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Mossad's 'Superman' Retires

Meir Dagan, Chief Of Israel's Mossad Intelligence Service, Retires After Being Credited With Sidetracking Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program For Years

Dagan's Operations Said To Be Instrumental In Delaying Iranian A-Bomb Until 2015

IsraCast Assessment: Iran Is Still Bent On Producing Nuclear Weapons - If It Decides, Tehran Can 'Break Out' To Produce 90% Weapons Grade Uranium & Already Has Ballistic Missiles Capable of Reaching Israel

Mossad Chief Meir Dagan

 At the latest Israeli cabinet meeting, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu personally thanked outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan, all the ministers rose to applaud. Although Mossad operations are never confirmed or denied, Dagan mounted a daring an effective campaign against Iran's nuclear weapons program during his unprecedented eight year tenure. Mossad operations have set back Iran's plans to acquire nuclear weapons for years, although there is still no sign the regime of ayatollahs are ready to halt the project, in spite of the economic sanctions that are hurting the country's economy. David Essing has this assessment of the man the Egyptian newspaper Al Aharam once called Israel's 'Superman'.

 'He that would kill you, rise up early and kill him first!' That was the motto that guided Meir Dagan during his career as Mossad director and counter-terror officer in the IDF. Even as a raw IDF recruit, Dagan is remembered for his penchant of throwing a dagger and with great accuracy. He rose to prominence as a daring young paratroop captain back in the early nineteen seventies, who caught the eye of General Arik Sharon, then head of Southern Command. Sharon selected Captain Dagan to command the special forces unit formed to suppress a wave of Palestinian terrorism from the Gaza Strip that had murdered a number of Israelis. Known for his fearlessness, Dagan would often lead dangerous, clandestine operations inside Gaza disguised as an Arab. He turned into the ultimate counter-guerrilla commander, suppressing the terror threat in short order and then rising rapidly through the ranks of the IDF to make General and later serve as Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin's counter-terror adviser.

A new Israeli book entitled 'The Mossad' quoted Yitzak Rabin as once saying: "Meir has a unique quality for devising counter-terror combinations that first look as if he took them out of detective movies". When Arik Sharon entered the Prime Minister's office in 2002, he appointed Dagan as Mossad chief with the express order that he wanted to see the same spirit of ' take it to the enemy' that had paid off in Gaza years before. At the time, the Mossad had lost much of its legendary luster after several botched operations, such as the attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Hallad Mashal in Amman. As a result, the Mossad under Ephraim Halevi had withdrawn into a more passive role based mainly on less hazardous operations that Sharon viewed as less profitable from a strategic point of view. And undoubtedly an existential threat was looming large on the horizon.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad

The Israeli intelligence community had identified Iran, bent on building nuclear weapons, as the number one threat to the Jewish state that President Ahmadenijad declared should be 'wiped off the map!' Dagan was born in 1945 in a freight train traveling from Siberia back to Poland at the end of World War II. His parents had escaped the Holocaust but other family members did not, including his grandfather. In his Mossad office, Dagan was said to keep a harrowing picture of his grandfather in prisoner's garb down on his knees before two German soldiers, one with a stick in his hand and the other with a rifle. The photo was taken shortly before the grandfather was shot dead. Iran was most certainly in Dagan's cross-hairs.

Contrary to expectations, Dagan broke with the Mossad's previous policy of keeping its closest secrets under wraps from its sister organizations such as America's CIA and Britain's MI-6. Dagan reportedly reached the conclusion that the most effective intelligence campaign against Iran was for secret services to pool their information and operations, wherever possible. There are indications this has indeed been the case. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna has reported that Iran has run into repeated unsolved hitches in its nuclear program. Iranian sources charge that a number of Iran's nuclear scientists who were assassinated over the years, were executed by Mossad, CIA and British agents. Wikileaks and other foreign sources have disclosed the Mossad was involved in the sale of doctored equipment to Iran that later sabotaged the nuclear project, including the destruction of one thousand centrifuges used for uranium enrichment. In addition, viruses have infiltrated some of Iran's computers that also set back the program. Foreign conjecture has also linked other apparently clandestine operations to Mossad. What is clear is that back in Israel, the intelligence estimate of Iran's nuclear weapons progress has changed dramatically during Dagan's tenure.

