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ISRAEL: New chief named to take over Mossad from Meir Dagan

November 30, 2010 |  8:16 pm

 Monday's announcement of the next chief of Israel's Mossad ended the mystery about who will succeed leadership of the country's spy agency. Tamir Pardo, known to the public until now only as "T" and to his neighbors as the guy next door, was tapped this week to fill the formidable pair of shoes soon to be vacated by Meir Dagan, once dubbed  in the Arab press as the "Superman of the Jewish State."

Pardo, 57, a father and grandfather, served in the Israel Defense Force's elite Sayeret Matkal unit and took part in the 1976 operation to rescue the hostages on the hijacked Air France plane at Entebbe, Uganda. Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was killed in the operation, and Pardo reportedly had remained a close friend of the family.

Netanyahu's choice of Pardo met with the approval of his defense minister, Ehud Barak, despite his support for GSS chief Yuval Diskin as successor. Pardo is "the right person to lead the organization over the next few years, in light of the complex challenges facing the State of Israel," Netanyahu said.

Pardo said he was excited about the appointment. "I have big shoes to fill and a lot of work", he told reporters, and asked that his family's privacy be respected. Mossad and Shin Bet chiefs weren't publicly identified until 1996 (for security, not privacy). 

The appointment, still subject to approval, is being received with a thumbs-up across the board. "The right man in the right place," was the headline in Yisrael Hayom, a popular daily freesheet. Directly above it appeared a photo from the scene where a nuclear scientist had been killed in Tehran the previous day. "Last shot for Dagan?" said a headline.

Pardo entered service in the Mossad in 1980, in the same "class" of another well-known "T" -- opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Rising through the ranks over 30 years of service, Pardo is "home grown" and knows the ins and outs of the organization's every corner. Colleagues and acquaintances describe him as very clever, intelligent and balanced. Analyst Alex Fishman writes that he is a "classic Mossad man", a combination of "professional-operational skills with political comprehension and diplomatic skill." He lists another trait, perhaps no less important -- "a normal ego."

After serving a wide range of positions,  including command of operations divisions and a deputy directorship, Pardo was "lent" to the military as a senior advisor and liaison in 2006 to manage special operations, including a raid on Baalbek during Israel's war against Hezbollah that summer. Besides being an operational asset, Pardo's good relations with the army will also spare the usual energy-suck of inter-agency coordination that plagues many systems.

Some experts figured Pardo was earmarked for chiefdom some time back, but Dagan was in no hurry to retire and seemed reluctant to groom a successor. Repeated extensions of Meir Dagan's tenure frustrated Pardo and other bottle-necked deputies, who quit in a huff. After his army stint, Pardo was restored again as deputy but stormed out last year when Netanyahu signalled that Dagan would stay on. 

In 2002, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon brought longtime friend Meir Dagan back from the brink of retirement and placed him at the head of Mossad and told him he wanted an organization with "a knife between its teeth." Dagan's early years were bumpy and marred by policy upheavals, writes espionage expert Yossi Melman, but once he settled (and also started listening to associates), Dagan flourished. 

Besides leaving Pardo a very operational-minded Mossad, with a long record of widely assumed but never-admitted exploits believed to include the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Melman writes that beyond everything else, Dagan's tenure will be most remembered as "a time Mossad was systematically able to hamper Iran's nuclear efforts," though not halt them.

Many had criticized repeated extensions of Dagan's reign, extended several times to an eight-year term, making him the second-longest serving chief in the organization's history. Criticism increased amid the diplomatic backlash after the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai early this year.

Historian Michael Bar-Zohar, co-author of the recent "Mossad: The Great Operations," didn't think replacing Dagan was a must at this time. "If it ain't broken, don't fix it," he told Israeli radio Tuesday, especially when things with Iran are reaching a critical juncture. But Pardo knows this all "inside out" too, he said, noting that the new director had taken part in most of the agency's most dramatic operations, few of which are known to the public.


When the appointment was announced Monday, radio editor Nicolas Rosenbaum received a phone call. You mispronounced the new Mossad chief's name (a frequent mishap, as Hebrew is written without vowels), a woman told him. "It's 'Pardo," she said, "not 'Fredo." Do you know him?, he politely inquired. Most certainly, she said, "I gave birth to him."  Set straight by his mother, the next news bulletin got it right. You gotta love it.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Above: Israeli news report on the appointment/Jerusalem Online.