Dagan, Ofer and Israel’s Growing Iran Credibility Gap

Far rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu of the Likud Party has attempted to sidestep making peace with the Palestinians by using the magician’s favorite tactic of misdirection– of trying to get the audience to look somewhere else while the trick is being performed. Netanyahu’s ploy is to endeavor to shift attention to Iran while his government brazenly steals ever more land from the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (theft which is illegal in international law, not to mention contrary to Commandment no. 8 in the series of Ten).

Netanyahu’s prestidigitation has not gone well. The Arab Spring has taken the world’s mind off Iran. The power struggle between Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been decisively lost by an increasingly diminished Ahmadinejad, putting paid to earlier charges that the president had made a military coup against the Leader with the help of feckless Revolutionary Guards.

But the Iran meme has crashed and burned inside Israel on two other scores, as well. First, Netanyahu appears to have forced out Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli spying agency Mossad, whose departure coincided with that of the chief of staff, the head of domestic intelligence, and other key security officials. Dagan, having become a civilian, promptly went public, lambasting Netanyahu for refusing to make peace with the Palestinians while it was still possible.

Dagan went on to accuse Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, of grossly exaggerating the threat from Iran, calling a strike on that country “stupid idea that offers no advantage.” He warned that it would provoke another rocket attack on Israel by Lebanon’s Hizbullah, and perhaps by Syria as well– i.e. it could lead to a regional conflagration.

The back story that has emerged in the Israeli press is that Barak, who is a notorious war-monger and adventurist, had gotten Netanyahu’s ear and pressed for a military strike on Iran. Dagan and all the other major security officials stood against this foolhardy plan, and managed to derail it. But Dagan is said to be concerned that virtually all the level heads have gone out of office together, and that Netanyahu and Barak may now be in a position to revive their crazy plan of attacking Iran. Moreover, they may want to attack in September, as a way of creating a crisis that will overshadow Palestinian plans to seek membership in the United Nations.

Dagan and other high Israeli security officials appear to believe that Iran has no present nuclear weapons program. That is what Military Intelligence Director, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, has told the Israeli parliament. Kochavi thinks it unlikely that Iran would start up a military nuclear program. In other words, Israeli military intelligence holds the same position as Seymour Hersh. (Of course, one piece of hypocrisy here is that Israel has hundreds of nuclear warheads itself). In the Obama administration’s pillorying of Hersh, it never came up that Dagan and Kochavi concur with him! (Iran has a civilian nuclear enrichment program, which is being inspected by the IAEA, but a civilian program is different from a military one; there is no evidence for the latter, though sometimes Iranian officials occasionally talk big. Iran probably wants what is called ‘nuclear latency,’ the ability to build a bomb in short order, as deterrence against attack, but probably does not want an actual bomb, which it considers contrary to Islamic law).

Netanyahu’s Iran gambit has been further damaged by the revelation that the Israeli Ofer Brothers company has been sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury for trading with Iran! They seem to have sold Iran an oil tanker through the United Arab Emirates. No one has jumped up and down more loudly about the need to slap economic sanctions on Iran than the Israeli government, but now it emerges that Israeli economic concerns put profits first.

So to sum up: The former head of Mossad thinks that Netanyahu and Barak are terminally flaky; he and other high officials think Iran has no nuclear weapons program; he thinks an Israeli attack on Iran was and would be “the stupidest thing I have ever heard;” and he and other now-retired security officials think that the 2002 peace agreement offered Israel by the Arab League is the country’s last best chance for integration into the Middle East and security for Israeli citizens. The Likud Party has consistently pissed all over the 2002 Saudi-led Arab League initiative and has preferred unilaterally to annex Palestinian territory instead. (That unilateral Israeli policy is why it is so ridiculous for President Obama to condemn the Palestinians for ‘unilaterally’ seeking UN membership– that and the oddness of characterizing a UN General Assembly vote by 193 nations as ‘unilateral.’)

In other words, ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s positions on Israel and Iran and the flakiness of Netanyahu in these regards are the same as those of Juan Cole, who has been pilloried by the American Likud for taking them.

