How Will Israel's New Strategic Leadership Deal With Iran?

Those exposed to outgoing Mossad chief's Meir Dagan's arguments will find it difficult to ignore their logic, and the assertive tone in which they were made.

The departing chief of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, signed off last week with a clear and unequivocal message to the public: The Iranian nuclear threat is far from ripe. Israel and the international community still have plenty to do to undermine it, and a military assault is not the right solution.

Meir Dagan
Tomer Appelbaum

One may assume the Israeli leadership, especially the prime minister, know Dagan's position on the matter. But his departure allowed us, for the first time and despite the partial cover of the censor, to get a better and more detailed idea of his approach to the nuclear problem. Perhaps this was a Bibi-bypass maneuver on Dagan's part; by making his position public, Dagan has written a warning firmly on his name. This, to a significant degree, is his legacy: The warning of the great risks of a war (twice injured, he has a close and personal knowledge of such a price ), and the understanding that before setting out on a military campaign, the leaders must use all alternative means to remove the threat.

For journalists, Dagan was almost inaccessible throughout his Mossad term. He kept mum for eight years and four months. It seems the tremendous weight of the Iranian issue and the consequences of a decision to attack made him set aside his long-term reservations about journalism.

Readers of the weekend papers would find that the publications are surprisingly well-versed in what the head of the secret service had to say. Dagan spoke "in closed discussions," "in a round of departure talks," "in documents leaked to Wikileaks."

The same expressions and observations are repeated. Dagan believes war would be justified only when Israel has "a sword at its neck, literally cutting into the flesh." Even in the worst-case scenario, Iran would not obtain nuclear weapons before 2015. The arguments against an Israeli attack are known: It would make the Iranian people rally around the regime, would make Israeli-American relations extremely difficult and could result in a war, in which the Israeli home front will be bombed by thousands of rockets and missiles from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza. The IDF would find it very difficult to achieve a decisive victory in such a war.

So what does Dagan suggest, according to those conversations documented on Wikileaks? The joint move conception, stalling the Iranian project instead of going to war. Dagan is preaching for a shared global effort that includes, alongside tightening the sanctions, stopping the purchase of parts essential for the progress of the nuclear program, encouraging the Iranian opposition, and, of course, covert operations. The very fact of a significant delay to the Iranian plan (considering Israeli intelligence originally estimated the Iranians would have the bomb by 2007 ), would seem to testify some of this is already being carried out.

Even after his retirement, Dagan's warning will continue to echo in the forum of seven key cabinet ministers, and in the public sphere. Those exposed to his arguments will find it difficult to ignore their logic, and the assertive tone in which they were made. It now remains to be seen whether Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, Dagan's partners in the realist alliance in Israel's strategic leadership, will make a similar move when they retire - Ashkenazi in February and Diskin in May.

The positions their heirs take are even more important. What will be said by the next chief of staff, Yoav Gallant, new Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and Y, Diskin's deputy and apparent heir? Will they maintain the united front of their predecessors? How much clout will they have with the political leadership? The answers to these questions will have more influence than any other on Israel's strategic reality in the years ahead.