Let's hail the spy dubbed 'Israel's superman.'
21 January 2011
Published in The Jewish News: 21st January 2011
Earlier this month, Meir Dagan resigned as Mossadís 10th director. Unlike his predecessor Ephraim Halevy, who was renowned for his cautious approach to intelligence gathering, Dagan was noted for his boldness and originality. He had an uncompromising belief in Israelís security, and under his leadership, Mossad pulled off a string of brilliant operations that have already become the stuff of legend. It is quite a legacy.
Dagan came to office vowing to thwart Iranís nuclear ambitions and confront her terrorist allies, Syria and Hezbullah. In the years that followed, Iranís nuclear infrastructure was targeted in a series of covert operations, many linked to Israeli intelligence.In 2006, there was a mysterious explosion in the Natanz underground facility caused by foreign saboteurs. Further delays at Natanz were the result of faulty equipment purchased abroad, with the Iranians discovering later that this rogue material came from front companies set up by Mossad. Mysterious explosions rocked an Iranian nuclear laboratory and brought down planes carrying scores of Revolutionary Guards.
Then two of Iranís leading nuclear scientists died in targeted assassinations, with both deaths attributed by British intelligence to Mossad double agents. Two more leading figures in the Iranian programme, both possessing vital information, defected to America claiming they were brought out of Iran with the help of the Israelis. Then in 2010, much of Iranís nuclear infrastructure was hit by the powerful Stuxnet computer virus, an extremely sophisticated cyber weapon that was most likely produced by a nation state.
There is no way of knowing whether all these operations were sponsored by Mossad; the organisation routinely denies involvement. But according to one expert on the organisation, Daganís relentless focus on Iran has Ďdelayed the completion of the (nuclear) program.í Another blow to Iran, in particular its terrorist proxy Hezbullah, was the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in 2008. Since 2002 Dagan had vowed to hunt down this Ďgodfather of terrorí who had been responsible for hundreds of American and Israeli deaths in suicide bombings.
Mughniyeh had changed his appearance through facial surgery and took a number of precautions to avoid capture. Yet after years of painstaking research, and a series of lucky breakthroughs, Mossad agents located their man in Damascus. His subsequent death in a car bomb was a form of poetic justice.
Under Daganís watch, Israel also carried out Operation Orchard, an audacious attack on a Syrian nuclear plant. Though it was an operation of the Israeli air force, it required prior investigative work by Mossad. In London, Israeli agents planted a Trojan horse in the laptop of a Syrian official, allowing them to discover Syriaís clandestine plans for a nuclear facility. Israeli agents then secretly entered Syria to collect soil samples around the suspected site. This provided vital additional evidence before Israelís subsequent air strikes destroyed the nuclear facility.
Mossad was also widely credited with the assassination of General Mohammed Suleiman, Bashar Assadís chief military advisor, at his villa in Syria. Suleiman was reportedly trying to re-start the Syrian programme when he was killed. Daganís tenure of Mossad provides clear lessons about the importance of intelligence for Israel. The first and most obvious one is that the Jewish state must always stay one step ahead of its enemies in order to survive. Given its small size and the multiple threats posed by its neighbours, Israel cannot rely solely on her fabled military strength. First class intelligence is a necessary weapon in the countryís armoury. Here, knowledge truly is power.
The second is that there is usually a high price to pay for top grade intelligence. Unlike other spy organisations that rely primarily on electronic surveillance, Mossad agents have long penetrated the most hostile states in order to bring back vital information. In other words, human intelligence is the key to the organisationís success. Knowing this lesson, Dagan launched the most audacious operations inside hostile terrain, with outstanding results from his dedicated agents.
Thirdly, he knew the old adage that weakness, rather than strength, emboldens Israelís enemies. Amid the predictable wreckage of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it was Israelís recent military and intelligence triumphs, and not her endless concessions, that won her respect in some Arab circles. No wonder one Egyptian daily called Dagan ĎIsraelís superman.í
Certainly there were mistakes on his watch, such as his failure to anticipate the menace on the Turkish flotilla. But these were small compared to his triumphs against Israelís enemies. If Dagan really has delayed Iranís nuclear programme, and deterred Syria and Hezbullah, he deserves to be regarded as a national hero.top