The former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, died on Thursday at the age of 71 of an illness according to a press release by the Prime Minister's office.
Dagan served as the Mossad chief from 2002-2011. A few years ago, Dagan underwent a liver transplant in Belarus and his health subsequently declined.
He was born in 1945, reportedly in a train somewhere between Poland and Russia, to two Holocaust survivors.
Ariel Sharon appointed Dagan in October 2002, telling him, the story goes, that he wanted “a Mossad with a knife between its teeth.”
Dagan is identified most with Israel's clandestine efforts to frustrate the Iranian nuclear program.
During his tenure, the Mossad was credited with the assassination of five Iranian scientists, the destruction of Iranian equipment relating to its nuclear program, and the introduction of viruses into the computers that controlled Iran's nuclear centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment site.
In 2008, Imad Mughniyeh, the man considered Hezbollah's "minister of defense," was assassinated in Damascus in what some say was a joint CIA and Mossad operation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warmly eulogized Dagan as a “courageous fighter and commander who contributed greatly to Israel's security.”
Netanyahu, whose policies on Iran and the Palestinians Dagan was sharply critical of in recent years, made mention of a picture Dagan had in his office of an elderly bearded Jew draped in a prayer shawl kneeling down in front of two Nazi soldiers with fists in the air. That man was Dagan's grandfather.
“The picture of his grandfather humiliated by the Nazis, just a short time before he was murdered in the Holocaust, was always in front of his eyes,” Netanyahu said.
“Meir was determined to ensure that the Jewish people would never be without strength or protection, and dedicated his life to ensuring the strength of the state of Israel. In the eight years that he was the head of the Mossad he led the organization on on courageous, groundbreaking missions that crossed borders. A great fighter has left us, may his memory be blessed.”
President Reuven Rivlin, who is currently on a state visit to Moscow, expressed his condolences over Dagan's death and said that Dagan was one of the "greatest and most brave warriors."
Rivlin said that the Nazi murder of his grandfather during the Holocaust greatly impacted his life.
"Last year on Holocaust Remembrance Day asked me to read out the names of his family [who perished in the Holocaust] and show the horrible photo of his grandfather."
"Dagan represented for me the Holocaust and the rebirth that came after it," Rivlin said.
“Look at this picture,” Dagan would often urge visitors to his office, according to an interview that appeared this past Holocaust Remembrance Day in Yediot Aharonot. “This man, kneeling down before the Nazis, was my grandfather just before he was murdered. I look at this picture every day and promise that the Holocaust will never happen again.”
Yossi Cohen, the current head of the Mossad, expressed his personal condolences and those of all of the Mossad's branches to the Dagan family.
IDF Chief of Staf Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said that with Dagan's death Israel "lost a man and a commander whose life was interwoven with the affairs of his time."
"A brave warrior, a hero of Israel, whose overt and covert acts formed an extended achievement on behalf of the state's security and prosperity."
Eisenkot described Dagan as a "friend and a comrade in arms whose figure will be sorely missed."
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog expressed his deepest sorrows on social media upon hearing of Dagan's passing.
"Meir was an Israeli hero who fought bravely against our enemies and those who wished us harm and worked with the same determination for the peace that he so desired," wrote Herzog on his Facebook page.
"The State of Israel owes him a great debt of gratitude for all he did during his service," he continued. "I share in deep mourning with his wife, children, grandchildren and friends on the passing of Meir who fought his illness for a long time with the inner strength reserved for heroes," wrote Herzog.
Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said, "The State of Israel, its citizens and Jews from all around the world owe a great debt to Meir Dagan for his many long years of security service and for his time as the Mossad chief. He contributed an incredible amount to the security and strength of the State of Israel against our enemies near and afar."
Tzipi Livni also expressed her remorse for the loss of a man who "looked deeply into the country and spoke his mind fearlessly from a place of heavy responsibility for the future of the country."
"I loved and admired him greatly as did everyone who worked for him," said Livni. "May his memory be a blessing.
Avigdor Liberman, the Yisrael Beytenu chairman, called Dagan a courageous man who displayed in his persona the courage and strength of the Israeli defense establishment.
"There are few who have contributed as much to the security of Israel," said Education Minister Naftali Bennet.
Dagan "stood at the battlefront with courage creativity and determination and Israel owes him a great debt."
Last January, Dagan voiced his concerns about the future of the State of Israel.
"I don't trust the leadership. I think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bennett [Minister of Education Naftali Bennett] are leading the State of Israel to become a bi-national state that to me is a disaster and the loss of the Zionist dream," he said.
In recent years, Dagan was a vociferous critic of Netanyahu's handling of the Iran nuclear issue. Dagan said Netanyahu damaged Israel’s strategic position in his attempt to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu turned Iran into an Israeli problem, and countries have begun to see themselves as not responsible for stopping Iran, because Israel will take care of it, Dagan argued.
“The person who brought the greatest strategic harm to Israel on the Iranian issue is the prime minister,” he said.
Herb Keinon, Gil Hoffman, Yossi Melman, and Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.
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