Dagan’s First TV Interview
UPDATE: I originally featured the video of the interview. But Mako has removed the video. It is available via Vimeo here. But Mako is not permitting it to be embedded on sites outside Israel. If anyone knows how to access the video for embedding here let me know.
Ilana Dayan has the first interview former Mossad director Meir Dagan has ever given to Israeli TV. For many Israelis, it must be a bit like hearing Marcel Marceau speak the first word of his career, as Dagan has a reputation for being exceedingly laconic and unwilling to speak publicly or to the press. He’s changed his view over the past year since he’s left the agency and faced the very real prospect of an Israeli war against Iran.
Dayan is a superb interviewer who both brings out the best in her interviewees by being sympathetic to them, but also by challenging them in a dramatic fashion. For example, at one point she says to him: Barak says we have to act within the next nine months or Iran will have the bomb. You say we have till 2015. What if you are wrong? What if we wait as you suggest and they get the bomb and the Jewish people face a Holocaust? We will then have a situation we never experienced, in which we will face a nation of madmen with a nuclear weapon.
Dagan’s reply is quite interesting. He disagrees with her and says: Iran acts as a rational state. It takes into account the implications of its actions [and those of others]. Therefore, it’s not in a mad dash to get a nuclear weapon. Dayan responds: are you telling me that Ahmadinejad is a rational man [in Hebrew, she calls him a “rational goy” which is an odd, slightly racist locution]? Dagan answers: I think he is a sophisticated individual, but his audience is not an Israeli or western one. The Iranians are sophisticated, quite wise, and we should not make the mistake of dismissing them.
He says that for Israel enter into a regional war with its eyes open, this [going to war] should be necessary only if we are attacked or the sword is “beginning to cut the meat off living flesh.” To Dayan’s question whether or not Israel can successfully fight a war against Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria, he concedes that it could. But he adds: what will happen the day after? We have to think about the high price we will have to pay for this victory. To Barak’s foolhardy claims that there will be no more than 500 Israeli dead after such an attack, Dagan responds that the level of destruction, of paralysis of normal life in Israel, the ability to conduct an orderly society for any length of time, the price we will pay in human lives [lost] will be higher.
Dagan fought in the 1973 War and its impact is seared into his consciousness. He remembers Israel’s leaders who told their soldiers there would not be a war. And they were wrong. Dead wrong. The cost in human life was enormous. This is what leads Dagan to tell Israel today that its leaders are not immune from making fatal mistakes.
There is also a great deal of discussion of the veteran Israeli spymaster’s philosophical approach to war. Given how much blood Dagan has shed himself and ordered others to shed, it may be hard to believe that he has a conscience about it, that he regrets it and hates war with every fiber of his body. But I came away from this interview being impressed with the man, that while he has chosen a path I would never choose, that he has made a good faith effort to discharge his task honorably, or as honorably as possible under the circumstances.
At the end, Dayan asks him whether if it were possible for him to erase all memories of war from his consciousness, both the good and the bad, would he do it? He answers: very willingly. Given the level of self-deception and outright lying of which most politicians are capable these days, it’s easy to say that Dagan is posturing for the camera or angling for a political career. But I felt him to be genuine, a real, complicated, tormented, conflicted human being. Someone real, unlike the charlatans and schemers who he advised and who now face the decision of whether to go to war against Iran.
UPDATE: A reader published a comment in this post’s thread about an interview with Dagan (Hebrew) that was published in Maariv by Ben Caspit just after he retired from his Mossad position. The Angry Arab has published a paraphrase of a portion of this interview which unfortunately was taken out of context. I wanted to put it into proper perspective and translate the relevant passages. But before I do I want to make clear that I don’t see my job as whitewashing or defending a figure like Dagan, who clearly has blood on his hands (as do many similar figures playing these roles in Hamas or Hezbollah or Iran). But I do think it’s important that we acknowledge that people like him are complex, nuanced individuals who are capable to being fierce while at the same time being pragmatic if necessary:
…The real Dagan is far from the image of him as a “killer,” an Arab-hater thirsty for blood which he’s acquired over the years. Yes, he was an especially ferocious fighter, wounded twice, so that ever since he’s not been able to bend his knees or bow. That is why he will never bow before anyone…
His world-view is complex. Yes, he is a devout follower of the warrior tradition. [Ariel] Sharon said about him many times that he was an expert “in severing an Arab’s head from his body,” but this folklore does him an injustice.
