What Dagan Knows

Some security officials, who possess intimate knowledge of the greater picture, fear that former Mossad chief Meir Dagan's comments may undermine the Israeli effort to bring about effective international action against Iran.

Recent remarks made by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan have succeeded in agitating not only Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. Dagan's targeted assassination of the military option in Iran - his most recent comments at Tel Aviv university being the third time he has spoken publicly on the matter, each statement more detailed and blunt than the previous - have surprised and disturbed even many of his former colleagues in the defense establishment.

It's not just a question of style: The prime minister and the defense minister have precious few fans among the security officials who serve them. But some of these officials, who possess intimate knowledge of the greater picture, fear that Dagan's comments may undermine the Israeli effort to bring about effective international action against Iran. Without real Iranian concern over the possibility an Israeli raid and without an understanding in the West that Israel may go berserk, a positive outcome seems unlikely.

The strategic discourse in Israel is being held on a timeline that spans from September 2007, when, according to Western media, Israel bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor, and September 2011, when the Palestinians plan to seek UN recognition for their state. This also happen to be the date after which some Western experts believe the window of opportunity for an air attack against Iran may close.

What we don't know is what happened in between: What happened in September 2009 or in September 2010? What does Dagan know, and not say, about the uncertainties voiced by the national leadership around this time about bombing Iran? The suggestion that Barak and Netanyahu might try to avert the looming crisis over the September declaration of independence by attacking Iran sounds like an exaggerated conspiracy theory. But the real question is what information did those who were in the know have about developments at key junctures in the past few years.

If Dagan, as he appears to imply, indeed had opportunities to observe Netanyahu and Barak's lack of judgment up close, then the current dispute is no longer theoretical but quite practical. Voicing polite protest in closed forums is not sufficient, if this is the case. For this reason, it is no wonder that Dagan chose to ring the bells loudly, especially if his views are shared, as he seems to believe, by former army chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former head of the Shin Bet Yuval Diskin, and, with somewhat less enthusiasm, former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin.

The interim Winograd Committee report on the Second Lebanon War had this to say about the duties of professional officials: "The greatest obligation of loyalty among professionals is to their profession and their role, and not to their superiors or organization. It is always better to begin with discussions and warnings within the organization, in the accepted manner. But when a superior or an organization act, to a professional's mind, in a manner that can cause serious damage, he should issue a warning and not try to avoid direct confrontation with his superior."

Contrary to the impression created by Dagan, it not the head of the Mossad, but the army chief of staff, who has the key say in whether to attack Iran. "You don't attack without a chief of staff," Ashkenazi was known to say to concerned interlocutors during his stint in office. The ball is now largely in the court of his successor, Benny Gantz. When the new chief of staff took office in February, he brought with him a more relaxed disposition and one more open to criticism. But one of his former commanders has cautioned that the public should not be deceived: This is a guy with integrity, he says, who will not hesitate to stand his ground when the critical moment arrives.