Right wing rage towards Meir Dagan over his announcements that Iran cannot produce a nuclear bomb until 2015 and that a military attack on Iran would be disastrous has boiled over onto the editorial pages of Haaretz. (Although Dagan’s comment about a military strike is hardly a novel revelation, having a former Mossad head state the obvious does offer a certain degree of gravitas.)
In Haaretz, Ari Shavit, a member of the paper’s editorial board, lashes out at the former spy chief for undermining the possibility of “the military option” against Iran.
The prime minister responded with rage to the former Mossad chief’s statements. Benjamin Netanyahu thinks Dagan has sabotaged the diplomatic effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But Netanyahu isn’t alone. Senior officials in the United States, Britain and France this week castigated Dagan for his utterances. The White House and Capitol Hill expressed shock and anger. Major allies of Israel saw the former Mossad chief’s briefing as incomprehensible and irresponsible.
I’m not sure who exactly in the White House “expressed shock and anger”—Dennis Ross? It would be helpful if Shavit could point to which “senior officials” in the U.K. and France “castigated” Dagan — though I suppose I could guess which members of Congress might be disappointed by Dagan’s blast of honesty.
Shavit claims that Dagan’s “utterances” may have undermined the glue that holds together the Western powers’ ability to “adopt a firm approach to Iran.”
The success [of this strategy] stemmed in part from the feeling of urgency Israel instilled in the powers. Now comes the former Israeli Mossad chief and blurs the sense of urgency. The Russians, Chinese, Germans and Italians cannot be expected to be more Catholic than the pope. Dagan hurt Israel’s allies and played into the hands of officials abroad who dismiss the Iranian danger and seek an excuse not to address it.
Is Shavit arguing that Dagan’s comments, which weren’t widely challenged on factual grounds, undermined the “sense of urgency” that Israel had instilled in the West? It sounds like Shavit is acknowledging that some factual exaggeration may have occurred when Israel made the case that Iran’s nuclear program presented an imminent existential threat. His bizarre argument seems to be that if Israeli officials fail to tow the line and exaggerate the Iranian threat, Western powers might not feel as inclined to take such a hard-line—and potentially self-destructive –approach to pressuring Tehran.
Shavit drives this point home:
[Dagan’s] statements about the grave consequences of an attack on Iran are balanced and correct. But one of the main tools to put pressure on Iran was the implied threat of an Israeli military attack. The international community has also begun to pressure Iran seriously for fear of a sudden strike by the Israel Air Force. Now Dagan has weakened the leverage. He made the Israeli threat seem unreliable and not serious. The man who was in charge of thwarting the Iranian nuclearization made the Iranians think they can continue galloping to the bomb because they are not in any real danger.
Shavit is essentially admitting that Israeli leadership might not have been as serious about a military strike as it were suggested to be by the likes of Jeffrey Goldberg. Instead, it appears to have been blackmailing the U.S. and other allies into conforming to a hard-line strategy with the threat that Israel might launch a disastrous unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. For Shavit, and perhaps Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s not just the fact that Iran might call the bluff in Israel’s threats. Israel risks losing the support of its western allies when Dagan let the truth slip out about Iran’s nuclear program.
Israeli hawks have little to fall back on after Dagan’s remarks, so Shavit concludes his column by suggesting that the spy chief’s statements might make an Israeli military strike more likely because allies may lose their will to “impose a diplomatic-economic siege on Iran.”
It will be interesting to see how the voices in the U.S. who have echoed and magnified hysteria about the “existential threat” from Iran respond to increasing uncertainty about the actual danger posed to Israel and the West.
Of course, those who have placed their professional reputations on the line by repeating Israeli talking points about the likelihood of an Israeli military strike will be more likely to repeat Shavit’s argument.
Jeffrey Goldberg, whose Atlantic cover story last September kicked off widespread speculation about the possibility a unilateral military strike by Israel, was already repeating Shavit’s argument on his blog this morning.
Goldberg, in a post titled “Has the Ex-Mossad Chief Made an Iran Attack More Likely?,” wrote:
Ari Shavit excoriates Meir Dagan, the recently-retired Mossad chief, for subverting the international coalition aligned against Iran by speaking so loudly against a military option.
He then block-quoted two paragraphs of Shavit’s column.
For those who have helped maintain the illusion of urgency and imminent danger posed by Iran’s nuclear program, Dagan’s comments must pose a serious threat.