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For many years the big argument in the Israeli establishment was an argument about time. The prime minister and defense minister claimed that with regard to Iran, there was no time to spare. The former Mossad chief claimed that we had time.

Now comes the International Atomic Energy Agency and proves that indeed, there is no time to spare. There could still be surprises, of course. Miracles have happened before, and they could happen again. But at this point, it seems as if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were right, while ex-Mossad head Meir Dagan was both mistaken and misleading.

So the decisive year won't be 2018 or 2015. It will be 2012. Israel is getting closer to having to decide between bombing or allowing a bomb.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Israel understood that Iran posed a serious problem. That is, it understood, but it didn't understand. Israel's governments and its people preferred to deal with Syria and "Palestine," with Hezbollah and Hamas. The old ideologies were always given priority. The politics were petty and the hedonism great. We all preferred not to acknowledge what we knew.

But the strategic establishment couldn't ignore the fact that beyond the hills of darkness, a storm was brewing. So it assigned its best and brightest to keep the storm at bay. To buy time - one year, another year and another. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Manana.

The "tomorrow" school of thought became the dominant one. It was more comfortable, both politically and emotionally, and even brought results. Dagan was credited with results; time after time, the decisive year was pushed back. Time after time, the deadline was postponed. Some incredible things were done and there were some amazing accomplishments. Israel didn't cure the cancer, but continually succeeded in delaying its eruption. Thus Dagan became the high priest; thus we came to believe that he was omnipotent. Israel believed the illusion that tricks and ruses could be its salvation.

But the report published this week in Vienna shatters that illusion. It proves that Iran has not only uranium enrichment and missile programs, but that it has a plan to manufacture nuclear weapons. It proves that Iran has covert facilities and secret delivery routes, and that it is working stealthily to develop a nuclear bomb.

With a stock of five tons of uranium enriched to a low level and 70 kilograms of it enriched to a moderate level, Iran is on the brink. With Iran developing nuclear detonators and nuclear warheads, Iran is a real and immediate threat.

Dagan is said to have done a lot of great things, but he did not fulfill the mission he was given by Ariel Sharon a decade ago. He did not foil Iran's nuclear plans.

Dagan, to distance himself from his own failure, issued a wild attack on Netanyahu and Barak this past summer. That is why we've seen what we've seen over the past few weeks and months. But the problem doesn't begin and end with Netanyahu or Barak. The problem is that Israel didn't fully exploit the precious years that Dagan provided.

Things were done; it's no coincidence that one fine morning a ballistic missile is test-fired from the Palmahim dunes. But Israel didn't do what it had to do to prepare itself, both domestically and internationally. It didn't succeed in stopping Iran diplomatically. It did not leverage the disengagement and it did not leverage Annapolis and it did not make Barack Obama any offers he couldn't refuse. It managed to convince Western intelligence establishments, but never galvanized Western public opinion. Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu and Barak never succeeded in getting the international community to do what only the international community can do.

Years ago, a wise senior intelligence official told me that Dagan's approach wasn't part of the solution, it was part of the problem. Now it's clear what he meant. The time-illusion that Dagan created anesthetized all of us. The time-illusion dulled our senses. We didn't want to hear the rustle of the centrifuges or accept their significance.

But now we hear them. And now our time is up. "Tomorrow" has arrived.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: שנת ההכרעה כבר כאן