Former Mossad chief defends decision to defy Netanyahu on Iran

Former Mossad chief defends decision to defy Netanyahu on Iran

The political echelon must listen to its security chiefs, says Meir Dagan, asserting that Tehran’s nuclear drive ‘can always be stopped’

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan (Kobi Gideon/Flash90, File)
Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan (Kobi Gideon/Flash90, File)

A former chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency has come out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of setting “red lines” for Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the Islamic Republic’s effort to develop nuclear weapons can be countered at any time.

In an interview with Channel 2’s investigative news program “Uvda,” Meir Dagan warned that by beating the drums of war, Netanyahu was putting Israel at risk of provoking Iran to strike preemptively.

Dagan alluded to a fateful meeting during which he, then-Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, and then-chief of the General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-defense minister Ehud Barak and other members of the cabinet in a Mossad club room to discuss the prospect of attacking Iran.

During the meeting, all three of the security chiefs reportedly defied Netanyahu and Barak’s order that the military prepare for a solo strike on Iran, and eventually swayed several key ministers to their side.

“I think that when a serious group from the security establishment shows up, and everyone has a similar opinion, the political echelon should listen,” Dagan said in the “Uvda” interview, which was previewed Sunday and was slated to be aired in full on Monday. “I’m not sure that, in our history, there was ever a situation where the political echelon thought something and the entire professional echelon thought otherwise.”

But though there were big gaps in the approaches of various officials, “no one doubted the political echelon’s authority to make decisions,” he said. 

“As opposed to the stance of the prime minister, I think Iran’s [nuclear] armament can always be delayed,” added Dagan, who headed the Mossad for almost a decade.

The very act of preparing the army for the possibility of launching a strike could cause the Iranians to ready their troops, he said, and “as a result you can enter an impossible reality in which everyone is preparing for war, while it’s possible no one wants it.”

During the 2010 meeting with the security chiefs, Dagan reportedly called the order to ready for war “illegal,” while Ashkenazi declared that an attack on Iran would be “a strategic mistake.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Ehud Barak at the Defense Ministry in 2012 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Ehud Barak at the Defense Ministry in 2012 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)

“This isn’t the sort of thing that you do unless you’re certain that you’ll end up launching an operation,” Ashkenazi was quoted as saying. “It’s like an accordion that makes music even if it is merely handled.”

Dagan, the report said, was even more ardent than the chief of staff in his dissent.

“You may end up going to war based on an illegal decision,” the former intelligence chief was quoted as saying. “Only the security cabinet is authorized to make such a decision.”

Later, Dagan would say that “the prime minister and the defense minister tried to steal a war — it was as simple as that.”

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