Farewell to ‘Superman’

Anyone familiar with Meir Dagan’s eight-year tenure as Mossad director knows that during his time, reality surpassed all imagination.

Meir Dagan (photo credit: courtesy)
Meir Dagan
(photo credit: courtesy)
Last week, Meir Dagan completed a very successful eight-year tenure as Mossad chief, a position to which he was appointed in September 2002 by prime minister Ariel Sharon. Only one of his predecessors, Isser Harel, held the post for a longer period of time – 11 years. The other Mossad directors, eight in total, served for an average of four and a half years.
Dagan’s term was extended twice, first by prime minister Ehud Olmert, and then by Binyamin Netanyahu, who requested that he retain the position for an additional year. In my capacity as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee during the years when both decisions to extend Dagan’s term were made, I was asked to weigh in, and I supported the decisions wholeheartedly. I was fully aware of the fact that extending his term, time and again, would engender criticism.
Those who opposed it had practical reasons for doing so. First, they raised the concern that keeping the director of the Mossad in his position could cause other qualified, senior members, patiently awaiting the coveted promotion, to resign. Second, the claim was raised that extending the term would create unjustified inequality between the Mossad, IDF Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet, whose heads were replaced during Dagan’s term (Amos Yadlin replaced Aharon Ze’evi Farkash and Yuval Diskin replaced Avi Dichter respectively). The third critique was based on the fundamental belief that in a democracy, the head of a covert organization should not accumulate unlimited power.
These concerns should not be taken lightly. The extension of Dagan’s term indeed lead to the resignation of two senior members of the Mossad. And elements from the IDF expressed their dissatisfaction with the special status and influence of the veteran Mossad chief. Despite this, I did not doubt, even for a moment, that the extension of Dagan’s term contributed directly to strengthening the security of the state of Israel.
I HAVE closely and directly followed the Mossad’s activities during seven of Dagan’s eight-year tenure. In 2003 and 2004 I served as minister of internal security, and was a member of the security cabinet. From the end of 2004 until mid-2006, I served, by prime ministerial appointment, as the minister responsible for implementing the findings of the state comptroller on highly sensitive and strategic issues, which included Mossad activities. From May 2006 until November 2010, I chaired a discreet subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, whose purpose was to very closely supervise our intelligence agencies. These different vantage points allowed me to examine up close the Mossad director’s impressive undertakings over the years. I was continuously exposed to all the inner workings of the organization: its vision, goals, missions, the training of commanders and fighters, its resource allocation, successes and setbacks, and its power structure.
Dagan insisted, without reservation, on full transparency in dealing with the relevant overseeing government and Knesset bodies. He understood the great importance of parliamentary oversight.
The small subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee consists of experienced members who have served as senior ministers and held key positions in the security agencies for many years. The uniqueness of this committee is the members’ ability to check their political ties at the door and perform their professional duty out of national commitment. This practice made it easier for the Mossad to grant the committee access to the secret world in which it operates. As a result, we were able to understand how Dagan gained the confidence of three very different, even rival, prime ministers.
The three recognized that under Dagan’s command, the Mossad’s achievements reached unprecedented heights. And this was the basis for their desire to see him maintain his tenure for as long as possible.
In his departing words to government ministers earlier this month, Dagan insisted on making it clear that behind the Mossad’s success stands “an excellent and unique group of women and men, imbued with a sense of purpose who work day and night, without seeking accolades.”
This is indeed the truth, but not the whole truth. Even trained, fearless fighters require a leader who challenges them. Dagan was the right leader at the right time, who took office at the right moment, just as the circle of threats surrounding Israel began to close in.
It was the popular Al-Ahram newspaper, with close ties to the Egyptian government, which a year ago went as far as to call Dagan what no local commentator dared call him – “Superman.”
The surprising article claimed that the Mossad chief, “had reached indescribable achievements, whether in relation to Iran, or the restraint of the Syrian military, as well as in the struggle against Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. According to foreign sources, the Mossad, under Dagan, was responsible for a slew of daring operations carried out in the Middle East. Among others, the operations attributed to him include the assassination of Hizbullah chief of staff Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February 2008, the bombing of the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, and the attack on ammunitions trucks destined for Hizbullah in Sudan.”
Even without relating to these specific operations, anyone familiar with Dagan’s years in the Mossad up close can attest to the fact that reality has surpassed all imagination. The nature of covert operations is such that only failures receive exposure. Success is dependent on the enemy being unaware of the operation’s very existence. In briefly summing up Dagan’s tenure, I choose to characterize it by the fact that 99 percent of the operations he initiated and carried out will never become public knowledge, and that is the greatest proof of their quality.
The writer is a former Kadima minister.