That Israel Defense Forces soldiers are shooting at unarmed people to protect the country's borders shows the IDF's "purity of arms" is being eroded, former Mossad head Zvi Zamir told Army Radio yesterday.

"If the barbed wire fence [on the border] had been 30 meters wide, they wouldn't have crossed it," Zamir said, referring to Sunday's attempt by hundreds of protesters to break through the Syrian-Israeli border. "And if they had tried to cross it, we could have stopped them without opening fire.

"We are eroding our purity of arms," he added. "We permit a soldier to open fire when he has to defend his own life. But when he has to defend the border, using weapons unnecessarily should be avoided."

Asked whether it wasn't possible that the soldiers simply had no choice, Zamir said it might have been true the first time crowds tried to cross the border in that fashion, "but not the second time, and not the third time it will happen, nor the fourth."

Later in the interview, Zamir, who headed the Mossad during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, discussed recent controversial remarks by newly retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan: that attacking Iran would be "stupid," that Israel should adopt the Saudi peace initiative and that the nation's current leaders couldn't be trusted. Dagan later said he spoke out because he wanted to avoid a repeat of the situation that prevailed before the 1973 war.

Zamir said that while he was shocked at Dagan's outburst, he could understand it. Before the Yom Kippur War, he said, "I was in a similar position. In the Mossad we believed we were headed toward war, but I couldn't pierce the blindness afflicting the defense minister, the head of Military Intelligence and the chief of staff. It was just impossible."

He added that he didn't think Dagan broke any laws.

"If anything, it was an ethical violation," he said. "He didn't reveal any secrets. Everything was known."

Zamir isn't the only former Mossad chief to criticize Dagan. Shabtai Shavit, who headed the organization from 1989-1996, told a Tel Aviv conference on Monday that Dagan should have kept quiet.

"I always obeyed the rule that I never regretted anything I didn't say," he said.