* Meir Dagan to step down as head of the Mossad on December 31, after one of the longest and most successful terms as director.
* Among his successes: Discovering and destroying Syria’s nuclear weapons program, and slowing down Iran’s.
* The new Mossad head from 1.1.11, is Tamir Pardo, a 25-year veteran of the agency’s operations and other divisions.
* The Mossad’s website aims to present a more human face in future.
* Paranoia: Egyptian authorities leave no stone unturned in bid to discover the cause of mysterious Red Sea shark attacks which have left German, Russian and Ukrainian tourists dead or injured. “A Mossad plot is a definite possibility,” says the governor of Southern Sinai.
1. Dagan steps down after some major successes
2. His aim: “Never again”
3. A number of mysterious accidents?
4. Operation sabotage?
5. Targeted airstrikes -- or regime change Tehran?
6. Intelligence gathering, and building bridges with “hostile” states
7. A new director, with ample command experience and four degrees
8. A modest Mossad website to present a more human face
9. Egypt: “Mossad may be behind Red Sea shark attacks”
10. Among past dispatches on the Mossad
DAGAN STEPS DOWN AFTER SOME MAJOR SUCCESSES
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
Meir Dagan is to step down as director of Israel’s Mossad external intelligence agency at the end of this month.
After eight years and three months on the job, he will be the second-longest-serving Mossad chief after Isser Harel, who served for 11 years, from 1952 to 1963. (For more on Harel, please see further down this page.)
During Dagan’s tenure the Mossad was involved in a number of important successes, in particular the discovery and destruction of Syria’s nuclear weapons program in 2007. (That program, like the Burmese regime’s attempts to gain nuclear weapons, was aided by North Korea.)
But Dagan’s main focus has been on Iran, and were it not for actions taken in the last eight years, a well-informed source tells me, Iran might well already have a nuclear bomb.
“Dagan is one of the greatest Mossad directors ever,” a former senior Mossad official said recently. “His achievements are considerable.”
HIS AIM: “NEVER AGAIN”
Dagan, now 65, was appointed head of the Mossad in 2002 by his friend and former military commander Ariel Sharon, and under Sharon’s instructions, Dagan restored a sense of daring to the organization after a number of “quieter years”.
On his first day on the job, Dagan mounted an old black-and-white photo on a wall in his office at the Mossad’s headquarters north of Tel Aviv. The picture is of an elderly bearded Jew, draped in a prayer shawl and kneeling down in front of two Nazi soldiers, one with a large baton in his hand, the other carrying a rifle.
“Look at this picture,” Dagan often says to those visiting him in his highly secure office. “This man, kneeling down before the Nazis, was my grandfather just before he was murdered. I look at this picture every day and promise that the Holocaust will never happen again.”
A NUMBER OF MYSTERIOUS ACCIDENTS?
There have been a number of apparent accidents that have slowed down Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons during Dagan’s term (as well as before it).
Some have alleged that these weren’t accidents and attributed them to the Mossad.
These include, but are not limited to:
* The disappearance of an Iranian nuclear scientist;
* The crash of two planes carrying cargo relating to the Iranian nuclear project;
* Two laboratories that burst into flames;
* The mysterious accident in July 2007 at the Al-Safir missile factory jointly operated by Iran and Syria;
* Equipment sent to Iran for its nuclear program that arrived broken;
* Warehouses in Europe where equipment for Iran’s nuclear program was stored before being shipped that went up in flames
There have also been a number of events that cannot have been accidents, such as the infection earlier this year of computers at an Iranian nuclear plant with the Stuxnet virus that continues to wreak havoc – the virus was inserted by human hand using a USB stick; or the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists on the streets of Tehran; or the shooting dead by a sniper positioned on a boat offshore, of the head of Syria’s covert nuclear program, at his vacation home in the Syrian port city of Tartus.
Sometimes, these operations do not end well. Ali Ashtari, a high-tech Iranian electronics vendor, was hung by the Iranian regime in 2008 after he “confessed” to bugging the equipment of senior Revolutionary Guard figures with viruses and GPS units provided to him by Israel.
TARGETED AIRSTRIKES -- OR REGIME CHANGE TEHRAN?
Of course, sabotage has long been a staple of modern (and ancient) warfare by the U.S. and many other countries, and other states are also likely to have been involved in sabotage operations against Iran’s nuclear program.
History has proven time and again that such acts of sabotage have done more to slow weapons programs of this kind than any sanctions or endless rounds of negotiations have, or are likely to do, in cases where democracies are trying to persuade dictatorships to do something.
Yet sabotage, while effective, is not on its own the answer. It can delay the Iranian program but it cannot stop it. And eventually the regime in Iran will likely manage to build nuclear weapons, just as the regime in North Korea managed to. There are only two ways to stop this: bomb Iranian nuclear plants (as difficult as this might be with Iran’s nuclear facilities scattered and buried deep underground) or change the government in Tehran, so that a less belligerent and more democratic government is in place, which would be a much better option. (Just to be clear, the above opinions are mine, and not attributed to Dagan -- Tom Gross.)
