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Meir Dagan, gadfly

The outspoken former Israeli spy chief is a lens on internal Israeli debates that are often overlooked in the US.

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That Israel doesn't really have the ability to wipe out Iran's nuclear program (Iran has been preparing for that eventuality for years) on its own is widely understood (the musings of Jeffrey Goldberg notwithstanding) but it's considered bad form to acknowledge that the option isn't really on the table.

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Dagan isn't the only former Mossad boss having his say. Zvi Zamir, who stepped down as Mossad chief in 1974, spoke out earlier this month against what he termed the mishandling of security at a border post in the occupied Golan Heights, in which 23 mostly Syrian demonstrators were killed. He said a better fence would have prevented the demonstrators from nearing the Israeli troops stationed there. "I'm concerned by the fact that soldiers, my grandchildren, are firing at unarmed people," he told Israel Army Radio. "We are eroding the purity of arms."

But he also expressed reservations for Dagan's unprecedented bout of frank speaking. "I can't recall a Mossad chief that had this kind of outburst. I was as shocked as any reader and wondered why this was in the newspaper, but he didn't reveal any secrets."

Dagan has also been outspoken on the peace process. Earlier this month he said the Arab Peace Initiative, first put forward by Saudi Arabia in 2002, should be accepted by Israel. "We must adopt the Saudi initiative," he said. "We have no other way, and not because (Palestinians) are my top priority, but because I am concerned about Israel's well being and I want to do what I can to ensure Israel's existence. If we don't make proposals and if we don't take the initiative, we will eventually find ourselves in a corner.”

What is the initiative? It calls for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders, give up East Jerusalem as a capital for a future Palestinian state and, in exchange, receive full recognition and formal peace with all of its Arab neighbors. His comments came just a few weeks after President Obama was attacked by supporters of Israel for suggesting that a two-state solution should be based on the "1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps."

Republican presidential hopefuls described Obama's comment as variously a "betrayal" and "dangerous." Mitt Romney even trotted out the beltway's trope of the moment: Israel had been "thrown under the bus." Netanyahu was furious.

Clearly vast swathes of the Israeli establishment disagree with Dayan. But it's a reminder of how lively the debate is within Israel on the best route to peace and security, a fact that is often forgotten here in the US.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.

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