Draw Your Own Conclusions

The traditional rivalry between Military Intelligence and the Mossad, ahead of the war in Lebanon and in its wake, has still not disappeared.

A few facts. Any connection among them is up to you.

1981: Colonel Meir Dagan is commander of the "South Lebanon Zone" - a strip north of the border in the Galilee, an enclave controled by Israel and its Lebanese accomplices since the Litani Operation in 1978.

In Lebanon, the Christians are fighting the Muslims and their Palestinian allies. In Tyre and Sidon, car bombs are going off at various Palestinian events, killing PLO activists involved in terror activities against Israelis, as well as innocent civilians. A new, mysterious group claims to be responsible for the car bombs.

2002: Meir Dagan, now a major general in reserves, describes the Hezbollah as "Iranian proxies, the spearhead of their terrorist policies, maintaining connections in Lebanon with terror factions connected to al-Qaida, like the al-Ansar Corps." Dagan demands a campaign against terror, "uncompromising and as soon as possible."

2003: Meir Dagan is now head of the Mossad. In a car bombing near Sidon, Muhamed al-Masri, commander of the al-Ansar Corps - the local franchise for al-Qaida - is killed. A new, mystery group claims responsibility.

Somehow, when Dagan's around, new and mysterious groups pop up and objects blow up, killing Arabs who aren't Israel-lovers. But that is too much of a personification of the secret world. The on-the-job risks of the victims is more of a result of the connections and circumstances than the identity of those at the pinnacle of the machinery. A veteran observer in the north mumbled something last week about the "ass..." of a Hezbollah man killed in Lebanon, but then caught himself and fell silent, leaving the listener wondering if perhaps he was referring to someone he doesn't like.

Dagan draws his power and authority from the supreme authority, his direct commander, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

It wasn't that way in the twilight years of 1980-1981, after defense minister Ezer Weizman and before defense minister Sharon, when the military ranks above Dagan - major general Avigdor Ben-Gal in the Northern Command and chief of staff Rafael Eitan - operated in Lebanon behind the sleeping back of then-prime minister and defense minister Menachem Begin and hiding their moves from Military Intelligence.

The traditional rivalry between Military Intelligence and the Mossad, ahead of the war in Lebanon and in its wake, has still not disappeared. But it was fenced in by then-premier and defense minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994.

Military Intelligence is responsible for assessments and warnings, the Mossad for prevention (of terrorism and the acquisition by Israeli enemies of weapons of mass destruction) overseas, alongside the Shin Bet's responsibility for counter-terrorism and counter-espionage in Israel and the territories. But a lacuna was encountered in the foiling of attacks like the one in Mombasa last year, in which three Israeli tourists were killed at a Kenyan resort, and Military Intelligence is demanding it be given responsibility for such operations.

The terrorism desk in Military Intelligence's research department was beefed up and it now coordinates the assessments of the threat from Qaida al-Islam, the umbrella alliance of the Saudi al-Qaida and the Egyptian Jama al-Islam. Osama bin Laden, believed alive by Military Intelligence, was revealed to be the big staple of Israeli-American cooperation in the shadow world of the campaign against terror.

In the spirit of the times, and as in the Shin Bet, Military Intelligence now also wants to maintain independent connections overseas, which except for France in the 1950s, were always much weaker than those of the Mossad. The Americans have mountains of evidence taken as booty and transcripts of interrogations that need experienced translators who know the nuances of Arabic.

Israel offered its help and a little was accepted. There are three kinds of translators for prisoner statements in the American army nowadays - a third soldiers (mostly reservists), a third contractors, and a third from "allies."

Al-Masri's killing in Lebanon was overshadowed by the capture in Pakistan of someone much closer to bin Laden, Khaled Sheikh Mahmud. Like bin Laden, Hassan Nasrallah of the Hezbollah fell silent until September 2002 and then, in honor of the anniversary of 9/11 and ahead of the campaign in Iraq, he renewed his provocations of the United States and Israel.

Military Intelligence is more moderate than Dagan and has identified signs in the Hezbollah of Lebanese and Arab characteristics that are important for Nasrallah as he seeks a pan-Arab leadership role. In Israel, there are those who hope - and others say they delude themselves - that the Hezbollah is close to stepping out of the Iranian embrace. But even those ready to believe in the de-Iranization of Hezbollah emphasize that the more important test is the link between Hezbollah and Syria.

On the Iranian-Lebanese issue, the Mossad and Military Intelligence are two corners of a triangle. The third corner is the defense minister's advisor, Uri Lubrani, whose support for acceleration of the disintegration of the Tehran regime - as a fulcrum for moving Syria and Hezbollah away from policies of force - has angered senior Mossad officials.

Lubrani has fallen silent recently, nearly disappeared, and maybe that's a mirror image of the shadow arena over the border.