J.J. Goldberg

Taliban, Qaeda Flee Afghan in Panic. Plus: More Israeli Defense Bigs Rip Bibi, Welcome P.A. Unity

By J.J. Goldberg

Taliban and Al Qaeda members are fleeing northern Afghanistan in disarray, amid a “collapse of morale” following the death of bin Laden, Juan Cole reports on his “Informed Comment blog.

It appears that the Taliban were still linked to, and perhaps taking direction from, al-Qaeda, more than most analysts had suspected. It also appears that Bin Laden had more of an operational, strategizing role than we had thought.

If it is true that radicals are fleeing Qunduz, and indeed other provinces as well, and heading for safe havens in places like North Waziristan in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt, it is likely primarily because they had direct contact with Usama Bin Laden and now fear that information about them is in American hands, since the SEALS captured his hard drives and thumb drives.

Speaking of disarray, there are more and more signs of alarm within Israel’s defense and intelligence establishment regarding the cliff toward which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is resolutely leading the country.

Meir Dagan, the long-serving former Mossad director who was a close ally of Ariel Sharon, told a conference at Hebrew University on Friday that a military attack on Iran’s nuclear project, an option cherished by Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak, is “the stupidest idea I ever heard.”

Dagan was immediately lambasted by Barak and finance minister Yuval Steinitz, a frequent Netanyahu surrogate. Both said he should have kept his mouth shut. But a string of top security honchos sprang to his defense, including former Mossad directors Danny Yatom and Ephraim Halevy. So did Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee chairman Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff and Ariel Sharon’s defense minister.

Dagan has been in this movie before. The day after he stepped down as Mossad chief in January, he testified before the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee and said Iran could not acquire a nuclear bomb before 2015 at the earliest. He said that Western sanctions and various accidents plaguing the Iranian project were continually pushing the date further and further into the future. (Here is the latest Iranian public acknowledgment of the serious threat that last year’s Stuxnet virus posed to the computer guidance of their centrifuges. They say it’s mostly under control, but it’s not. Here’s the head of the Iranian miltary’s cyber-defense unit in the Iranian army describing yet another virus they found in their nuke computers just two weeks ago.)

That drove Bibi ballistic, according to numerous press reports (including this piece by Ari Shavit in Haaretz, who agreed with Bibi that Dagan was irresponsible.

Dagan sheepishly backpedaled a week later, allowing as how maybe Iran could have a bomb sooner than 2015. It seemed clear at the time that he had been bludgeoned into recanting. Now it’s obvious.

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