Skip To Content
Breaking News

Meir Dagan, Israeli Spymaster Turned Netanyahu Critic, Dies at 71

JERUSALEM — Mossad director Meir Dagan, who after a long career spearheading shadow wars against Israel’s enemies became a vociferous critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s saber-rattling on Iran, died of cancer on Thursday, aged 71.

A pugnacious retired army general, Dagan took over the Mossad in 2002, when a Palestinian revolt was raging, international Islamist militancy was on the rise and world powers learned of Iran’s secret uranium enrichment projects.

His eight-year tenure saw a series of aggressive covert actions that were widely attributed to Israel. Among them was a 2007 air strike that destroyed a suspected Syrian atomic reactor and assassinations and cyber-sabotage targeting Tehran’s nuclear scientists and technologies.

But weeks before he stepped down, Dagan suspended convention by summoning Israeli reporters to Mossad headquarters, where he disputed Netanyahu’s assessment of the imminence of an Iranian threat and declared readiness to launch a pre-emptive war to foil it.

“Israel should not hasten to attack Iran, doing so only when the sword is upon its neck,” Dagan said in the briefing. Enraged Netanyahu aides quickly dismissed his statement as pique after the prime minister declined to retain him as Mossad chief.

In a tribute to Dagan published by his office on Wednesday, Netanyahu made no mention of their disputes. “Meir was a bold warrior and commander determined to ensure the people of Israel will never again be powerless or defenseless,” it said.

Asked by Army Radio on Wednesday whether Dagan had effectively scotched an Israeli attack on Iran, Netanyahu’s defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak, said: “Could well be.”

The son of Polish survivors of the Holocaust, Dagan said he had spoken out for fear that Netanyahu was needlessly endangering the Jewish homeland. His dissent over strategy on Iran and the Palestinians was soon echoed by other national security figures.

Two scandals tarnished Dagan’s Mossad legacy, however.

In 2010, Dubai published pictures of an alleged Mossad hit squad that had killed a Hamas armorer in a hotel in the emirate and dressed his death up as a heart attack. The suspects used cloned passports of foreign Jews who had emigrated to Israel.

Also that year, an Australian-born Mossad officer accused of leaking Israeli state secrets committed suicide while in prison.

Dagan had been ill for years, and Netanyahu and Barak helped to arrange a liver transplant for him in Belarus in 2012 after he was denied the operation in Israel because of his age. — Reuters

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.