The most intriguing question the MKs in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee had to ask Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin yesterday, but didn't, was whether this was going to be the last time he briefed them.
In conversations with committee members and others in the defense establishment, it was hard to decide whether Yadlin might come back to brief the MKs, but in a different role. Yadlin is one of the main candidates to replace Meir Dagan as Mossad chief.
Senior sources said yesterday that contrary to previous assessments, Dagan's tenure will not be extended and he will step down as planned by the end of the year. The prime minister apparently has already made a decision, but he's not sharing it.
Dagan's successor will not come from the ranks of the Mossad, and among the leading candidates are Yadlin, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, and T., a former deputy head of the Mossad who retired. Going against T. is the fact that his name came up in the court case involving the document drawn up by Boaz Harpaz.
Yadlin's presentation to the MKs yesterday was, as usual, extensive and professional. He said that while he headed Military Intelligence, Israel confronted two nuclear programs by enemy countries. The hint is clear: According to foreign reports, Israel foiled a Syrian nuclear program when it bombed and destroyed a nuclear plant being built with the help of the North Koreans. The second program, Iran's, was not foiled. It was only stymied, and countering it is a daily event.
The contribution by Yadlin and MI officers to the foiling and disruption of enemy nuclear programs (according to foreign media ), and in the fight against global Islamic terrorism, especially gathering intelligence and countering Hezbollah and Hamas, matches or exceeds that of the Mossad.
Yadlin's comments that it is advisable for an intelligence organization's head to stay in office for no more than five years should come as no surprise. These remarks could be interpreted as veiled criticism of Dagan's success at convincing the government he was irreplaceable.
Yadlin spoke of the Syrian procurement of advanced Russian-made air defense weapons, which will make things hard for the air force in a future war. But as a pilot who took part in the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq, the MI chief is a great believer in the air force's abilities to meet the challenge. Israel's deterrent is based on the troika of air supremacy, advanced technology and precise intelligence.
Yadlin told the MKs that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah's leaders were recently advised not to get too close to the Israeli border. Maybe this was part of lessons learned, trying to avoid the fate of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah terrorist mastermind assassinated in Damascus in February 2008 in an impressive operation attributed to the Mossad. But as in every intelligence operation, the MI's alleged contribution is invaluable.