by Arel Segal
On the one hand, Meir Dagan said again this week that in 2010 Netanyahu issued instructions to prepare the systems for an attack on Iran and that he, as head of the Mossad, prevented a war. On the other hand, he has said on several occasions that the prime minister lacks the courage for an attack. Confused? So are we.
This week’s current events were so putrid that the public’s attention was diverted from the upsetting confrontation that occurred at the Jerusalem Post Conference in the United States between the moderator, journalist Caroline Glick, and previous head of the Mossad Meir Dagan and former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. From this mud-slinging battle the raw truth emerged: the head of the Mossad had refused to carry out the order of the prime minister.
Sometime in 2010, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak issued instructions to Dagan and Ashkenazi to prepare for the possibility that a decision would be made to attack Iran. Dagan objected, claiming that such preparation would mean war, so a decision from the cabinet was required. Since there was no decision of the cabinet, such an order was illegal, from his point of view. Ashkenazi said in the meeting that there had been no such order.
This was not the first time that the story was revealed. On the television program “Uvdah” in November 2012, Dagan brought the accusation that “Netanyahu and Barak tried to enter into war in an underhanded way”. According to Uvdah’s investigation, during the meeting in question, Dagan said to Netanyahu and Barak: “You might be taking an illegal decision about going to war. Only the cabinet is authorized to do that”. In the program, Barak, relating to the plan, claimed that the army did not at that time have the operational capability to carry it out. The amazing part of the story, beyond the fact that the more senior you are, the more you prattle on, is that there are actually three different versions here. Exactly like Rashomon. Dagan says: there was an illegal order; Ashkenazi says: there was no order; Barak says: professional factors prevented the command from being carried out.
An ideal summer for an attack
As far as the harm that was done to democratic hierarchy, I can only cite my friend Ro’i Sharon, who suggested the following mental exercise in the program Makor: “For anyone who needs help in visualizing this, I suggest considering another order, let’s say, to evacuate a settlement. Ten years after the disengagement, imagine what would have happened if the chief of staff had postponed the military preparations until an approval from Knesset was obtained. Not because he didn’t feel like doing it, just because he was not sure that it was the proper procedure and the Knesset or prime minister had not yet met on the matter. The morning afterward, a war of Gog and Magog would have started against the chief of staff, and rightly so. However, instead of being shocked by Dagan, we will continue with our polite behavior like a bunch of Republicans. Because Meir Dagan skewered Netanyahu in the public square. Meir Dagan is one of the best”.
Before the elections, Dagan made the rounds in the media. The high point was a speech in Rabin Square, a high point that very quickly sank in a puddle of droppings left by Garboz’s speech of that same meeting. In an interview for Ulpan Shishi, Dagan criticized Netanyahu’s speech in Congress, and said that “the speech caused damage and did not achieve any goal”. In an interview with Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer in Yediot Aharonot, Dagan said that “the one who caused the greatest strategic damage to Israel in the Iranian matter is the prime minister”.
“All of the professional organizations objected to an Israeli military attack on Iran”, explained the previous head of Mossad. “Netanyahu did not want to go to a dramatic decision against the heads of the system because he knew that ultimately the responsibility would fall on him. I have never seen him take responsibility for something. I have seen leaders who made decisions and later admitted that they had been mistaken. No one is immune from making mistakes. The difference between him and others is the willingness to take responsibility. He is good at talking, not at taking action”.
Now I will try to restrict myself to a few insights. On one hand, Dagan says that Netanyahu issued instructions to prepare the systems and that he, Dagan, prevented a war. A war that he is still determined to prevent unless all other alternatives have failed. On the other hand, Dagan has said on several occasions that Bibi lacks the courage to attack. Hold it. Wait a minute. There can be no such scenario in a democratic country where a leader takes dramatic military steps against the opinion of the entire professional echelon. This argument does not hold, says Dagan’s side; it was exactly the right time for Netanyahu.
I assume that there is no need to explain why Ben Kaspit would be the right person to justify the above statement, so I will quote him from Ma’ariv this past week: “The real opportunity for Netanyahu to attack the Iranian nuclear system was actually in 2012. At that time the heads of the branches were novices and lacked confidence (Gantz, Pardo, Cohen, Kohavi), he still had a hawkish defense minister (Barak) and he did not have an effective president, because Obama was then at the end of his reelection campaign, and from his point of view Israel could even have attacked Washington. The summer of 2012 was ideal to attack the Iranian nuclear system; it was asking to be attacked. So why didn’t he attack? Perhaps because he was busy attacking Obama and trying to remove him from office by gambling on Mitt Romney? Perhaps because he was simply afraid (as usual)”?
Getting down to the nitty gritty
Got that? The summer of 2012 – ideal. Why didn’t they attack? Because Netanyahu was afraid. I did some checking into events of that time and I found out a few interesting things. December 2011. Meir Dagan, in the first interview with Uvdah (surprised?) after leaving his post, he cautions that if Israel attacks Iran she would be endangering herself from a response that would include a three-pronged missile attack from Iran, Hamas and Hizb’Allah. Eleven months later, November 2012, on Uvdah, the incident from 2010 is exposed, including the vociferous objections of Dagan and Ashkenazi to an attack. The public is apprised of the fact that the professional echelon objects to an attack. During those same days, according to the autobiographical book written by Leon Panetta, the American defense minister at the time, the Americans were taking the Israeli threats to attack very seriously. And take note: during the time when Netanyahu supposedly had the best time to act, the Israeli public can see for the first time, the drama playing out behind the scenes, the inner workings involved in the process of making strategic decisions. It is no longer an abstract threat, it’s the real thing.
That same year, there was one remark after another. The admired head of the Mossad and the popular chief of staff think that the military operation is absolute madness. They do not trust the prime minister and the defense minister. There is still time, they suggest. The attack must be put off and used only as a last resort. Okay, if this entire production was a sham intended to beef up the sanctions, then I take my hat off to them. But if all of this striptease is going on in real time and the Iranians hear it and see it, then Allah save us! Houston, we’ve got a problem.
In June, 2010, on Channel 2 News, Amnon Abromovitz announced the end of Dagan’s tenure. “Meir Dagan is ending his role and his service will not be extended further, despite his desire to continue”. I don’t think that it is “despite his desire” and not because of some group of advisors close to the prime minister. I do not believe that a celebrated fighter and commander, whose contribution to Israel’s security is so great, would be motivated by ego and a desire for revenge. I think that Dagan has become addled. In his view, to attack would be disastrous and he was determined to prevent it. But here is his mistake. Netanyahu and Barak are elected by the public. Perhaps he was right and perhaps he was wrong, but the reality of the hierarchy dictates that he is subordinate to them, and not the opposite. After his tenure had ended, Dagan made a determined decision to impose his world view by going to the media. You know what? It may be that Dagan was right and is still right, but by the same measure, it could be that he was wrong and is still wrong. This is exactly why we go to elections – to choose those who will make decisions for us. Civil servants are not elected officials. No one can appoint himself as the decision maker, that’s what elections are for.
Source: Makor Rishon, June 12, 2015, Tzedek section of Yoman, pg. 30
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