Meir Dagan
Ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan Photo by Yael Tzur
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Meir Dagan's public warnings that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading Israel into disaster places the former Mossad chief in a new role - head of the opposition. After two years of the prime minister's complete control over the political message coming out of Jerusalem, there is finally someone who is standing up and warning the public of the risks inherent in a leadership that "is absent of vision and responsibility."

Dagan's message during a speech Wednesday at Tel Aviv University can be summed up in a single phrase - "military restraint and political initiative." In Dagan's view, Israel must not attack Iran, and it must accept the Arab peace initiative - a simple message that every Israeli can understand.

Dagan has some advantages when it comes to entering contemporary politics. He is a new product on the political shelf and has not been worn out in his public appearances. Second, he carries the security glory that comes with a mythical Mossad assassin. Third, at 66, and with his military and intelligence experience, he reminds us of Ariel Sharon, the most admired leader of the past generation. And finally, he is seen as a student of Sharon and enjoys the support of those who surrounded the former prime minister.

Dagan also has shortcomings. First, he lacks political experience. Second, as is the case with retired chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Dagan is bound by the law that bans him from elected office for three years after leaving his previous post. He could be defense minister but not prime minister.

And third, Netanyahu may be a problematic politician, but in his second term as prime minister, he is proving to be successful and forceful. The minute he identified Dagan as an enemy, he began a campaign to destroy him, beginning with claims that the former Mossad boss talks too much and can therefore undermine state security - or, in brief, that Dagan is unreliable.

Further down the line, if Dagan continues to attack Netanyahu, the prime minister is likely to step up the pressure with claims that would make the former Mossad chief appear to have been incompetent or, even worse, a liar.

If Dagan withstands these attacks and carries on with his assault, he may prove a suitable leader for the opposition. His patron, Sharon, withstood many attacks that were much more severe, and kept at it. Now, Dagan is being tested.