Meir Dagan, who until February ran Israel’s overseas intelligence agency for nine pretty successful years, has been making a new name for himself as outspoken retiree. Earlier this month he warned from a Tel Aviv stage that bombing Iran to stop its nuclear program was “a stupid idea,” and suggested that with the recent departure of himself and two other top security officials paid to see the world clearly — former military chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet (internal security) director Yuval Diskin — hawkish prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak might do something rash.
The remarks caused a sensation and cost Dagan a courtesy usually afforded retired Mossad directors, the continued use of a diplomatic passport, revoked by Netanyahu’s office. On Tuesday he was on stage again, advising graduates of Israel’s Netanya College (“At least I didn’t need a passport to get here!”) against being overwhelmed by the Arab Spring.
“Difficult times are destabilizing regimes all around us. They have received labels such as ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Democratic Tsunami’, but I would recommend not making too much of labels and definitions because a deeper look reveals rifts and conflicts that existed before, and which have been swept under the rug, but are now bursting out in the form of protests and in many places purposeful violence,” Dagan said in remarks reported by the online Y-net news service.
He expressed the usual concern from the Israeli perspective about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but added that “Israel is not alone” in working to counter it. In any event, on the chessboard of the Middle East, the Jewish State prefers the advance of Sunni pieces against the dark king that is Iran. Which brings us to Syria, still on fire after weeks of protests.
Israeli intelligence sources quoted in the Hebrew press lately are predicting that officers in the minority Alawite sect of President Bashar Assad will soon be making deals with counterparts in the Sunni majority. That prospect does not appear to bother Dagan. The status quo, after all, has been a concrete alliance between Syria and Iran, which together arm the Shi’ite militia Hizballah, which has some 40,000 missiles pointed at Israel from neighboring Lebanon, where both Syria and Iran wield great influence.
“They may not be lovers of Israel,” Dagan said of Syria’s Sunnis, “but there is is no doubt this would harm Hizballah, weaken it, harm the strategic backing it receives from Syria, minimize the Iranian influence in the field, increase the influence of Saudi Arabia and Gulf States on it, and increase the chances it would open up to the West.”
That assessment offers not confirmation but at least helpful context for another report in the Israeli press today: a front-page report in Haaretz alleging that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are in the thick of Assad’s efforts to suppress protests inside Syria, complete with reports of bearded officers speaking bad Arabic to Syrians and Persian between themselves.