Meir Dagan.(Yael Tzur/Haaretz)
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Meir Dagan, For The Opposition

Former Mossad head continues new job as thorn in Israeli government’s side

Marc Tracy
November 30, 2011
Meir Dagan.(Yael Tzur/Haaretz)

It’s been a telling statement about the Israeli political scene that the most formidable, trusted, and effective politician in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is legally barred from running for office for at least two years. Meir Dagan, the former longtime, highly respected head of the Mossad, has been the government’s most prominent and outspoken critic, warning that the simultaneous retirements of himself, the old head of Shin Bet (Israel’s F.B.I.), and the army chief-of-staff have left a gaping hole in the corridors of power where once there were experienced, ostensibly nonideological counterweights to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who wants to strike Iran; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who, well, let’s just say he’s not exactly savory; and to Bibi himself, whose genuine commitment to a resolution of the Palestinian conflict could be validly questioned. So Dagan has taken to whatever microphones he can, warning of the Arab Spring backlash (turns out he was right), agitating for Israel to back the ouster of Bashar Assad (right around the time the government came around to that view), arguing for the urgency of solving the Palestinian question, and urging the government not to take military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Comes yesterday a new television interview, in which Dagan warned that any Iran action could spark war—rockets—from Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran itself, and perhaps Syria. He also added to what is becoming a bitter tit-for-tat with Barak. The defense minister recently claimed that a strike on Iran would result in 500 Israeli deaths max; Dagan said this is a gross underestimate. Barak argued, “When the head of the Mossad unprecedentedly brings journalists to Mossad headquarters and instructs them to oppose the prime minister … I think that is very serious behavior.” Dagan responded, “We are not living in an undemocratic country; in democratic countries, even people like me have the right to express their opinions.”

Finally, it seems like Dagan is indeed entering the political fray to the extent that he can: along with a few other notables, he is spearheading, according to Haaretz, a group that “will endeavor to immediately alter the system of government in Israel.”

If you have some free time this afternoon, I can’t recommend Yossi Melman’s Tablet Magazine profile of Dagan from January (when he retired) enough.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.