INTELLIGENCE GATHERING, AND BUILDING BRIDGES WITH “HOSTILE” STATES
Although there have been assassinations (in Lebanon, Damascus, Dubai and elsewhere) that various European and Arab newspapers have attributed to the Mossad during Dagan’s term of office, the Mossad’s primary objective, even when it undertakes special operations, is to gather intelligence. It then presents assessments to enable Israel’s leaders to make better decisions.
Another aim is to establish good working relations with the intelligence agencies of friendly countries, and to establish political and other links with countries Israel is not formally at peace with.
So, for example, as has been previously reported on this website and elsewhere, Meir Dagan has held secret talks with Saudi officials to discuss the Iranian nuclear program and Saudi officials have reportedly let it be known to the Mossad that the kingdom would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over its airspace during any future raid on Iranian nuclear sites.
(Reliable sources tell me that every Arab country with the exception of Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Libya has had some diplomatic channels to Israel.)
As for allies, Israel now has an unprecedentedly high level of cooperation with American, British and other intelligence agencies.
There have been some failures in Dagan’s term too, but as Dagan pointed out recently, only the Mossad’s mistakes tend to become known to the public, not its successes.
A NEW DIRECTOR, WITH AMPLE COMMAND EXPERIENCE AND FOUR DEGREES
Tamir Pardo has been appointed to succeed Meir Dagan as Director of the Mossad, effective January 1, 2011, for a five-year term. (Incidentally, from a numerological point of view, we should all look forward to writing that date: 1.1.11.)
Pardo, 57, has served in various senior Mossad positions for over 25 years, most recently as Deputy Director, and has reportedly taken part in dozens of secret operations.
He joined the Mossad in 1980 and apart from a couple of short breaks, has been with the organization since then. From 1988 on, he occupied command roles in various departments, including the one responsible for infiltrating targets to plant listening devices and cameras. In 1998 he was appointed head of operations, a post he held for four years. He was deputy head of the Mossad from 2002-6, and again from 2007-9.
He has degrees in mathematics, physics, political science and history.
Pardo is considered to be close to the Israeli prime minister and his family. When he served in the Israeli army service, Pardo was communications officer for Benjamin Netanyahu’s elder brother Yoni, who was killed in the Entebbe hostage-rescue raid.
Coincidentally, the decision to appoint Pardo was made final on the same morning, two weeks ago, that two Iranian nuclear scientists were attacked (one was killed and the other was injured) in separate incidents by passing motorcyclists in Tehran. (It is not known who carried out those attacks and there are a number of possible culprits, both Iranian and foreign.)
In appointing Pardo, Benjamin Netanyahu consulted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor and former Mossad heads Shabtai Shavit, Efraim Halevi and Nahum Admoni, among others.
A MODEST MOSSAD WEBSITE TO PRESENT A MORE HUMAN FACE
As I reported on the day it was launched in 2008, the Mossad has posted a modest website in Hebrew, English, Russian, Arabic and Persian in order to present a more public and “human” face and to counter some of the extraordinary lies told about it (“the Mossad was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the London transport bombs, the Asian tsunami, global warming, yesterday’s suicide bomb in Stockholm, and so on”).
(Until a few years ago, the names of Mossad directors were kept secret.)
Among the latest fabrications told about the Mossad is the one mentioned below.
EGYPT: “MOSSAD MAY BE BEHIND RED SEA SHARK ATTACKS”
The Egyptian authorities have alleged that the mysterious shark attacks which have left several European tourists dead or injured in recent days, may be a “Mossad plot” to harm Egyptian tourism.
Last Sunday, the body of a 70-year-old German woman washed up on the shore at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort on the Red Sea after an attack. Officials said the shark had bitten a chunk out of her right thigh and also eaten her right elbow.
Egypt had just lifted a ban on swimming which was imposed in parts of the area after three Russians and a Ukrainian were injured in shark attacks the week before. The resort draws some 4 million tourists every year.
“What is being said about the Mossad throwing the deadly shark into the sea to damage tourism in Egypt is certainly not out of the question, but we need time to confirm this,” the Governor of Egypt’s South Sinai province, Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha, was quoted as saying by the state news website egynews.net.
Others said sharks had been drawn to shallow waters after cattle being shipped in for last month’s Islamic feast of the sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) had died and were thrown overboard.
As mentioned in past dispatches on this website, Egyptians often blame neighboring Israel for many of their own problems.
Humans and Sharks: Why Can't We Be Friends?
AMONG PAST DISPATCHES ON THE MOSSAD
For those interested, these are some of the past dispatches on this website concerning the Mossad:
* Israel Harel, “The man who made the Mossad” (Feb. 19, 2003)
* “Patricia Roxborough,” the Mossad’s Christian superspy, buried in Israel (Feb. 21, 2005)
* BBC set to name woman agent who killed Olympics massacre mastermind (Jan. 24, 2006)
* Imad Mughniyeh: He’s not quite Osama Bin Laden... But he almost is (Feb. 14, 2008)
And one dispatch which may or may not concern the Mossad:
* In global hunt for Dubai “hit men,” the trail goes cold (Oct. 8, 2010)
[All notes above by Tom Gross]