The USG Open Source Center translated the following radio reports from Hebrew on the Ofer affair:

‘ Israel: Aides Warn of Ofer Affair ‘Strategic Damage’; Dagan: Coverage ‘Exaggerated’
Israel — OSC Summary
Tuesday, May 31, 2011…

The Israeli media on 30-31 May report on the latest developments in the wake of the US State Department’s announcement that sanctions had been imposed on the Ofer Brothers Group and Tanker Pacific because of their commercial dealings with Iran…

Affair Checked With Americans; PM Aides Warn of ‘Big Strategic Damage’ to Israel

State-funded but independent Jerusalem Voice of Israel Network B in Hebrew reports at 0500 GMT on 31 May: “The Defense Ministry has in recent days checked the entire Ofer Brothers affair with the Americans. The American department dealing with the affair stated that there is no security connection to the Israeli Defense Ministry, our army affairs correspondent Karmela Menashe reports.

“Aides in the prime minister’s bureau claim that anybody insinuating that the Ofer Brothers were issued permits to operate in Iran should reveal them to the public. According to these aides, this affair might evolve into a big strategic damage to Israel. A senior diplomatic source said that Israel has no mechanism to check non-military deals and that it serious lags behind other countries in this respect, our political correspondent Shmu’el Tal reports.” Ofer Brothers: Netanyahu ‘Has Thrown Us to the Dogs’; Central Bank Checking

Tel Aviv IDF Radio in Hebrew at 0500 GMT says: “Sources in Ofer Brothers are furious with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who yesterday claimed yesterday that Israel was in no way connected to the anchoring of ships in Iran. One source said: The state used us more than once for national purposes, but now Netanyahu has thrown us to the dogs.

“Our economic affairs correspondent Yona Levzov reported this morning that in parallel with the Defense Ministry’s check, the Bank of Israel is also looking into the suspicions against the Ofer Brothers that one of their companies traded with Iran. If the check by the central bank yields suspicions of a violation of Israeli law, the Ofer Brothers may have to sell their shares in Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot.”

15 Responses

  1. substantially, precisely, pertinently time-lined, consequently opinionated.

    could Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu possibly implode Mubarak style? Mid-East spring indeed then. Seems like the ‘democratic’ process of electing the Prime Minister put Israel on the wrong side of history.

  2. Judging from Israeli media and the unusually pointed public comments of normally silent Israeli intel chiefs, those men appear truly concerned that Netanyahu is undermining Israeli national security. It follows that if Washington also cares about Israeli security, that it should do something.

    The record of irrationality in Israeli foreign policy makes it dangerous to discount the threat of Israeli aggression.

    But most telling of all is the absence of any clear, unambiguous statement from the White House that the Obama Administration would reject and oppose any Israeli attempt to attack Iran in the absence of a clear and immediate Iranian threat to Israel.

    Even if Washington is totally opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran, the ambiguity in Washington rhetoric leaves a dangerous space for leaders in Tel Aviv to imagine that they can pull Washington along in their wake should they decide to start a war they cannot win. If they take the chance, and if they can play Washington one more time as they have so many times before, and if U.S. can end a war against Iran fast enough to avoid disaster for Israel, then Netanyahu and Barak can restore their political fortunes, roll over the Palestinians, and rule the Mideast. It is a nice daydream for a faction whose time may be nearly up.

    Given the influence of this faction over the U.S. Congress, however, what is Obama to do? There are five private citizens in Israel today who have spent their lives defending Israeli national security and who now seem worried about that security: Meir Dagan, Gabi Ashkenazi, Amos Yadlin, Gad Shimron, and Yuval Diskin. Make no mistake: these are Israeli right-wing super patriots, their views will not be in accord with U.S. national security interests, and Obama’s contacts with Israelis should be far broader than this group. But, in contrast to certain politicians, they represent what may be called the “rational right:” conservatives who truly care about their country (not just their personal incomes).

    If the security of the Israeli people is of concern to Obama, then perhaps he should take the time to invite these gentlemen to lunch.

  3. I’m sorry but this commentary is not well informed. occupation is legal mean of war under international law – this is why there is an entire convention that regulate it – further more, you twisted Dagan words. He never said that the threat to Israel from Iran is exaggerated, he said the threat should not be defuse by military means (and then retract this statement, and said there should be a military option, but it should be the last resort).
    the words of Aviv Kohavi are also twisted, not by you but by the Arabic website that you linked to. Kohavi statement was that if Iran chose, they can get the bomb in 2 years. how did they interpret this statement to “iran doesn’t have a military nuclear program”?

    oh, and for the ofer brothers – Meir Dagan almost said openly that their ships got to iran in cooperation with the Israeli intelligence. so, you cant realy use it for showing hypocrisy.

  4. Here’s a repost of a post I just made on http://www.raceforiran.com (the premiere site for following the threatened Iran war).