Dagan knows how to kill terrorists. But he is no fan of war. In private conversations, he said once that he’s been in too many wars and suffered too many wounds, and Israel must go to war only when it is attacked or when the knife is hovering in the air over its neck or when it “feels the blade pressing on its jugular.”
Angry Arab didn’t note that the passage above quoting Sharon was indeed a statement about Dagan by the former prime minister who appointed the former to the job of Mossad chief. In other words, the notion of beheading Arabs is part of folklore and adumbrated by Sharon, who was expressing his own personal views and less making any statement about Dagan’s actual wartime record. Sharon is also famous for having directed Dagan to pursue his mission leading the Mossad “with a knife in his teeth.” Again, this is as much or more a mirror of Sharon’s martial outlook than it is a factual statement about Dagan’s.
I have no doubt that Dagan has killed those he viewed as enemies of Israel. I have no doubt that he’s no angel. But I also have no doubt that generals and war heroes can sometimes work miracles and save their nations from making terrible, foolhardy errors. Gen. DeGaulle withdrew France from Algeria and Dwight Eisenhower warned American about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Menachem Begin, the former terrorist commander, signed a peace deal with Egypt. It is possible that those who’ve known the savagery of war will do everything in their power to avoid it.
In that sense, I think it’s no accident that Dick Cheney and George Bush, neither of whom had themselves served in battle, got America into one disastrous war and another that we won’t see the end of for a long time. Maybe Meir Dagan can help Israel avoid such disasters.
29 thoughts on “Dagan’s First TV Interview – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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This is not the first interview that Meir Dagan has ever given to Israeli TV.
What made you think that it was?
Also, he has spoken extensively at universities and conferences across Israel so I don’t believe that a comparison to a mime is a fair one.
I have not heard of any previous TV interviews. If you refute my claims it would be great if you offered proof. As for his appearances, if you’d listened to the interview you’d have heard Dagan himself say that his appearances are closed to the public. Did you miss that?
Several of his appearances were not only not closed to the public but have been videotaped and posted on YouTube.
His speech at Netanya college, for instance, can be found online and was covered in the Israeli and international press.
With respect to television interviews, there are also some posted online including one with Israel’s Channel 10 in June of this year.
There are also television interviews dating back to before his time with Mossad. One from 1998 is quoted on Wikipedia.
You haven’t offered any links which is what I requested. I’m not talking about before he was in the Mossad. He became taciturn when he took over the Mossad. You’ve offered a grand total of one interview since he left the Mossad without offering a link. Not that I don’t believe you. But if you want to make a claim allow us to verify it.
There was an interview with Dagan in Yediot Aharonot last week, in the Mussaf ’24’.
Regardless, it is a very interesting interview. Didn’t it bother you though that Dagan seems quite proud of his operations against the Iranians? He also refers to what happens to the Iranians as an “act of god”.
Here is the Netanya College speech
for non-Hebrew speakers, is there an English transcript of the interview anywhere (or even a Hebrew transcript)?
Not as far as I know. I did paraphrase parts of it in my post. I can ask some folks if there’s any way to translate it.
It was Ilana, who said it seemed that one hand is sabotaging Iran. When asked who? He answered in jest, maybe Gods.
Oops! It wasn’t Ilana – it was Irelander – previous head of Defense Committee and head of Shabak who said it seemed that one hand is sabotaging Iran. .
Given Dagan’s experience on the point of the spear confronting Iran, his characterization of Ahmadinejad as rational and his warning not to underestimate Iran needs to be considered carefully by the glib politicians in Tel Aviv so eager for a war to prevent Iran from…well…from continuing to lead the regional anti-Israeli front, to put it frankly.
Much can be said about this complex issue, but there is one really scary scenario that is seldom mentioned: the increasing probability of a miscalculation. I will just give one example.
If we accept Dagan’s assessment that Ahmadinejad is rational, then how must Ahmadinejad and the rest of the Iranian elite view Netanyahu, with his patently absurd comparison of Ahmadinejad to Hitler and the steady stream of Israeli threats to start a war? Would Iranian national security officials be likely to view Netanyahu as a “rational man?”
