Tamir Pardo
Tamir Pardo, the next Mossad chief. Photo by Channel 10
Text size

Dr. Uzi Arad was one of the most outstanding professors I had during my university studies. Those were the days at the beginning of the 1970s on the Tel Aviv University campus. At the basement snack bar in the Naftali Building, romances blossomed. The mayor's wife presided over the ground-floor library with a heavy hand. And on one of the upper floors, Arad gave a course on international oil policy. We became friendly in the way a student becomes friendly with a professor, and then Arad tried to recruit me to his second workplace. Young and innocent as I was, I didn't see anything improper in the fact that Israeli academia was also serving as a recruitment agency.

I was summoned to the admissions committee at the Hadar Dafna building in Tel Aviv, which then served as the headquarters of Israel's espionage agency. Several solemn-faced men sat behind a table covered with green felt and asked me questions, which I have almost totally forgotten. They must have asked me about my ability to endear myself, about people in general, about the languages I am fluent in, and they may have steered me to become a spy. I have no idea why my recruiter, Arad, picked me. Did he think I would be an anonymous assassin, tennis racket in hand, or a secret agent, a pipe in my mouth? One way or another, I never heard from them again. That's the story of how I wasn't accepted by the Mossad.

How would my life have been different had I been accepted is of course difficult to know. Maybe I would have been the head of the assassination department's bayonet unit. Meanwhile, last week, someone my age, Tamir Pardo, was appointed head of the Mossad. He is being handed an organization that is both esteemed and mysterious, but to no less an extent, also afflicted with serious problems. From a man who is portrayed at the door of his house as a nice guy who watches soccer, we have to hope that he will know how to nudge the Mossad in different directions from those in which it has been taken up to now.

We know very little, perhaps too little, about the most famous Israeli organization in the world, whose name has always been whispered with a mix of dread and admiration. But we know it has its hand in everything. Secret cable number 2652, which was sent from the American embassy in Tel Aviv and released on the WikiLeaks website, provides details, for example, about a conversation the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, had with an American under-secretary of state. They discussed developments from Pakistan to Iran, as the representatives of two great powers, but the primary aspect of the website's disclosures related to Mossad assassinations. From the attempt on Hamas figure Khaled Meshal to the assassination in Dubai, attributed to the Mossad by foreign sources, of Hamas' Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

These are dubious successes. The failure was actually in the method chosen. Even if Meshal had died and even if Mabhhouh's assassins had not been caught on camera, what value is there in these operations, apart from Hollywood-type glory? Usually they just encourage successors who are worse and give a country that has assassination units like these a problematic reputation.

But from the little we know, the main problem at the Mossad is that its activity is mainly focused on dangers, both real and imagined, rather than opportunities. The Arab world for the most part is crying out for a peace agreement with Israel, to be based first and foremost on a settlement with the Palestinians.

Indeed, from WikiLeaks documents, the Arab world appears very troubled by Iran; more than a few Arab leaders view a solution to the Palestinian problem as a means of weakening Iran's influence. There is a not inconsiderable number of forces in the Arab world that are willing to accept Israel as a neighbor, and Israel is outrageously wasting this prospect. This is partly the Mossad's doing. It actually should have worked to pursue these opportunities, even if they involved less hush-hush mysteriousness and glory of the moment.

With its sophisticated methods, the Mossad can not only collect intelligence about prospects for war, but also prospects for peace. With its complex ties with various and sundry countries, it's possible to take advantage not only of another chance to thwart and kill or another attempt to assist a revolution in some shadowy location. Instead it should actually be attempting a revolution here, a revolution in thinking. So that not everything has to be accomplished by force or thuggery and sowing fear. Addressing the Arab League's peace initiative is no less essential than bombing Iran. There are other ways of doing things, even in the Middle East.

I wasn't accepted by the Mossad, and that's good (for everyone ), but now, from afar, it's possible to expect another kind of Mossad.