Friday, January 7, 2011

Ticking clocks and threats

As new people take the top spots in the army and Mossad, Iran will continue to be a major focus of their concern. In addition, the possibility of Israeli military action must remain on the table.

It's a safe assumption that outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan and outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, devoted considerable effort to thwarting the Iranian nuclear threat during their tenures. Dagan's eight-year term ended yesterday; Ashkenazi's four years will reach their conclusion in mid-February.

There were significant developments regarding Iran during these years: breakdowns of the centrifuges, shipments that did not reach their destination, revelations of embarrassing intelligence information at critical moments - and even exploding scientists. The international media, and sometimes the Iranians themselves, attributed these events to various Western espionage agencies.

Ashkenazi and Dagan are both said to have followed a pragmatic, moderate line concerning key strategic issues that are worrisome to Israel. Despite almost unavoidable turf wars between the heads of the security branches, a well-coordinated alignment was fashioned between them, along with the head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin (who will be concluding six years in office this May ).

In the last part of their terms, the three established a strong, influential axis that was difficult to bypass on crucial decisions. The Iranian issue is now being passed on to their successors. It will occupy a high place on the agenda of the new Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, and of the chief of staff-designate, Yoav Galant.

To date, neither Pardo nor Galant has expressed himself publicly on the subject. Galant's image here - and, perhaps more important, as perceived by Israel's neighbors - is one of a charismatic commander driven by a "can do" mentality. Still, it would be wrong to infer, from his relative hawkishness on Gaza, his views about a future confrontation in Lebanon or with Iran. The weight of responsibility is very different when one holds the top job.

The year ahead will see a few processes converging. In the international arena, the impact of the sanctions on Iran will increase, and the United States will grope its way out of neighboring Iraq. In Israel, along with the changes in the top ranks of the defense establishment, there might be a reshuffle of the coalition and possibly elections.

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