Mossad Chief Empowered to Prepare Groundwork for Iran Strike

By extending the Mossad director, Meir Dagan’s tenure for another year until the end of 2009, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has put in place a vital constituent for a possible eleventh-hour unilateral strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In his six years on the job, the 61-year old external intelligence has proved his covert mettle in a variety of counter-terror operations, graduating most recently to a highly successful intelligence coup leading up to the demolition of Syria’s North Korean plutonium reactor in al Kebir last September.
Appointed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2002, Dagan’s first four years as the Mossad’s tenth chief were dedicated to counterterrorism rather than tracking Iran’s nuclear activities or monitoring Iran’s burgeoning strategic ties with Syria and Hizballah.
From mid-2006, the former general shifted the agency’s priorities to include these targets, while the Mossad continued to show its fearsome counter-terror paces in Damascus, Beirut and other Arab capitals.
Not all the Mossad’s operations have seen the light of day, but it has been credited in the past two years with hits against high-profile Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami operatives in Syria and Lebanon.
The operation against Syria’s plutonium reactor last year was one of the most complex operations ever performed by the Mossad. For the Israeli raiders to put the facility out of commission and lift out the evidence of a working nuclear collaboration between Syria, Iran and North Korea, they needed from the Mossad precise data on the facility’s inner and outer defenses. It had to include the air defense systems in place across Syria, the whereabouts of the materials and equipment the Israeli team was assigned to appropriate from the site and transfer to the United States, and the nature and numbers of the Syrian, Iranian and North Korean personnel present.
It was not until April 2008, seven months later, that the US Central Intelligence Agency released news of the operation in Washington, providing graphics attesting to the depth of Mossad’s penetration of the of the most secret and well-protected facility in Syria.
Examination of those visuals attested to one or more agents having been planted solidly enough in the Syrian nuclear project to have photographed the different stages of the reactor’s construction and the North Korean equipment installed there – a feat which drew the respect of Dagan’s undercover colleagues in the West.
The other outstanding feature of the Al Kebir operation was one that has come to be associated with the spy chief’s method of operation: No leads or clues were left for the Syrian, Iranian and North Korean investigators to find -even after the photos were published.
His spy or spies proved untraceable.
Dagan, a hands-on spymaster, demonstrated this skill earlier in the operation to eliminate one of the longest-running and most dangerous enemies of Israel and America, the head of Hizballah’s special security apparatus, Imad Mughniyeh, in Damascus on February 12. It followed similar methods in the preceding two years – usually explosives planted under a driver’s seat or headrests of vehicles driven by Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami operatives. Neither Hizballah nor Syrian intelligence has been able to prevent these liquidations or catch the hit-teams.
The intelligence operation for aborting Iran’s aspirations to acquire a nuclear bomb would undoubtedly ratchet up the Mossad’s targets for its most formidable mission ever. It would be undertaken in the full knowledge that a nuclear bomb in the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran would constitute the most dangerous threat to Israel’s survival in 60 years of statehood, as well as a menace to the free world.
It would be up to Meir Dagan, a Holocaust survivor born in the Soviet Union, to rise to the Mossad’s motto: “Where no counsel is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs XI/14)
The Mossad chief has his critics at home. In Israel’s clandestine agencies, some find his style excessively individualist, secretive and highhandedly confined to fields which he finds interesting rather than objectively important to national security. He is faulted with shunning the close collaborative relations traditional in the undercover world. The Mossad’s structure is also said to be antiquated and in need of an extensive overhaul, although it recently launched a website for recruitment.
But Dagan has the full trust of his boss, the prime minister.
The timing chosen for extending the Mossad chief’s tenure – early summer of 2008 – is indicative. Israeli intelligence estimates the summer months are critical for acting against Iran’s nuclear advances, especially uranium enrichment which Iran refuses to forego. If it is not stopped by September or October of 2008, it will be too late; Iran will have crossed the threshold to the last lap of its military program.
Israeli intelligence and its armed forces have three months to finish the job which has long been in preparation.

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