Meir Dagan, Mossad Chief 2002 to 2010, has Died — A Strong Voice for Hitting Iran Quietly, and Keeping America Friendly

Meir Dagan, the head of Israel’s espionage service Mossad from 2002 through the end of 2010, has died at age 71.   He had been battling cancer — the one enemy that he could not outwit and outrun.  

Yossi Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, looks back at Dagan’s career — and his role as the key architect of secret sabotage aimed at Iran’s nuclear program.

On Thursday morning, after learning that retired General Meir Dagan had died, the current Mossad chief Yossi Cohen expressed — on behalf of the organization’s employees and its past chiefs — deep sorrow at the news of his death and sent condolences to the Dagan family.

Meir Dagan appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes (with Lesley Stahl) after his retirement

Meir Dagan appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes (with Lesley Stahl) after his retirement

Dagan, the tenth “Ramsad” (Rosh ha-Mossad, meaning Head of the Institution), was appointed by his close friend Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and served atop the organization from 2002 until December 2010.

He is most identified with clandestine operations to prevent and thwart Iran’s nuclear program and its intentions to produce an atomic bomb.

During Dagan’s tenure, he implemented far-reaching structural changes in the Mossad with the aim of making it a more operations-based organization.

While Dagan headed the Mossad, a number of operations were attributed to the organization, including the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotage of equipment in Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the implanting of viruses into the computers that operated the centrifuges to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility in Iran.  Some of these projects — though not the assassinations — were conducted in cooperation with America’s CIA and NSA.

Another important intelligence feat that is attributed to the Mossad under Dagan was a huge amount of information obtained from a laptop computer used by the chairman of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission. That intelligence was the smoking gun which shaped the decision by then-Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, with the tacit approval of President George W. Bush, to bomb the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.  Israel has never publicly confirmed destroying that reactor.

Dagan enjoyed the privilege — which was very rare among Mossad chiefs, and other heads of world intelligence agencies — of befriending President Bush, who liked him and his creative mind very much.

Showing the Mossad’s impressive ability to operate in the capital city of the most hostile Arab country, Hezbollah’s military chief — Imad Mugniyeh — was assassinated in Damascus in 2008. Well placed sources described the operation as a joint effort by Mossad agents on the scene, with the CIA playing a role.

Dagan was born in the Soviet Union in 1945 to parents who were Holocaust survivors who moved to Israel after the founding of the Jewish state. He lived in Bat Yam and enlisted into the Paratroopers Brigade, becoming the commander of the Rimon reconnaissance unit which operated in the Gaza Strip during the height of a Palestinian terror wave in the early 1970s. Afterward, he was promoted to fill a number of roles in the IDF command, reaching the rank of Major General.

Among other things, Dagan is considered one of the developers of guerrilla warfare doctrine in the IDF, based on fighting — often ambushing — Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and later in south Lebanon.  These operations cemented his image as a daring combatant who was ready to sanction any means to achieve his aim or target, including the assassination of terrorists.

During his time in the IDF, and especially during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Dagan was considered a confidant of General Ariel Sharon.  After Sharon became prime minister, he appointed Dagan to head the Mossad, despite some discontent expressed among the rank and file of the organization.

Dagan was known to have, at least in his early days, hawkish political views. He even joined the Likud Party.

However, during the course of his work for the Mossad, and after he left the organization, his world view became more moderate.  He urged that a peace agreement be reached with the Palestinians.  He argued with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minster Ehud Barak about various security and diplomatic issues.

While in the Mossad, and even more so afterward, Dagan expressed his opposition to a military strike on Iran.

Dagan  last year addressed a political rally of  opposition parties that called on the public not to vote for Netanyahu.

In January of last year, Dagan expressed his fears about the future of Israel.  “I don’t trust the leadership. I think that the prime minister and [Jewish Home party leader Naftali] Bennett are leading Israel to be a bi-national state, which in my eyes is a disaster and the loss of the Zionist dream.”

Dagan warned that Netanyahu was damaging Israel’s relations with the United States and bringing the ties to the brink of disaster.  That, the ex-Mossad chief insisted, could be extremely costly for Israel.

Living in the shadow of the Holocaust — even showing visitors a photograph of his grandfather being humiliated by German Nazi soldiers — he was a strong advocate that Israel must have a  strong military.  Yet he also insisted that Israel needed to nurture its friendship with the United States and make peace with its Arab neighbors.

“I want to live in a Jewish state. I don’t want to be a slave master and have second class citizens,” Dagan said.

“Unfortunately, between the Jordan River and the sea, there are more than six million Palestinians, some of whom are Israeli citizens, and more than six million Jews.  The policy that we are employing is very problematic on the Palestinian issue.  And on the matter of our behavior toward our greatest ally, the United States. I am very worried,” Dagan added.

“After [the] Yom Kippur [War], I feared for the existence of the state of Israel. If we survived that and managed to make it, I was sure that we could deal with anything. I admit today that I have difficult questions about the directionin which the Israeli leadership is leading us,” the former Mossad chief said.

 

March 17, 2016

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