The Mossad and IDF intelligence branch present annual assessments to the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee that are later released to the public. In 2003, the assessment was that Iran could acquire nuclear capability by 2007. But when 2007 arrived, the estimate was shifted to 2009 and subsequently to 2011. The most recent Mossad estimate presented to the committee in 2010 has been changed yet again to 2014. With Dagan's departure, unofficial leaks have raised the Mossad estimate to the end of 2015. There is no question that an ' invisible hand' has been consistently sidetracking Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Iranians had expected to be much closer to the the bomb than they are today. No less than the official Egyptian newspaper Al Aharam, no fan of Israel, once described Meir Dagan as Israel's 'Superman' who single-handed set back Iran's nuclear program by 'several years'.

Under Dagan's command, Mossad is suspected of having assassinated leading members of Iran's allies, Hezbollah and Hamas, that share Tehran's goal of annihilating the Jewish state. Hezbollah's vaunted Chief of Staff Imad Mugniyah was killed in Damascus by a bomb planted in his car in 2008. Mugniyah was also on America's wanted terrorist list for his role in the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks and the the U.S. embassy in Beirut that killed over 350 Americans. Hezbollah has reportedly failed to find a suitable replacement for Mugniyah. In Dubai, a Hamas kingpin Mahmoud al Mabhouh was also executed in his hotel room, an affair that caused diplomatic tension with several friendly countries that accused Israel of forging their passports that were allegedly used in the operation. However the Haaretz newspaper has now reported that Dagan has taken his successor Tamir Pardo on an introductory tour to meet his counter-parts in several foreign secret services including Britain. Reporter Yossi Melman wrote: 'At the meetings there there was no apparent sign of a crisis between the two countries as a result of the use the Mossad had made of British passports in the elimination, attributed to it, of Mabhouh'.

Dagan reportedly holds that clandestine operations should be combined with international sanctions and the fomenting of civil unrest in Iran. However although the latest sanctions are starting to bite into the Iranian economy and although there are reports of a debate in the ruling elite over the price being extracted for the nuclear weapons program, there is still no sign that Iran's rulers will halt the program. This week in the Knesset, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the current sanctions will not force Tehran to give in. Moreover, the regime's brutal repression has quelled the violent protests that followed the recent rigged election of June, 2009. At the height of the demonstrations, Dagan proved right in predicting they would not topple the regime. His position reportedly is that Israel should not go it alone against Iran but adopt the military option only when attacked or when 'the enemy's sword is on your neck!'

Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

If the reports are true about the Mossad's role in impeding Iran's nuclear weapons program, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not exaggerating when he said: "Israel and the Jewish people owe an invaluable debt to Meir Dagan!" Now that he has retired, the former secret service chief will have more time for his hobby - Dagan is an amateur painter. Tamir Pardo, his successor, has served for thirty years in the Mossad, twice as deputy-director. In the IDF, he served in the elite Sayaret Matkal commando unit. After the achievements of Meir Dagan, Tamir Pardo will have a very hard act to follow in tackling Iran's nuclear weapons project. And make no mistake, the centrifuges are still spinning enriching more uranium for the bomb and the Iranians may also be at work in more secret nuclear facilities yet to be uncovered. The IAEA has confirmed that Iran now has a stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that can be further enriched to the 90% required for making two nuclear warheads. Moreover, the Iranians have now mastered the technology for further enrichment and the IAEA has said there is evidence they have also done research on producing a warhead.

So it is now a political decision whether the Iranian leadership will one day 'break out' and ramp up their enrichment from the current 20% to 90% weapons grade, a telltale sign they have started a dash for the bomb as soon as possible. As for a delivery system, the Iranians already have operational Shihab-3 ballistic missiles that are are capable of reaching Israel. What is apparently not so clear is how advanced the Iranians are in the complicated process of converting 90% enriched uranium into an operational warhead. So although Meir Dagan has slowed down Iran's nuclear project, the Iranians are still bent on building the bomb, with all that implies.

David Essing

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