The uproar raised by former Mossad Director Meir Dagan's public campaign against striking Iran's nuclear facilities – "the stupidest thing I have ever heard" – reverberated not only in Israel but more quietly in circles inured to voicing their opinions in secret.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak hardly believed their ears when on June 2, the noted hawk criticized them as reckless for contemplating an attack on Iran's nuclear program – "a stupid idea," which he said would endanger Israel's very survival.
His comments sent Israeli politicians back into fierce debates on the advantages and shortcomings of a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities before it produced a bomb, although none were yet aware how far Iran had already progressed. (See first article in this issue.)
His predecessors as service heads criticized his outspokenness so soon after his retirement last January and were alarmed at the damage he was causing Mossad credibility.
That damage became critical when, outside Israel, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report, Dagan came in for an angry backlash from former colleagues in foreign secret services, some of them hitherto admirers of the Mossad and its latest director.
Letters from certain high-ranking officers in Western intelligence services informed him that his remarks were not only unacceptable per se but highly damaging to their undercover efforts for dealing with Iran and the dangers it poses.
Among those writers, we reveal here, were the US Central Intelligence Director Leon Panetta, British MI6 chief Sir John Sawers, President of the German Bundesnachrichtendienst-BND Ernst Uhrlau, and several heads of the French DGSE foreign intelligence service.
Accused of disseminating false timetables for a nuclear-armed Iran
Only last week, a high-ranking Israeli delegation that included Israel's Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, senior intelligence officers and members of Israel's Nuclear Energy Commission, heard harsh comments from opposite numbers about the tremendous damage Dagan had caused. They were visiting a European capital having been invited to discuss certain undercover operations with a leading European tactician.
Most of the critics who wrote to the former Mossad chief started with the sort of lavish praise rarely heard in this shadowy world for Dagan's extraordinary exploits in Iran and his success as Israel's leading spymaster.
But they went on to rebuke him for gravely miscalculating the perils posed by Iran and thereby misleading the entire Western clandestine community.
Particularly harmful were his wrong estimates of Iran's nuclear timetables.
The intelligence officials who penned those communications gave the impression that they had believed Mossad covert operations against Iran's nuclear program were based on solid information, including accurate timetable estimates.
What most rankled, according to our sources, was that while still Mossad chief, Dagan authoritatively estimated it would take Iran until the end of 2015 – or even a couple of years more – to overcome the technological difficulties besetting the designing and building of nuclear warheads and nuclear-capable missiles.
Iran takes advantage of time lapse to race ahead
His foreign colleagues understood that, as far as the Mossad was concerned, they had at least six years to play with before Iran arrived at an operational weapons capability. They adjusted their own plans and assignment of human resources and intelligence personnel accordingly.
The facts emerging in the last week or two demonstrate that the Mossad wunderkind got all his calculations wrong. Because of his egregious error, Western clandestine operations were wildly off-course. And worse, his vocal campaign against Israeli military action to stop Iran since his retirement raised the pitch of public debate and gave Iran several more week's' grace for redoubling the momentum of its nuclear and missile programs on the quiet. The arguments were loud enough to distract the attention of Western spy agencies and the public at large from the surreptitious movements in the Islamic Republic.
Dagan's former Western colleagues cite for example the June 15 launch of Iran's Rashad-1 mini-satellite, a 34-pound orbiter, and the simultaneous launch on June 28 of 14 Iranian surface-to-surface ballistic missiles – among them the SHAHAB-3, which is powered by solid fuel and capable of bearing a nuclear warhead (as elaborated in the preceding item).
Western secret service chiefs belatedly find in these launchings sufficient proof that Iran is moving into position for firing missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.
Vladimir Putin is another culprit
They further accuse Dagan's verbal outbursts, say our intelligence and military sources, of not only helping Iran galvanize its nuclear effort, but of boosting the case made in some Western and Israeli circles that there is no choice now but to go for Iran's military nuclear program with force.
In other words, his campaign against an attack has backfired.
Many Western intelligence leaders also find Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's deviousness responsible for throwing the sand in everyone's eyes about Tehran's nuclear intentions.
Russian intelligence knew as early as October 2010 that the Iranians had attained the capacity to launch missiles with nuclear warheads, they say, but kept it dark on account of Moscow's strategic calculations.
The Russians are trying to prevent US and European missile interceptors being installed in Eastern Europe, especially in the Black Sea region and Turkey, for fear they will not only shield Europe against Iranian missiles but also endanger Russia.
So Putin used the information about Iran's advances last year for a deal: He told Tehran that Russia would prevent an international furor over its advanced tests if the Iranians promised to keep them quiet. Tehran agreed.
By this stratagem, our military sources report, the Russian prime minister kept Iran's spectacular progress towards a nuclear capability under wraps and held the US, Europe and Israel back from kicking up a major fuss and seeking further UN sanctions against Iran for its violations of Security Council resolutions.
Emboldened by the West's docility, Iran announced the launch of 14 Iranian surface-to-surface ballistic missiles on June 28 – among them the nuclear-capable SHAHAB-3.