MKs Yossi Sarid and Ofir Pines-Paz are huffing-and-puffing mad. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has just committed the most cardinal of sins. He has appointed a man overtly supportive of the prime minister to head the Mossad.
"This is a dangerous precedent," Pines-Paz huffs.
"This should be a professional, not a political appointment," Sarid puffs.
Fighting words. The charge that the prime minister might sacrifice the security of the nation by placing a political hack without professional qualifications into one of the country's most important security jobs is a weighty and serious one and bears careful examination.
First things first, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Meir Dagan, a 32-year veteran of the IDF, has proven himself both as a field commander and as an intelligence officer. He has distinguished himself in every position he has filled by dint of his professionalism, independent thinking, and bravery.
In fact, insofar as his professional qualifications for the job are concerned, there is no question that the Mossad can only stand to benefit from having Meir Dagan as its leader.
The controversy is due to the fact that as a private citizen, he worked overtly for the election of Ariel Sharon in 2000.
This, according to Sarid and Pines-Paz, is the reason that he must be rejected as head of the Mossad.
But then the question arises, in his capacity as a retired general turned private citizen and campaign advisor, did Dagan do or say anything that might have upset the separation between the political and military leadership of this country?
In a pre-election interview with him in December 2000, I tried to force the issue. At that time, the Barak government was refusing to hold the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat responsible for the carnage wrought by Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad forces. The week I met with Dagan, Barak's team was breathlessly negotiating with Arafat's emissaries at Taba in a last-ditch attempt to forge an agreement before the elections.
I asked him if he thought there is a military solution to the conflict. My question was loaded because at the time, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip's slogan, "Let the IDF win," was all the rage. That slogan called into question the government's right to prevent the army from taking steps that could torpedo its political goals.
Dagan refused to take my bait.
He carefully explained to me that the security services must, under all circumstances, follow the directives of the political leadership. In his words, "The military conducts discussions with the political leadership. In these meetings, the strategic aims of the political leadership are made clear. All operational plans of the IDF will reflect the policies of the government. The army, with the means at its disposal, can advance whatever strategic goals the government may have."
While stipulating the army's absolute subordination to the political leadership, as a private citizen, at that early stage of the war, Dagan mapped out what he believed was the best strategy for emerging victorious.
"In order to safeguard its interests vis-a-vis the Palestinians, Israel must engage in four areas simultaneously. It must use military force against infrastructure targets, including physical targeting of all those involved in carrying out violent attacks against us. The PA itself must not be immune. Israel must damage the interests of the PA as an authority and also cause harm to the personal interests of the leaders of the PA for instance by ending their extraordinary privileges as VIPs and their personal control over the granting of work permits and permits to transfer goods through checkpoints.
"Friendly foreign governments, including key Arab states, must be used to exert political pressure on Arafat to force him to put an end to the violence, at the same time as Israel threatens to take away the strategic gains he has accrued through the Oslo process. It must be made clear that Area A is not sacred. If the IDF can go to Entebbe to save Jews, it can certainly go to Beit Jala.
"Finally a barrier must be lodged between the PA and the Palestinian people. Israel can do this by enabling continued employment of non-violent Palestinians in Israel, while at the same time publicizing the facts of the PA leadership's rampant corruption to their people."
As for the character of an eventual agreement with the Palestinians at the end of the war, Dagan favored "the creation of a dynamic of long-term interim agreements, at the end of which Israel will retain control of all strategic areas."
All of this, of course, is in line with the plans carried out and still envisioned by the prime minister. That is, Dagan, aside from being a soldier's soldier, is strategically aligned with the goals of his boss.
This may very well be the real problem that Sarid and Pines-Paz have with Dagan's appointment. To see this, one needs to recall the untenable situation that former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu suffered with the "professional" heads of his security services when he entered office.
Upon assuming the premiership in June 1996, he was greeted by the scowling faces of the Shin Bet's Ami Ayalon and the Mossad's Danny Yatom. In a widely criticized move, Shimon Peres had appointed the two just months before the general elections.
Neither Ayalon, a OC Navy, nor Yatom, as military secretary to Rabin and Peres, had an ounce of intelligence background between them. In spite of this, the media and Sarid embraced both as worthy "professional" appointments.
While neither publicly campaigned for Peres, their public records since have shown they share a left-wing ideological perspective that made them patently hostile to Netanyahu and his right-wing government.
Their lack of professional experience as well as their personal hostility toward the elected government contributed to their later professional blunders and their public insubordination to the democratically elected government.
Ayalon made headlines when he publicly repudiated Netanyahu in the aftermath of the PA's military offensive against the IDF in September 1996, following the government's decision to open an entrance to an ancient tunnel alongside the Western Wall. As it was later made clear, Ayalon had repeatedly presented the prime minister with the incorrect assessment that the opening would not lead to violence.
Ayalon first lied about this having been the case, and then backtracked when it was proved incontrovertibly that he had not warned the prime minister. Far from accepting the consequences of his incompetence and later duplicity by resigning, in a display of shocking insubordination, Ayalon appeared before the television cameras at the Knesset, and sanctimoniously insisted that he would not resign because, "like the song says, I have no other land." (The song, as well known to Israelis as "Danny Boy" to Irishmen is a song of political protest against a country that has lost its moral compass).
Exactly one year later, Yatom oversaw the Mossad's bungled assassination attempt of Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Amman. Here too, Yatom initially lied and said that he had opposed the operation when in fact it had been his idea. The Keystone Kops-inspired Mossad fiasco caused long-term security damage to the state. To secure the release of the two Mossad agents and reconstitute relations with Jordan, the government was forced to release Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin from prison.
Both of these incidents at the very least suggested that, contrary to the media's assumptions, neither Yatom nor Ayalon were professionally competent.
Furthermore, their public betrayals of the country
9;s elected leadership showed conclusively that they did not share Meir Dagan's view that under all circumstances, the security services of this country must be subordinate to the political leadership.
After leaving his post, Yatom emerged as Ehud Barak's chief of staff for security and diplomacy. In this capacity, he wrongly convinced the prime minister that Syria's Hafez Assad would sign a peace treaty in March 1999 and that Arafat would sign a final deal at Camp David in July 2000.
Since entering civilian life, Ayalon has backed IDF reservists who refuse to serve in the war, has referred to Israel as an "apartheid state," and most recently signed a "peace agreement" with Sari Nusseibeh, the PLO's point man in Jerusalem, in which he agreed that Israel should hand over sovereignty of the Temple Mount and the Jordan Valley to the PLO and that Israelis living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be removed from their homes.
There can be no question that Yatom and Ayalon have a right to their beliefs and loyalties. There can also be no doubt that their beliefs and loyalties made it impossible for them properly to perform their functions as "apolitical" security chiefs in Netanyahu's government.
In appointing Dagan to lead the Mossad, Ariel Sharon is setting a welcome precedent. In the amorphous world of intelligence, where one needs to make assessments based on imperfect information, the intuition and instincts of a service chief become crucial components of the conclusions drawn. An individual's intuition and instincts are informed not only by his professional expertise but also by his ideological world-view and values.
Dagan's world-view places him at the center of the national consensus today. His values will ensure that under no circumstance will he become confused about the subordinate role that the security services play vis-a-vis the elected leadership in our democracy.
No wonder Sarid and Pines-Paz are so mad.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post