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Why They Listen to Dagan

Former Mossad chief is Netanyahu’s new unofficial domestic opponent

Marc Tracy
June 03, 2011
Meir Dagan in 2003.(Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images)
Meir Dagan in 2003.(Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images)

The chief opposition to the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu within Israel appears not to be formal leader of the opposition Tzipi Livni, who heads the Kadima Party, but rather recently retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan. In recent weeks, Dagan has said several times that military action against Iran would be a terrible idea, and this week suggested that Israel has failed for far too long to make peace with the Palestinians.

His new outspokenness should be understood in the context of the recent retirements of three top, ostensibly nonpartisan security chiefs—Dagan as well as the head of Shin Bet (essentially Israel’s FBI) and the military chief of staff—and Dagan’s sense that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (himself a former prime minister) no longer have people on the inside who can dissuade them from their current policies, which could include future military action aimed at Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program. Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, one of Israel’s most influential pundits, tells the Times, in reference to the threatened statehood vote at the United Nations, “Dagan is really worried about September. He is afraid that Israel’s isolation will cause its leaders to take reckless action against Iran.”

Given that Dagan looks to become an increasingly prominent figure in Israel’s political scene—he is barred from running for office for nearly three years, but he is clearly capable of shaping the debate even without a formal position—this weekend might be a good time to read Haaretz spy correspondent Yossi Melman’s January profile of Dagan for Tablet Magazine. Knowing just how successful Dagan’s eight-year stint heading Israel’s foreign intelligence agency was (the bombing of the Syrian reactor, anyone?) is useful for grasping the weight his words carry now.

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