On March 17, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan passed away at the age of 71. An examination of Dagan’s career illuminates how creative thinking and bold approaches can enable intelligence organizations to adjust to changing environments, while at the same time demonstrating that the use of power has its own limitations. It also sheds light on several key issues regarding the relationship between policymakers and senior intelligence officers and how politics is always a part of the equation.
Dagan began his military career in Israel’s Paratroopers Brigade and participated in the Six-Day War. In 1970 he was directed to establish the controversial “Rimon,” a special operations commando unit that focused on fighting terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Dagan continued climbing up the military ladder; among his various roles, he was one of the founders of the South Lebanon Army, a militia which operated in southern Lebanon with Israeli support. After 33 years of active service, he retired and began working closely with several prime ministers — including Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. The latter appointed him as head of Mossad in 2002, and his term was extended both by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and later by Netanyahu. In 2011, he retired after serving almost 50 years in the Israeli security world.
Dagan was one of the most courageous, resourceful and successful heads of Mossad. During his eight years at the helm, he brought about deep changes in the structure and operations of the agency. He adjusted the Mossad to a new set of challenges: new types of sophisticated terror, arms smuggling, the cyber domain, and (above all) the attempts to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities. During his term, the Mossad focused primarily on the operational aspect of intelligence work — i.e., covert (though sometimes loud) operations.
Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks