Thursday, February 18, 2010

Iran threat is too much for the Mossad to handle

By Ari Shavit, Haaretz Correspondent

In recent years the Israeli media have been in love with a government official by the name of Meir Dagan. Over and over, the press waxed emotional over the clandestine work of the head of the Mossad. Again and again it hinted, starry-eyed, at astounding feats carried out by Dagan's amazing boys (all attributed to foreign media reports, of course). Everything was cloaked in a glorious veil of secrecy. The rumormongers had it that since Dagan took over the espionage agency, it has gone back to being its true self. Now, they say, it is once again the Mossad that eliminates and assassinates, the Mossad that pursues and rescues, the Mossad that will redeem the State of Israel.

But after a single press conference in Dubai, that picture has been turned upside down. If Israel was behind the Dubai assassination of senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, as is being claimed in the foreign media, then all of a sudden, Dagan is no longer the nameless hero, but the national blunderer; no longer the people's darling, but a disgrace to his country. Some people are even demanding to see his head roll. That is unfair. Getting things done entails making mistakes.

If the operation in Dubai was not an Israeli one, Dagan had nothing to do with the subsequent imbroglio. If it was Israeli, it was presumably one of a series of many such operations. People who enthuse about the Mossad's successes (all attributed to foreign media sources, of course), should take into account that there will be failures too. There's nothing more contemptible than sports fans who cheer their team when it's doing well but boos when it starts looking like the losing side.

However, there is a lesson to be learned from the Dubai affair: Even the best of the world's spy organizations aren't perfect. There's a limit to what can be done. When you have an adversary that is determined and sophisticated, expect failures as well as triumphs. The belief that intelligence information can supply the solution to every predicament is dangerous. It can lull countries to sleep at fateful times.

It's convenient for the politicians to leave it up to James Bond to free them of the need to make tough decisions, and it's convenient for the public to believe that James Bond will overcome the enemy without any blood, sweat or tears. But the truth is that James Bond is flesh and blood. He works brilliantly and makes an enormous contribution, but it is not within his power to single-handedly provide the response to historic challenges.

The facts speak for themselves. Two prime ministers have relied on Dagan. They tasked him with thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions. To judge by the results, Israel has not readied itself in time to face the menace of a nuclear Iran or to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The head of the Mossad does not bear the responsibility for this. The people who entertained impossible expectations of him are responsible.

The conclusion is unequivocal: With all due respect to the Mossad, Iran is too much for it to handle alone. The confrontation with Iran must not be limited to intelligence agencies; it has to include diplomacy and other means as well. In the early 1940s, the leaders of the Zionist movement foresaw the future: When World War II ended, the moment that would decide its fate would be upon them. Thus, for a decade they acted wisely and decisively so they would be ready for the test. The activity took place on many planes: diplomacy, security, settlement, education, intelligence, organization. Thanks to this preparatory activity, it was Zionism that triumphed in 1948. Thanks to the foresight of those leaders, the State of Israel arose and survived.

The Iranian challenge is not the challenge of 1948, but there are some similarities. This time too, the historical significance is far-reaching. This time too, preparations are required not only in the military and intelligence spheres, but also along diplomatic, educational and organizational lines. The nation must be readied and the state must organize itself to face a new situation, one we have never faced before.

If Israel mobilizes its resources and prepares properly, it will pass the test. But in order to do so, it must take its head out of the sand and stop believing that some magic spell invoked by Meir Dagan or Israel Air Force commander Ido Nehoshtan will do the job. Even if there is some magic, it won't be enough. Iran isn't only over there; it's also right here. The Iranian challenge obligates us to reorganize every facet of our lives.


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