Mossad's Chief Gets Agency Set for Action

Article excerpt

Byline: Jay Bushinsky, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

TEL AVIV - The Mossad, Israel's shadowy counterintelligence agency, is revving up for a relentless campaign against what its tough-minded chief, Meir Dagan, regards as the most serious threats to the Jewish state - large-scale terrorism perpetrated by regional extremists, and danger they may acquire weapons of mass destruction.

The campaign will be waged by means of state-of-the-art intelligence-gathering equipment, including space satellites, which have been launched independently by Israel, as well as shrewdly executed operations by agents able to avoid compromising themselves or implicating their handlers.

Mr. Dagan's strategy has filtered beyond Mossad's top-secret headquarters, but the precise tactics may never become known. Even if they are deduced, described or revealed by parties at the scenes of impact, Israeli officials will neither confirm them nor accept responsibility.

Like his political patron and wartime commander - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - Mr. Dagan, who was born Meir Huberman in 1945, is relatively fond of using biblical writ, partly because Hebrew is his native language and because his generation was taught to identify with the ancient Israelites.

One of their mottoes as combat commanders - both hold the rank of major general - can be found in the Bible's Book of Proverbs.

The King James version renders it as: "For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war." (Proverbs 24:6) But a more literal translation from the original Hebrew, favored by Jewish scholars, advocates "stratagems" or "ruses" rather than mere "counsel."

That verse always has inspired modern Israel's armed forces as well as Mossad operatives. It guided the Mossad's abduction of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960.

Eichmann, as an SS officer in World War II, organized the Holocaust's mass deportations of European Jews to death camps in Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries. Mr. Dagan's parents survived the genocide and he was born immediately after it ended.

Mr. Sharon chose Mr. Dagan largely because of his outstanding combat record during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when he was the first officer to cross the Suez Canal under Mr. Sharon's command.

Recalling that and many other feats of courage, Mr. Sharon wanted Mr. Dagan to take over the Mossad before the anticipated U.S. military onslaught against Iraq.

Amir Oren, military and intelligence analyst for the daily Ha'aretz, said, "Twelve years ago, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, then-Capt. Dagan ... initiated far-reaching operations deep inside Iraq."

In 1973, he volunteered to serve in Mr. Sharon's division, which was deployed in the western Sinai Peninsula. At one point, Mr. Dagan and his elite unit surrounded and killed Egyptian fire-control officers, said Mr. Oren.

A specialist in the Mossad who insisted on anonymity said Mr. Dagan did not conform to the standard image of an Israeli general.

"He is laid-back, prefers the privacy and isolation of his home in Rosh Pina, Upper Galilee, and likes to spend his time there as a sculptor.

"Upon retirement from active duty, he teamed up with another demobilized senior officer and spent an entire year trekking across Asia - if not on foot then by every other conceivable conveyance, animal or mechanical."

Daring operations, especially behind enemy lines, were termed Mr. Dagan's strength, the specialist said.

"He was ruthless despite his soft-spoken manner and his incongruous appearance - short, stocky and with a slight limp. …