Former Mossad Chief: Attacking Iran Before ‘Exploring All Other Approaches’ Is ‘Not The Right Way’

Former Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan

The former head of Israel’s vaunted Mossad spy agency, who retired just last year, warned American television audiences against attacking Iran before all other options have been exhausted. Meir Dagan, the legendary spymaster and former paratrooper, made the comments in an interview with CBS News’ Leslie Stahl. A portion of the discussion aired last night, with more to come Sunday on the news magazine 60 Minutes.

Asked by Stahl about his comments last year that attacking Iran is “the stupidest thing I have ever heard,” Dagan responded that the West had “more time” before such a decision needed to be made:

DAGAN: An attack on Iran before you’re exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do it.

STAHL: The dispute seems to come down, though, to whether you are at the end of everything that you can try or whether you have a lot of time left to try other things, which seems to be your position.

DAGAN: I never said that it’s a lot of time, but I think that…

STAHL: Well, more time.

DAGAN: More time.

Stahl commented that while head of the Mossad, which he ran from 2002 to 2011, Dagan poured over detailed intelligence about Iran, “gaining insight and a surprising appreciation.” The camera cut to the interview, and Dagan declared: “The regime in Iran is a very rational regime.” Stahl then questioned him about whether Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was “rational”:

DAGAN: The answer is yes. Not exactly our rational, but think that he is rational.

STAHL: So, you think they’re rational enough that they are capable of backing down from this?

DAGAN: No doubt that the Iranian regime is — maybe not exactly rational based on what I call western thinking, but no doubt that they are considering all the implications of their action.

Watch the interview clip that aired last night:

Dagan’s assertion that Iran is “rational” tracks with what the top U.S. military officer Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, top U.S. intelligence officer Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and President Obama have said about the Iranian regime: that it operates on a cost-benefit analysis based on its interests, and can therefore be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

According to reported but still secret U.S. and Israeli intelligence estimates, Iran has not yet made a decision to build a nuclear bomb. That notion was openly discussed by Clapper and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last month on Capitol Hill. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), did not conclude that Iran was building a bomb in its latest report on the program last month, despite warning about “serious concerns” of “possibly military dimensions” to the program. The IAEA is also reportedly concerned that the Iranians are making attempts to cleanse a military site of nuclear weapons related work.

Iranian stonewalling and behavior have raised these concerns in the U.S. as well. Last month, delivering a speech to the Israeli American Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama ruled out containment of a nuclear-armed Iran, warning that an Iranian bomb posed a threat to the U.S. and its allies, as well as the international non-proliferation regime. Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice concisely laid out the Obama administration’s policy, and said a negotiated, diplomatic end to the crisis was the “best and most permanent way” to end the standoff.