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Dagan, Ofer and Israel's Growing Iran Credibility Gap

12 June 2011

By Juan Cole

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."


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