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Spymaster's final interview reveals deep rift in Israel

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Reprinted from The National

Meir Dagan and Benjamin Netanyahu on 124 News
Meir Dagan and Benjamin Netanyahu on 124 News
(Image by Emmanuel Navon, Channel: Emmanuel Navon)
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If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Meir Dagan must have relished his retribution on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- it was delivered from beyond the grave.

The eulogies barely over, the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth published excerpts from an interview conducted with Israel's former spymaster shortly before his death last month.

In damning remarks, the former Mossad chief described Mr Netanyahu as a man trapped in self-delusion, believing himself to be one the world's "greatest geniuses." In truth, said Dagan, he was "the worst manager I knew."

Their falling out centred on Mr Netanyahu's belligerent posturing over Iran. He was the only Israeli prime minister ever to have "reached a state ... in which the entire security establishment essentially didn't accept his position."

With fitting symbolism, as these comments were made public it was revealed that corneas donated by Dagan had restored the vision of two Israelis.

He presumably hoped that his last interviews would be of similar benefit to many more Israelis, giving them insights into the opaque world of Israel's political and security elites.

In a speech at Dagan's graveside last month, Mr Netanyahu exploited what he presumed to be Dagan's now-permanent silence. He painted him as a solid ally in the fight against "Islamist zealotry," claiming Dagan had warned that the fight against terror will continue for another 100 years.

The interviews present a more complex picture. They confirm in the bluntest terms what was already widely suspected: that a split of unprecedented proportions had developed between Mr Netanyahu and his spy chief before and after Dagan retired in late 2011.

The stark differences between the two were encapsulated in the military metaphors each employed. Dagan warned in 2011 that Israel should avoid war unless "the sword is cutting into our flesh." Mr Netanyahu, by contrast, argued last October that Israel would have to "live forever by the sword."

Dagan was no peacenik, even on his death bed. Rather, his hostility derived from an assessment that the prime minister threatened Israel's "survival as a Jewish state."

Dagan believed that Mr Netanyahu's desire to strike Iran militarily showed a profound misunderstanding of realpolitik.

First, bombing Iran, Dagan concluded, would spur its leadership into developing a nuclear bomb at all costs -- the very opposite outcome Mr Netanyahu claimed to want. Dagan preferred stealthy subversion of Iran's technological abilities, from assassinating scientists to infecting computers.

Second, a military attack was adamantly opposed by the United States because of the regional and global repercussions. Dagan feared that Mr Netanyahu was recklessly indifferent to the views of his US partners, instead prioritizing narrow domestic political considerations.

Dagan's views were shared by the heads of the other branches of Israel's security complex -- and ultimately they defeated Mr Netanyahu.

After the US moved to resolve the stand-off with Iran diplomatically and so pre-empt an Israeli strike, the battle initiated by Dagan has shifted focus: it is now about how to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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