JERUSALEM – Meir Dagan, a former Israeli general and longtime director of its spy agency, died Thursday. He was 71.
Dagan directed the Mossad from 2002 until he retired in early 2011. Under his leadership, the Mossad reportedly carried out covert attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists and unleashed cyberattacks, including the Stuxnet virus, developed in cooperation with the U.S., that delayed the Iranian nuclear program.
Israel has never publicly confirmed any role in the Stuxnet virus attacks, but its involvement is widely assumed both inside and outside the country.
Dagan’s operations against the Iranian nuclear program restored pride in the Mossad after botched overseas operations, said Ronen Bergman, who covers intelligence affairs for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth and is working on a history of the Mossad.
Dagan also cultivated ties with intelligence agencies in other Middle Eastern countries who shared Israel’s fear of Iranian nuclear aspirations, Bergman said.
In recent years Dagan became a fierce opponent of a military strike in Iran. He openly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the recently implemented nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Despite their differences, Netanyahu helped Dagan arrange a liver transplant in Belarus in 2012 after he could not undergo the procedure in Israel due to his age.
Netanyahu praised Dagan Thursday.
“A great warrior has passed away. May his memory be a blessing,” Netanyahu said.
Born in 1945 in Ukraine to Holocaust survivors, Dagan reached the rank of general in the Israeli army and was known for innovations in battling terrorism. In the 1970s he pioneered what became the “Mistaravim” unit, in which Israeli commandoes go undercover as Palestinians to capture terrorism suspects.
Dagan was appointed to head the Mossad by the late former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and shared his knack for bypassing traditional protocol to achieve military goals, Bergman said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said Dagan’s “devotion to the Jewish state was absolute.”
“Meir Dagan, a giant among giants as he was known, symbolized to many the Holocaust and rebirth,” Rivlin said in a statement.
Dagan is survived by his wife and three children.