Last week, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu extended the Mossad chief Meir Dagan's contract for another year, his seventh on the job.
This was a mark of the high repute in which Dagan is held in military and political circles as a wizard in the clandestine arts, but also pointed to the advanced state of Israeli preparations for striking Iran's nuclear facilities before it attains a weapons capability.
The chief of the national external security agency is a top maven on the Islamic Republic's secret military nuclear program. It will be up to him to sound the alarm when Iran approaches the manufacture of its first A-bomb or warhead.
But, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources, Netanyahu was additionally guided in his decision to keep Dagan on for another year by the wish to ascertain that for the first time, the Mossad's leadership pass smoothly from hand to hand without upsets.
Netanyahu accompanied the extension of Dagan's term by a six month-time limit for naming his successor, giving him – or her – another six months for grooming and assessment on the job alongside the master.
The last changeover turned out badly.
In early 2002, prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed a military man, deputy chief of staff Gen. Amiram Levine, as Mossad second-in-command, tagging him to succeed Ephraim Halevi as director.
Levine proved to be a square peg in a round hole and lasted only five months. Dagan was given the appointment.
To avert another misjudgment in this ultra-sensitive agency, prime minister Netanyahu's directive stated that the next deputy would have no title. If he proves his worth in the six-month overlap period alongside the director, he will be slotted into the appointment of Mossad director next May.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources name the three leading contenders to succeed Dagan:
A Mossad insider, his name, photo and job description are kept under close wraps. All we can say is that he is Dagan's senior deputy, his name begins with a T and he is 47. He is considered a top performer in his field of expertise. His main fault is that his scope is narrow and he lacks experience in organizing and executing covert operations of regional and international scope.
The Air Force vs. the Navy
As the Israeli Air Force commander until 2006, Eliezer Shkedi, 52, fashioned the force's “Iranian Command”, and prepared the IAF and missile units, including the Israeli Arrow missile interceptors, for war against Iran. Highly esteemed as one of the Israel Defense Forces leading military tacticians, Shkedi has gained respect among Western military insiders.
In 2008 the former air force chief was in line for appointment as president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was snagged by a political appointee, Prof. Moshe Sasson, a member of the Kadima party in power at the time.
Vice Admiral (ret.) Yedidiah Ya'ari, age 62, is the oldest of the three candidates. His distinguished military record included command of the Haifa Naval Base, head of the Naval Intelligence Command, Navy representative at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, commander of the Navy Commando Unit and commander of a missile boat.
In the last two capacities, Ya'ari took part in covert operations behind enemy lines.
He served as commander of the Israeli Navy four years from 2000 to 2004, when he took over as president and CEO of Rafael, Israel's weapons development complex.
It is up to the prime minister to choose Meir Dagan's successor as head of the Mossad. He has given himself six months for the choice, during which the Middle East faces changes and turbulence radiating from Iran's nuclear ambitions.