    I’m going to break my silence for a moment to comment on two points which Sy Hersh’s article raises which appear to have been ignored by the antiwar community.

    Point One: I have repeatedly said that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program because such a program would be useless to them. In Hersh’s piece, he mentions that the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) was responsible for holding up the NIE because it claimed that Iran’s only motivation for a nuclear weapons program was the result of the exposure of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program subsequent to the 1991 conflict. The DIA believes that Iran was never interested in a nuclear weapons program because of Israel or the United States arsenals, but solely as a deterrent to a potential Iraqi nuclear weapon program.

    This clearly supports my view that Iran KNOWS that a nuclear weapons program would be absolutely useless to them.

    Point Two: The DIA also suggested that Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” prior to 2003 never amounted to much more than “paper studies”. This is also precisely what I have argued for some time – that Iran has NEVER had a nuclear weapons DEVELOPMENT AND DEPLOYMENT program, but more likely a mere nuclear weapons “research database”, i.e., a study by the Iranian military (or IRGC) to determine HOW to build a nuclear weapon should the leadership ever decide to do so. This would be “due diligence” for any nation’s military threatened by a foreign nuclear power.

    Strangely, it never occurred to me that the motivation would be Iraq’s nuclear weapons program! And yet, clearly this would be the most logical motivation, because of my very argument that Iran could never compete with Israel, let alone the US, in a nuclear arms race.

    One last point about Obama can be made:

    1) If we know that 16 US intelligence agencies have agreed that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, and at least ONE US intelligence agency argues that Iran has NEVER had a nuclear weapons program (in the sense of a deployment program);

    2) and if we can assume that Obama has been apprised of these conclusions,

    3) and if we can assume that any war with Iran would cause a major economic shock to the US economy based, if nothing else, on a spike in the oil price;

    4) and if we can assume Obama has been apprised of that possibility,

    5) and if we can assume that despite these facts, Obama continues to pursue a course of action which entails conflict with Iran via sanctions, threats, etc.;

    6) then we can come to two conclusions:

    a) Obama does not CARE that a current or future war with Iran will negatively impact the US economy;

    b) and therefore Obama is lying about ANY concerns he has for the US economy.

    If Obama is lying about Iran, and if a war with Iran will be a disaster for the US economy, then how we can believe Obama about ANYTHING AT ALL?

    Another side point Hersh makes about Obama: he says Obama is “isolated”, more so than most Presidents. Apparently no one with an opinion different than the Pentagon or his closest advisers (Biden, Clinton, other pro-Israel pro-war anti-Iran sorts) can get to him. I don’t know what to make of this claim. We KNOWN Obama is owned and operated by the Crown and Prizker families. We KNOW what Obama’s foreign policy intentions were prior to election based on his statements during the campaign. Are we now to believe that Obama is so stupid that he has prevented himself from hearing alternative opinions? He can’t Google? He doesn’t read the media?

    Or is this just another excuse to cover up the fact that Obama is doing EXACTLY what he intends to do and has always intended to do?

    How blatant does his lying have to be before people stop believing this guy is “change we can believe in?”

  5. Rather than “talking big” (if by that you mean about obtaining nuclear weapons) the Iranians have never expressed any desire for nuclear weapons. And “nuclear latency” is a nonsense accusation that can be used for several countries around the world since any country with a nuclear program is inherently “capable” of making nukes. The fact that the US uses such tortured language, accusing Iran of “having intentions” to “seek capabilities” is simply due to the fact that they don’t have any real evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. If Iran sought such latency, then why did they repeatedly offer to place additional restrictions, well beyong their NPT obligations, on their nuclear program?

  6. I think your comment about the Ten Commandments is superfluous as is engaging in theological debate. The original Ten Commandments are a tribal code for dealing with people of the Tribe. This is why the most famous of all, Though Shalt Not Murder, refers specifically to murder, not the misinterpreted and universal Kill. There is nothing in the Ten Commandments that forbids killing, stealing, etc. from other tribes, and as a proof, just read the book of Joshua, where God orders the stealing of someone else’s land and the genocide of men, women, elderly, down to the babies and farm animals – for the only reason of having dwelt on a land that a real estate agent God has promised to his chosen tribe…

  7. Dagan has been a fount of sensible insight. Unfortunately, Bibi and his minions are now trying to tar his reputation with leaks portraying Dagan as somehow less-than-patriotic.

