Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s spy agency Mossad, has been forced to seek a liver transplant in Belarus, Europe’s most autocratic state, after European and American surgeons reportedly refused to treat him. He is said to be in critical condition.
Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ hardline ruler, leaked details of the highly-secret medical operation late yesterday, revealing the patient’s identity only as a former head of Mossad. Israeli media worked out that the patient was Meir Dagan, 67, who stepped down as head of the spy agency last year.
Portraying himself as the Israeli’s last hope, Mr Lukashenko, who has funneled his country’s resources into shoring up the country’s dictatorship, said that he agreed to take in the high-profile patient after America, Sweden and Germany refused. “No one wanted to conduct this operation on a former head of the Mossad,” Israeli media quoted him as saying at a news conference.
Israeli officials have in recent years encountered growing hostility on trips abroad, particularly in Europe, and Britain moved to tighten its universal jurisdiction laws, which allowed the prosecution of foreign officials in the UK for international crimes, after pro-Palestinian groups sought the arrest of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni during a trip to Britain for alleged war crimes in Gaza.
Members of Mr Dagan’s family, contacted by Israeli journalists, refuted Mr Lukashenko’s version of events, stating that the former spy chief had never approached Sweden for a new liver, and that he only chose Belarus because he would have had to endure a lengthy wait in both Germany and the US.
Since undergoing the transplant 10 days ago, Mr Dagan is understood to be in a critical but stable condition after complications set in. He is thought to be in isolation in a hospital in Belarus still.
“His condition is not good,” the Israel Hayom newspaper quoted an associate as saying. “It's still unclear whether the transplant was successful and there have been a few troubling signs following the surgery.”
Born on a train in 1945 as his family was deported from the Soviet Union to a Nazi camp in Poland, Mr Dagan became one of Israel’s longest-serving spy chiefs, serving as head of the agency during one of its most aggressive periods, controversially targeting Palestinian militants for assassination.
Under Mr Dagan’s watch, Mossad has also been credited with the bombing of Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007, and with the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. The agency is also believed responsible for the killings of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus and Brig. Gen. Mohammed Suleiman, a senior figure in Syrian intelligence.
Mr Dagan stepped down from the agency at the beginning of last year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend his term. The end of his career was mired by the bungled assassination of a Hamas arms dealer in Dubai, widely believed to be a Mossad operation. Israeli agents were accused of using forged foreign, including British, identities to slip into Dubai, and Britain expelled a Mossad official over the affair, drawing a line under one of the more humiliating episodes in the spy agency’s history.
After leaving the state’s employ, Mr Dagan emerged as one of the most outspoken detractors of a pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, describing the idea last year as the “stupidest thing I have ever heard.”
Colleagues close to Mr Dagan reportedly criticised Belarus for leaking the whereabouts of the former spy chief, arguing that it put him in danger from groups seeking revenge.