Ex-Mossad chief warns against attacking Iran

Meir Dagan, a former chief of Israel's vaunted Mossad intelligence agency, has issued a stinging rebuke of Israeli policies on Iran and the Palestinians, warning that Israel risks sliding headlong into a major regional conflict.

That such a wake-up call should come from Mr Dagan, a hardliner credited with masterminding some of Israel's most daring operations, reflects a deep unease felt by some of the security elite over Israel's growing isolation.

Better known for his discretion than for speaking out, Mr Dagan made a rare appeal to the country's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to take the initiative in reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians, and warned him against launching an attack on Iran that would encourage Tehran to press forward with its atomic programme.

"The war won't be against Iran, but will be a regional war," Mr Dagan said in an address to students at Tel Aviv University. "I recommend that the Prime Minister decide not to attack."

The unguarded remarks unleashed a deluge of criticism from top officials, who accused the former spy of undermining the threat of deterrence. Mr Netanyahu has identified Iran's nuclear ambitions as a threat to Israel, and has repeatedly demanded tougher sanctions backed by military action as a last resort.

But Mr Dagan, later talking privately to reporters, suggested Israel's leaders might act recklessly if backed into a corner by Palestinian efforts to seek membership of the UN in September and isolate Israel diplomatically.

In a recent speech addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr Netanyahu failed to present any new ideas, rehashing instead a list of security demands necessary for any deal.

"There needs to be an Israeli peace initiative," Mr Dagan said. "If we don't offer things and don't take the initiative, we might be put in a corner. Given the choice between put in a corner or taking the initiative, initiative is better."

He suggested Israel adopt a discarded Saudi initiative of peace with the Arab world in return for withdrawing from territories Israel captured in 1967.