Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan Dies at 71

Dagan, who headed the spy agency for unprecedented eight years, underwent a liver transplant in Belarus in 2012. Netanyahu: 'He led the organization in daring, pioneering and groundbreaking operations.'

Moti Milrod

Meir Dagan, a former general in the Israeli army and longtime director of the Mossad espionage agency, died on Thursday at the age of 71. 

"Former Mossad head Meir Dagan passed away this morning," the Mossad said in a statement. "Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, the department heads and the workers of the Mossad express their deep sorrow and the condolences to the Dagan family."

Dagan was born in the Soviet Union as Meir Huberman in 1945 to parents who were Holocaust survivors. The family immigrated to Israel when he was five, settling in Bat Yam. Dagan was inducted into the Paratroops in 1963, serving in its reconnaissance unit. He served in the Israel Defense Forces for more than 30 years, where he reached the rank of major general. 

Dagan had a long and close relationship with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who appointed him in 2002 to replace Efraim Halevi as head of the Mossad, where he served for an unprecedented eight-year term. In the early 1970s, when Sharon headed the IDF Southern Command, he assigned Dagan to lead a special anti-terrorist unit in the Gaza Strip. In February 2001, Dagan coordinated Sharon's election day staff.

Col. Meir Dagan (center), Brig. Gen. Yossi Ben Hanan, Maj. Gen. Haim Nadel and Brig. Gen Amos Yaron, in Lebanon, 1982.
Archive IDF

Dagan underwent a liver transplant in Belrus in 2012. An announcement by the president of Belarus said at the time that the operation was successful, but Dagan later suffered complications and was hospitalized in critical condition.

Dagan is survived by his wife and three children.

'His devotion to the State of Israel was absolute'

President Reuven Rivlin eulogized Dagan, saying that "Meir was one of the greatest of the brave, creative and devout warriors that the Jewish people ever had. His devotion to the State of Israel was absolute."

"I knew Meir as a man of counsel, a wise man, loving and loved in his gruffness, a leader and one of the people. I bow my head with pain in his memory and send my condolences to his family," he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Dagan "a brave soldier and commander who greatly contributed to the country's security in Israel's wars, the Counter-terrorism Bureau and later as the head of the Mossad."

"In his eight years as the head of the Mossad, he led the organization in daring, pioneering and groundbreaking operations. A great warrior has died."

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Gadi Eisenkot said that "the State of Israel lost today a man and a commander whose life was intertwined with its history."

Meir Dagan (right) with Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin at the Defense Ministry in 1993.
Archive IDF

Eisenkot called Dagan "a brave soldier, an Israeli hero, whose overt and covert operations were a continuous activity for the safety and prosperity of the country."

"The commanders and soldiers of the IDF in active and reserve duty cherish Meir's memory and send their condolences to the family," he added.

Former President Shimon Peres said that Dagan was "a brave soldier like no other, a wise statesman that knew there is no military victory without a diplomatic victory. He never gave in to anything, not to our enemies and not to the accursed disease."

"Meir was one of my best friends. I will miss him greatly, I miss him already," he said. 

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said that "Meir was an Israeli hero who bravely fought our enemies and those who wish us ill, and strived with the same determination for the peace that he wished for." 

"He commanded the Mossad in numerous unknown and secret operations and protected the lives of Israel's citizens. The State of Israel owes him a tremendous debt for all the he did during his service," he said.

Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Yisrael Katz also eulogized Dagan. "The State of Israel, its citizens, and Jews across the world owe a lot to Meir Dagan for his activities over many years of security service and in his last position as head of the Mossad. He greatly contributed to the security and strengthening of Israel against threats both near and far."

Former Shin Bet head and current Yesh Atid lawmaker Jacob Perry said that Dagan was characterized by his originality and singular courage. "These characteristics manifested themselves in the wide range of roles he carried out in his service in the army and the Mossad," he said.

He added that Dagan was "a smiling man, a friend and an original adviser."