Dagan Warns of Netanyahu's Poor Judgment

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan is more concerned over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's lack of leadership skills, than Iranian or Palestinian threats.

Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan is extremely concerned about September 2011. He is not afraid that tens of thousands of demonstrators may overrun the settlements or Jerusalem. He is afraid that Israel's subsequent isolation will push its leaders to the wall and cause them to take reckless action against Iran.

It's not the Iranians or the Palestinians who are keeping Dagan awake at night, but Israel's leadership. He does not trust the judgment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The Israeli media acted like its Soviet counterpart yesterday, dedicating huge headlines, full pages and many hours of broadcasts to Dagan's speech at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday.

But Dagan did not make a speech, he gave an interview. The difference is immense. Dagan did not intend to say all those things Wednesday night. They stemmed from a deep and uncontrollable need to tell the truth.

Two fears drove Dagan to speak. One is the fear of a comprehensive regional war that Israel would have difficulty surviving. Ariel Sharon's trauma was the Israeli defeat at Latrun in 1948. Dagan's trauma was Israel's defeat in Sinai in the opening days of October 1973. Because of this trauma, he feels a supreme moral duty to prevent an unnecessary war.

Thus even though he knew he was defying convention, he decided to speak out. He will not be party to a silence like the one that preceded the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Dagan's second concern is the status quo. Dagan is no leftist, as Likud ministers have termed him. He does not believe in peace with Syria or an immediate final-status agreement with the Palestinians. He strongly objects to establishing a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines or to any compromise on the refugees' "right of return." He does not believe in immediately evacuating the settlements.

But Dagan thinks that Israel, for its own sake, must take the initiative in the peace process. He advocates cooperating with the moderate Arab states and transferring extensive areas of the West Bank to the Palestinians. And he raised the creative idea of recognizing a Palestinian state providing that its borders remain subject to negotiation.

Dagan's worldview is a hybrid of those of Sharon and Ehud Olmert. He has high regard for both former prime ministers' ability to communicate with foreign leaders. He does not detect such an ability in the current prime minister.

When the former Mossad chief observes the recent regional changes, he is concerned first and foremost by what is happening in Egypt. He discerns weakness and lack of control in the country's military regime. He does not fear a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood, but rather a slide into chaos.

He sees Saudi Arabia as the strongest, most important state in the Middle East. His support for the Saudi peace initiative (as opposed to the modified version known as the Arab Peace Initiative ) is linked to his warm regard for Riyadh and the hope that it will contribute to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the future.

Dagan surprised his audience at Tel Aviv University with a coherent worldview, eloquence and rare civic courage. It is absolutely clear that in ordinary times, some of the things he said should not have been uttered. But in Dagan's view, these are not ordinary times. It's one minute till midnight.