country is run.
Key to this, he explained, was limiting the number of parties that can run for the Knesset, thus negating the need for the broad-based coalitions that have been both the benchmark and plague of Israeli politics until now, a worthy and noble cause.
Dagan claims he does not want to be a politician but only to reform politics.
There are skeptics who say “sure,” but I believe him. In the same vein that because of his background he should not have made the remarks he did, it is because of his background that his clarion call for a major change in the political system, should be taken so seriously.
It comes from someone who has seen how governments formed under the present system work; how narrow, political, parochial, political considerations have overridden major national ones; the backstabbing and the constant threats of walkouts by minority but essential partners, that make rational decision-making impossible, where defense budgets are dictated not by the enemy’s strength, but the payoffs the governing party can dish out to its supporters.
Dagan’s call for political reform is not new, but it is unique coming someone who has been entrusted with Israel’s security at the highest level, who knows every secret there is about the realities facing this vulnerable country, the problems involved with not resolving the Palestinian issue, the potential volatility of the Israeli Arab community, the demographic challenges posed by the haredim in their current format, and the much-needed priority of improving the education system. These are all things he knows about.
Of all these and other doomsday scenarios we will never know about, it is Israel’s political system Dagan feels he must address if the country is to survive; the one concrete issue he has decided to put on the public agenda now that the initial Iranian fiasco has run its course.
He has seen life-and-death situations decided on, and is obviously not happy with the decision-making process that went into them; he was publicly disdainful of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak over Iran, but is probably more fearful of them being pulled in unwanted directions by coalition extremists they feel they have to cater to. He has seen, over and over again, national interests coming second to political ones, and the startling inefficiency of a government bureaucracy made heavy with coalition-generated jobs, and staffed by people whose loyalties are to their boss, not the country. He has seen the rampant mediocrity caused by coalition politics, and the dearth of leadership created by people who have to please everyone all the time instead of having a vision and carving a path forward.
What exactly Dagan proposes to do on how to change the political system is not the issue. He is no constitutional specialist. If anything his last job, one hopes, was to skirt around the law and behave outside the norm. His comments on Netanyahu and Barak may have been intended to rein them in from making impetuous decisions. I think it was a mistake to have made them.
But when Dagan says the machine of government is broke, and that this is ultimately going to lead to Israel’s downfall, we all know he is right. We also know that the politicians, being dependent on political partnerships in the way they are, cannot solve the problem themselves.
Maybe we should call in the Mossad.

The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was published by Public Affairs, New York, in the fall.