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A long-standing Mossad chief retired before the prime minister decided who would replace him. The Shin Bet chief was not available to take the job. The next in line, the head of Military Intelligence, excused himself. This played out in 1963: Isser Harel resigned, Amos Manor was not available, and David Ben-Gurion's military secretary, Colonel (later Major General ) Haim Ben-David, called on his friend at the General Staff, Major General Meir Amit.

Also today, the main candidates to head the Mossad, following Major General (res. ) Meir Dagan's eight-year tenure, are the other defense establishment leaders: Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and MI chief Amos Yadlin. Neither wants the job; that is, they want it, but only if they were to get it. Losing the race is not a pleasant experience.

Yadlin's advantage is his varied background: Air Force, Washington, head of the intelligence branch tasked with collection, assessment and operations. His disadvantage is his character. For some reason, his superiors are much more impressed with him than those who are in touch with him. Something about his personality undermines his qualifications. He was the head of Air Force intelligence and the Air Force chief of staff, but was not appointed chief of operations and was later passed over for Air Force chief.

Military Intelligence is much larger than both the Mossad and the Shin Bet combined, but its leader is a great deal less independent than those of the other two bodies. It is also not entirely clear who in the military is the direct equivalent of the latter two's leaders: the head of MI or the chief of staff.

Yadlin is closely affiliated with Dan Halutz, who appointed him. After the MI failures in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as chief of staff, for a while Ashkenazi and Dagan were speaking directly.

Yadlin's background and character make him a good candidate to head something like the National Security Council. Diskin's background is a lot more narrow, but he is decisive, commanding and described as "forceful" by defense establishment officials. His civilian garb is deceptive. The Shin Bet and the Mossad are military organizations that are even more centralized than MI.

"In terms of discipline and rules, our organization resembles a military organization," Dagan said during a rare public appearance this year. "We have a system of commanders and subordinates, who carry out orders under any condition."

The intelligence community carries out joint operations. MI and the Shin Bet use materials the Mossad acquires, and they provide human and technological resources for its operations. Diskin, unlike Dagan, grew inside his organization. Yadlin too, like his predecessors since Amit, with the exception of Yehoshua Sagi and Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, was assigned to the top and did not climb through all the MI ranks.

MI officers have come to terms with this, a result of how appointments are made at the General Staff. Mossad officers are still resentful, and are hoping for an appointment from within. However, the chances of this are now even lower than those of an internal appointment for the Prison Service commissioner (it will come as no surprise if Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, much to the joy of the prison guards and the Druze community, appoints Central District Commander Nazim Sabiti as head of the Prison Service ).

However, above all the Mossad leadership candidates stands a non-candidate, who is nearly perfect in his own eyes, to the same extent that he has shortcomings in the eyes of others: Ehud Barak. He was commander of the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, chief of the Planning Directorate and of Military Intelligence, chief of staff and foreign minister, prime minister and defense minister. In terms of knowledge of diplomacy, defense and intelligence, he has no rivals. His entire thinking is special operations, sabotage, cunning, deception, penetration behind enemy lines in the garb of a Filipina housekeeper. A politician, but not a public servant. Admired when he worked in the shadows, outrageous in public. A lightweight in the cabinet but close to Benjamin Netanyahu and his family. There is a chance, though it is not certain, that the Turkel Committee and the attorney general would approve appointing him.

In February, three days before Ashkenazi steps down, Barak will be 69 years old. He will no longer be a political leader or a statesman, but it would be a pity not to make use of his talents and experience. Until he retires, he can serve the State of Israel as head of Mossad.