published Monday, June 6th, 2011

A message for Netanyahu

When Meir Dagan speaks, many Israelis and knowledgeable political leaders and intelligence officials around the world listen. No wonder. Dagan just retired as head of Mossad, Israel’s widely acknowledged spy agency. So when he says publicly that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies toward Iran and the Palestinians are wrong, his views command attention.

Like many high-level operatives in the spy business, Dagan earned a reputation for discretion and probity. His willingness to come out of the shadows to challenge two pillars of Netanyahu’s domestic policy, then, is a sure sign of the divisiveness that permeates Israeli politics.

Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he prefers to find a peaceful way to end Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel, with much to support its view, says is a direct threat to the Jewish state’s existence. He’s made it clear, though, that he and Israel reserve the right to use military force to end the threat if necessary. Dagan says that view is dangerous.

“An attack on Iran,” he says, “would mean regional war ... The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.” Dagan’s view of the current state of peace talks with Palestinians is just as blunt.

He says Israel should jump-start the currently moribund talks by accepting a 2002 peace initiative from Saudi Arabia that would provide normal relations with Arab countries and create a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. Netanyahu rejects any suggestion of ceding territory gained in the 1967 conflict, though many Israelis appear willing to do so if it would help end decades of conflict.

Dagan’s views will be mulled over by many Israelis because it is impossible for them to ignore the opinion of the man who masterminded some of Mossad’s storied successes. Those include an airstrike in Syria that apparently destroyed a nuclear reactor and the more recent but never confirmed release of a computer worm that incapacitated Iran’s nuclear facilities.

A spokesman for Netanyahu said there would be no comment about Dagan’s Tel Aviv talk. You can be sure, though, that the combative prime minister views the remarks as a challenge to his leadership. That’s self-serving. Dagan was offering constructive criticism that should prompt a review of policies that impede rather than promote the Mideast peace process. Netanyahu should accept them as such.

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