Former Mossad Chief, Israeli Minister Trade Accusations at New York Conference

Meir Dagan defends statements made by former Shin Bet security service chief, criticizing Netanyahu and Barak over Iran; Minister Gilad Erdan says Dagan sabotaging international efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program; ex-PM Olmert joins in defense of Dagan, Diskin.

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An embarrassing confrontation broke out on Sunday during a panel discussion at a New York conference, when former Mossad chief Meir Dagan accused Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan of lying, while Erdan replied that Dagan is sabotaging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to put a halt to Iran's nuclear aspirations.

At the conference, sponsored by the Jerusalem Post in New York, the two also exchanged harsh words after Dagan warned Erdan over the so-called "Dagan law," forbidding former security officials to issue open statements until a certain cooling period wears off.

Former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi (left) and former Mossad chief Dagan at the New York conference, April 29, 2012. Credit: Mark Yisrael Salem

"As in Germany, you know where you begin but you don't know where you end," Dagan told the audience.

The exchange erupted after Dagan was asked about statements made by former head of the Shin Bet security service Yuval Diskin. Diskin criticized Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday over their bellicose stance on Iran, as well as what he called the premier's unwillingness to advance peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Dagan said that Diskin was his friend, and added that he "spoke his own truth." "Diskin is a very serious man, a very talented man, he has a lot of experience in countering terrorism," he said, adding that he "talked about a matter that is close to his heart." Dagan also dismissed criticism of Diskin for not voicing his opinion to Netanyahu and Barak earlier. According to Dagan, Diskin had done so "in close quarters and on many occasions."

“I have no doubt that the Israeli Air Force is able to destroy the infrastructure of Iran’s nuclear program – but five minutes later, Israel would find itself involved in a regional war, involving Hezbollah and possibly Syria,” the former Mossad chief said.

Dagan also said that an attack would bolster the support for the Iranian regime as opposed to the sanctions imposed by the international community which have been eroding its public support.

He added that a regional war would lead the superpowers to impose a settlement with the Palestinians on Israel – a settlement which he vehemently opposes.

Erdan replied that "if Diskin thinks things are so dangerous, he should not have stayed in his post for five years and agree to a sixth year. He should have resigned." Dagan intervened at this point and countered that "I may be impolite, but I prefer the truth be told."

Erdan then said he would prefer if "Mossad chiefs do not sabotage Netanyahu's efforts to garner the world's support against Iran. He also referred to Diskin's description of Barak and Netanyahu's "messianic tendencies," and asked, "Is this how a serious man, as you describe him, speaks?"

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, also present at the conference, came out in defense of Dagan and Diskin, saying that they have "contributed much more to the safety of Israel than those who are criticizing them."

With Dagan and former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi sitting next to him on the stage, Olmert responded to Erdan's criticisms while the envionmental protection minister was still on stage too, saying, "These people are not necessarily enemies of Israel. And we have to ask – what has happened that all the leaders of Israel's security services suddenly think in the same way?"

Olmnert went on to ask, "Until they expressed their opinion in public they were brave and admired fighters – and suddenly they are enemies of Israel, suddenly they don't care about Israel's security?"

After the panel, Erdan continued to slam Diskin and other senior security officials for attacking the government, saying that they casing damage to Israel's security.

"The fact that someone in the security establishment says something doesn't make him a saint," Erdan said. "To sabotage the government's political efforts is to damage the security of the state."

Erdan continued his attack on former Mossad chief Dagan, saying that "it is unclear how such a man landed such a senior post." Referring to Dagan calling him a liar, Erdan said that it is a shame that the former Mossad head "employs such low rhetoric."

Earlier on Sunday, Dagan said that Iran's leadership is using "smart" diplomacy to advance its nuclear program, and that the Iranian threat is not a "quarrel" between Israel and Iran, but an international issue.

Dagan described President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime as "smart" and "a master of diplomacy that heads forward consistently to achieve its nuclear objectives."



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