And if Iranian leaders become convinced that nuclear Israel is under the control of an irrational leader at the head of a religious and expansionist movement that hates Islam, what might such a perception of Israel tempt Iran or some of its sympathizers to do?
Dagan and Dikstra and Ashkenazi and other Israeli officials too low-level to dare to speak out have good reason to be concerned about the implications of Netanyahu’s warmongering. Whether Netanyahu is just bluffing or playing political games to con Congress into increasing aid or not may be beside the point. Convincing Iran that he is irrational is a very dangerous game.
“Dagan and Dikstra and Ashkenazi” – who is Dikstra?
Dikstra is such a secret Mossadik – no one knows who he is.
Once an Israeli knocked on the door of a flat in TLV.
“Can I see Cohen the Mossad agent”.
“No, no – Cohen the Mossad agent lives on the 3rd floor”
I agree re BB.
As far as I gather. Ahmanijad, as was hinted on channel 10 perished in the second blast in Iran thus, until I hear otherwise, is no more relevant. As a left wing member of a family decimated in the holocaust – if its true – all I can say is “yippee and yay”
First you’re spreading idiotic rumors. Second, you’re taking joy in the deaths of others. Both are not permitted. Therefore, you will subsequently be moderated until you can read & follow the comment rules.
On channel ten they said that he wasn’t behaving in his regular,
ranting way as he had done after all other ‘actions’ in Iran and that he seemed to have disappeared. It was felt he was killed in the blast. The reporter is very well known and very trust worthy. I mentioned it to be a rumor founded from ch.10. with explanations why it may be true. I would never gloat on the death of anyone – not ever. I was expressing the emotions of most Israelis, to silencing a man who denies the holocaust over and over, calling for our total elimination and soon having the means to do it .
I don’t care if the King of the Jews told you Ahmadinejad was dead. It pure bullshit & you will not spew such crap here. You will state facts & you will offer links & support for any claim that is not purely factual.
You certainly did gloat about his alleged death. Go back & reread what you wrote & don’t try to whitewash things. Remember when the angels rejoiced at the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea and God told them to stop because the Egyptians were His children as well as the Israelites. You seem to have forgotten that lesson.
You’ve also lied about what Ahmadinejad said. He did not call for anyone’s “elimination.” Nor will he soon have the means to do anything since Iran doesn’t have the bomb and he wouldn’t control its use even if it did.
Who’s the reporter? I just went to the Channel 10 website and they don’t have any recent stories on Mahmoud. Just one story on Iran about them complaining about the UAV overflight.
It was on London and Kirshenbaum (6pm news) – The reporter was Yeheskeli – Brilliant Middle East and Arab reporter a few days after the second blast. (BTW didn’t appear again after drone crashed or what ever) Contact him. I am sure he would be very very interested in speaking to you. He is brilliant and extreme only on one issue – making peace with the Palestinians.
As far as the rest of the extremely hurtful stuff you wrote about me – without knowing a thing about my history – its absolute junk.
Ahmanijad has called a thousand times for our elimination. I participated in a debate on the BBC world radio as to whether some calling for the destruction of another country should be allowed to attend as it is against the platform of the UN. For me it ended with a heart attack!
Iran isn’t building a bomb? – hmm you are the last on earth saying that!
That he may not have control over it – I don’t know the internal politics in Iran. I do know putting he button in the hands of the Ayalatulot is very dangerous ( this, knowing the crazy ultra religious here)
Once again Ahmadinejad has never called for Israel’s elimination. If you make this false claim again you will be moderated as patently false statements here are not permitted.
Many people say it is not clear that Iran is building a nulear weapon. I did say it wasn’t building a bomb. I said “IF is was building a bomb,” which is diff.
Personally, I think putting the button at the fingertips of the crazy ultra nationalists in the Israeli gov’t is just as frightening.
It’s a pity that (understandably) this interview was in Hebrew, I’d have liked to hear it all from the horse’s mouth.
I’m not sure of his assessment of Ahmadinejad who strikes me as being capable of being both rational and irrational, depending on conditions. A’s repeated interviews by members of the American press are examples of rationality, largely ignored by the West.
But the regime itself, despicable as it is in many respects, strikes me as very calculating and skilful in moving the pieces around the board, giving a bit where they feel they have too, taking where they can. Not a sign of genocidal/suicidal/Mad Moooollaahs at all.
