If ever the term “game-changer” could be applied without fear of exaggeration, it could be applied to Meir Dagan’s statement on his last day as Mossad chief, that Iran will not have nuclear weapons before 2015.
And that’s the worst-case scenario, he told reporters and Knesset members — that’s if Israel, the United States and the rest of the world suddenly take the pressure off and let Iran go on its merry way to the bomb. If, on the other hand, the campaign of covert operations — i.e. sabotage and assassination — and sanctions continue, then, Dagan said, Iran will be unable to go nuclear for many years beyond 2015.
This is extraordinary news in and of itself, but also because it means that starting a war against Iran has just become almost impossible for Israel to justify. It means that Benjamin Netanyahu and other Iran hawks will have to think twice before rolling out the Holocaust imagery to make their case.
This is such an embarrassment for the war camp, starting with the prime minister. Before Jan. 6, as Dagan was getting ready to leave office, all these tough guys were praising him to the skies, treating him like he was almost a god, a miracle-worker, and why? Because of all the daring, mysterious acts of sabotage and assassination he’s assumed to have orchestrated.
After eight years of this at the Mossad, Dagan was the man — the single-most revered figure in the security establishment, the unchallengeable last word on how to deal with the enemy. Then, on his very last day in the job, he showed not only his boldness but his lucidity, and explained that precisely because Iran’s nuclear plans had been stymied so often, it was much less of a pressing threat than it had been in years past.
No one in the government wanted to hear that. And when Dagan restated his opposition to war, saying it would bring missiles pouring down on this country, and cautioned against bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities unless “the sword is not just pointed at our neck, but cutting into the flesh,” he suddenly became a non-person among the political establishment. After all the glory they gave him, the hawks went silent, except for the grinding of their teeth.
Finally, on Jan. 4, Netanyahu tried to neutralize Dagan and recoup his own credibility. The 2015 forecast was “only” an intelligence assessment, the prime minister said, one among many. “They range from best-case to worst-case possibilities, and there is a range, there is room for differing assessments,” he told foreign correspondents.
Pathetic. Imagine if Dagan had predicted that Iran would have the bomb in another six months; would Netanyahu have called that just one more assessment, nothing to get excited about? No, he would have ordered urgent preparations for “Operation Meir” and we’d all be lining up for gas masks again.
Still, there is one legitimate concern over Dagan’s forecast, one that was expressed by Hillary Clinton — the concern that the world will now become complacent about the Iranian nuclear threat, specifically by easing off sanctions.
Yet Dagan is making just the opposite recommendation — he’s saying that since sanctions and covert operations have distanced Iran from the bomb and proved a much safer, saner option than war, the thing for Israel, the United States and the rest of the world to do is stay the course.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
I have to say that Dagan’s approach carries a lesson not only for hawks but for doves like me. We of the “containment” camp have argued that Iran is almost certain to get nuclear weapons, and while that’s not good at all, neither is it the catastrophe that the hawks foresee, because Iran will be deterred from using those nukes by the vastly superior ones held by Israel, the United States and the other nuclear powers. And since a nuclear Iran would not be a catastrophe, it would be preferable to our starting a war, which would be a catastrophe, and would just delay Iran’s nuclear project anyway, not end it.
But Meir Dagan, the Answer Man himself, says we doves were wrong, too.
Sanctions work, sabotage and assassination work; the proof is that Iran’s nuclear project has been going backward.
Myself, I don’t like starting fights, I don’t like having scientists killed, even Iranian nuclear scientists. I don’t like giving anybody a score to settle against my side. But coming back to the idea that a nuclear Iran, while not a catastrophe, would not be a good thing, would instead be a really bad, dangerous thing, then I have to say that although blowing up some Iranian facilities and killing a few Iranian scientists were risky acts of aggression, they were worth it. They contributed to the hobbling of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, pushed its goal off by at least several years, so these acts of sabotage and assassination were justified.
And they still are.
There’s no way to overestimate the importance of Dagan’s words (not to mention his actions). Hopefully, they will begin to ease the fear and aggression that grips this society. It’s a new ball game now, and guess what — Iran is losing. l