    Too bad Dagan can’t run for PM, but unless I’m mistaken, the law prevents someone who has held down a high military/intelligence post from immediately entering politics. I “think” the cool-down period is 2 to 3 years. Probably something one can find online but no time to check right now.

  8. I have to mention just one point:
    I don’t know exactly what Seymour Hersh wrote, but what I can say from reading the article on Lebanon Now is that Aviv Kochavi doesn’t say that Iran has just a civil nuclear program. He just says that they are not currently working on a nuclear bomb. I think this is something quite different. Having a bomb “on the shelf”, i.e. all the capacities to built a bomb within a short time, is exactly what it means to have a military nuclear program!!! Whether Iran actually decides to take the last step and built a bomb depends on their strategical calculus. Sanctioning Iran and containing it, is exactly one way to convince them that they shouldn’t even try to achieve these capacities.

    Bye the way: As Rafsandjani noted in the 90s, Iran doesn’t need to have 200 hundreds nuclear war heads to destroy Israel, three are enough if two of them hit their target. This should not imply that Iranian radicals want a nuclear war, not at all, because they know they would lose it. They just want to feel save enough to be able to give their proxies a carte blanche.

  9. —-‘The US, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China issued a joint statement today expressing “deepened concerns” over Iran’s “consistent failure” to comply with UN resolutions about possible military dimensions to its nuclear program. The statement was issued a day after Iran said it would triple production of 20-percent uranium and shift the production from Natanz to the underground bunker of Fardu.’—-

    this follows the earlier—

    IAEA Director Amano General Yukiya Amano, in a statement at the meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna on Monday, said that the agency has received “further information related to possible past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities that seem to point to the existence of possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.”

    • There can’t be military dimensions to Iran’s enrichment program unless they enrich to 95% or so, which they haven’t and probably at the moment cannot.

      A weapons program would involve gaining the technology to construct a warhead and learning how to enrich to weapons grade. There is no evidence whatsoever that Iran has made a decision to do so, and therefore no evidence that it has a weapons program. Having a civilian enrichment program is not the same as having a military program. They are two different tracks. There is no evidence for the second.

      • Juan, there isn’t going to be evidence of the decision prior to construction.

        there IS evidence that they’re working on bomb design, and working on modifying their long-range rockets for different types of warheads than the ones that they currently possess.

        • Of course there would be evidence of a weapons program if one existed.

          1. we entice defectors from the nuclear program and debrief them. some come out of with documents. No weapons program.

          2. US has world-beating signals intelligence capabilities. Telephone calls made by military and nuclear program officials are under surveillance. No evidence from signals of a weapons program. In fact in 2007 a call was intercepted by an angry IRGC commander complaining bitterly about the decision not to weaponize.

          3. IAEA inspectors certify that no uranium has been diverted to military purposes– i.e. the seals are unbroken.

          4. Inspectors find no signature of highly enriched uranium or plutonium

          5. Enriching to 95% would be power- and water- intensive and any such facility could be detected by satellite and other intelligence.

          The concern is not that there is a weapons program, it is that the civilian enrichment program might be made a platform at some point in the future for a crash high-enrichment program, using the stock of low enriched uranium already at hand. That is what is meant by a two-year window once a decision to weaponize has been made. But the intelligence estimates are that no such decision has been made, and likely none will be. Moreover, the two-year window has been repeatedly alleged of such programs, and was with regard to Iraq, and in the latter case it was a fantasy.

          Missiles are irrelevant and a red herring.

        • Wow, Fuster, were you this all-fired diligent when Israel, and for that matter South Africa and Pakistan, were secretly working on nuclear weapons?

          But then, all three countries were right-wing anti-Communist states, so we Americans knew they’d only use the bombs to slaughter the right people. Or as our racist cover story goes, only anti-American countries would launch nuclear first strikes on crowded cities.

          Which is why they suffered no consequences. And why no one dares imply that Israel is on an ideological road to hype itself into a nuclear first strike on Iran. Where’s the evidence of that? Who can tell when no government dares to even admit that Israeli nukes exist?

  10. wow yourself, supe, I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t as vigilant as I should have been and allowed the Israelis and Pakistanis to develop nukes. After that, I’ve increased my alert levels and helped to deny them to both the South Africans and the Libyans.

    Internal vigilence is the price I pay.

    until such time as Israel uses nuclear weapons in a first-strike against Iran, I’m gonna follow the line taken by some folks here, and say that there’s absolutely no proof of what you’re alleging.

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