Mossad Chief May Stay on During 'Sensitive Period' of Coming Months

Agreement would preserve stability in top security service hierarchy ahead of a sensitive period in terms of peace talks with the Palestinians and effort to stop Iran's nuclear program.

An emerging agreement would see Mossad chief Meir Dagan remain in his post for another several months, until next summer, sources in the defense establishment said on Monday.

Extending Dagan's tenure is expected to prevent nearly simultaneous turnover in the country's three most important security posts - the top spots at the Mossad, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service. That would be problematic at any time, but the coming months will be a particularly sensitive period in terms of both the peace process with the Palestinians and the effort to stop Iran's nuclear program.

Meir Dagan, Ami Shabi
Ami Shabi

They said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already sounded out Dagan on whether he would be willing to stay on.

Netanyahu's office declined to comment.

The emerging agreement would stagger these handovers. If the deal is finalized, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will leave in February, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin in May and Dagan sometime in the summer.

If Dagan does delay his departure, that would also postpone the race to succeed him. Currently, the candidates include Diskin; outgoing director of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin; T., a former deputy head of the Mossad; and Hagai Hadas, a former senior Mossad official who is now Netanyahu's point man for negotiations on the return of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

In December, Dagan will complete his eighth year as head of the Mossad. He was appointed by prime minister Ariel Sharon, and his term was extended by each of the next two premiers, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu.

Under Dagan's leadership, several successful operations have been attributed to the Mossad, including the assassination of senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh, the discovery and bombing of a nuclear reactor in Syria, and various efforts to delay Iran's nuclear program. Dagan also forged close ties with other intelligence services and wielded great influence with all three of his prime ministerial bosses, who respected his extensive military experience, particularly in special operations.

But there were also notable failures. In February, senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated in Dubai, allegedly by the Mossad, and the perpetrators' identities were subsequently discovered. Britain, Australia and Ireland all accused Israel of using passports fraudulently obtained from their countries in the operation and retaliated by expelling Israeli diplomats. Israel has refused to comment on that affair.