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Senior Mossad officials are beginning to set their sights on the job of deputy Mossad chief, to be in the right place at the right time when Mossad head Meir Dagan retires, according to off-the-record conversations and consultations.

Among those who see themselves as worthy candidates for the job - which the current deputy head seems to show no inclination to vacate - are the head of the wing that operates field agents, the wing that liaises with intelligence agencies worldwide, and the head of the Mossad's main operations unit.

According to the Ma'ariv daily, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to extend Dagan's appointment until the end of 2010. The decision reportedly came both out of appreciation for Dagan's work and a desire not to impair the organization's functioning in a year perceived as critical in terms of decision-making with regard to Iran's nuclearization. Dagan, an appointee of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, has served as Mossad chief since 2002. Sharon also appointed Dagan as coordinator of the efforts of all the intelligence agencies to gather information on Iran's nuclear program, and to disrupt it.

Shortly after Dagan became Mossad chief he told other senior Mossad officials, as well as Military Intelligence and Shin Bet security service leaders, that his success or failure would be measured by whether he managed to thwart Iran's nuclear program. The Mossad has scored achievements in intelligence-gathering on Iran, in cooperation with foreign agencies and in creating political obstacles to Tehran's nuclearization.

Dagan's deputy, T., who also heads the Mossad's operations administration, was appointed in 2003. He was previously a communications officer in the elite Matkal reconnaissance unit, and filled a number of communications-related functions in the Mossad.

Three years into his post, T. took a study break and was replaced by N., who had headed the wing in charge of running field agents. However N. did not get along with Dagan, who is known for his brash style, and a few months after assuming the post, an investigation was opened against N. for leaking information to a journalist. Dagan persuaded then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to let the Shin Bet handle the investigation. When it was over, Dagan, backed by Olmert, presented the ostensibly incriminating evidence to N., and told him that if N. left his post immediately Dagan would not institute criminal proceedings. N. left the Mossad and went to work in the energy industry in Africa with a businessman.

T., who had been considering leaving the Mossad, was asked by Dagan to return to his post. T. reportedly hopes to replace Dagan. Nevertheless, it is possible that none of the senior Mossad officials might be chosen - for 30 of the past 46 years, an individual from outside the Mossad, usually an Israel Defense Forces major general, has been given the post.