The risk of a miscalculation on either side is very real and I agree with William on that. Netanyahu is in any case coming off worse than Ahmadinejad in terms fiery rhetoric, at least of lately. Bibi’s delusional descriptions of Israel as (past) bulwark against Communism and now as first fortification against the ‘approaching Muslim hordes’ is dangerous, even if we assume it’s intended mainly for internal Zionist consumption, because it’s heard around the world.
A military confrontation could not lead to victory for either side but would be extremely painful, more so for Israel I think. And the chances of such a spark igniting the whole of the ME should not be underestimated. Israel could not win a war against most of the ME: I doubt if it would find any allies in the region.
One has to hope that the whole sabre rattling spectacle really is just for show and part of a ‘who’ll blink first’ contest, even that as I write this backchannel talks are being held between Iranian and Israeli competent officials but I’m not holding my breath.
The whole Zionist outlook on Muslims, see for instance the ‘leftist’ Benny Morris’ stance on Muslims/Palestinians (as ‘barbarians’, analogous to a ‘serial killer’, seeking ‘genocide’ and ‘all of Palestine’) as the New Amalek is in itself perilous: with delusional views on ‘other’ one is far more likely to take regrettable decisions. Painting Iran as the new Nazi Germany might become a self fulfilling prophecy in terms of Israel’s response…
Is it common for Israeli TV personalities to refer to gentiles as Goy? Can you imagine the outrage if a Persian interviewer referred to Bibi as that crazy Jew, let alone more derogatory terms, say… that crazy Yid (actually, not that many derogatory words for Jews, Abe Foxman should invent some).
No, it’s not. In fact, I wasn’t familiar with this colloquialism (I’m less familiar with colloquial Hebrew). But a people who’s known so much hatred & oppression will tend to have derogatory terms for their enemy even after they stop being the enemy.
There are MANY derogatory terms for Jews though I don’t want to go into them here.
On the Angry Arab Blog, Asad Abu-Khalil has a contrasting view of Dagan and his interviews. The mention of beheading stories doesn’t have a link, so I can’t confirm it. However, such stories circulate about other leading men in the Israeli intelligence organisations.
There is no better example of the terrorism that resides at the heart of the Israeli state (and society) than recent interviews with the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan. … In an interview with one Israeli propaganda newspaper this week, he was casually asked about his reputation: that he really enjoyed severing the heads of Arabs from their bodies. Just like that. Can you imagine if an Arab had that reputation? Would he have been received in Western capitals?
I’ll write to him and ask for a reference. Dagan’s comments to Ilana Dayan completely contradict that alleged statement.
I just added an Update to this post. I think Abu Khalil got bogus info from whoever informed him about this statement. This was a quote from Ariel Sharon who was speaking about Sharon’s view of Dagan. At least in the Maariv interview from which I quoted neither Ben Caspit asked him about the Sharon statement nor did Dagan confirm it.
At the very end of the Ilana interview he told how he had convinced the mother of a killed Israeli soldier to allow her second son become combat. (In Israel the brother of a killed soldier is not allowed to be combatant unless there is parental consent). He saw the second son being killed. It was the last sentence of the interview – when he began to cry.
He is my man – we will be hearing a lot from him.
Thanks for reposting this interesting interview, your precis is good and fair. Right from the beginning, Dagan says there is no enjoyment from taking life, unless you are a psychopath. Dagan later on seems to want to put some distance between himself and his alleged close friendship with Sharon.
SpursFan, it is extremely common for Arabs, interviewed in Arabic, to refer to Israelis as the Jews and make similar condescending or hateful comments on those ethnic-lines. I dont know why Dayan used “goy” either in the interview, it is not a term one uses in Israeli medialand that often. Dayan was trying to provoke Dagan several times but he never took the bait. A cool character. Maybe his political afterlife will turn to countering the war cowboys in Israel, for the world’s benefit.
Yes, clearly Dayan was trying to provoke Dagan & use of the term “goy” was part of that. She was trying to create drama through overstatement even though that overstatement might be objectionable to many non-Jews (& rightfully so).
Goy simply means gentile – it has become derogatory over centuries of persecution. European Jews didn’t allow themselves to walk in the shadow of a church. (info:my mom)