Former Mossad chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Meir Dagan slammed the current administration on Saturday night in front of a crowd of some 80,000 at a rally in Rabin Square. "I fear our current leadership," he said, warning that the Gaza war "ended with no deterrence and no diplomatic achievements."
"I am here as a soldier who wants to do everything required and possible for the state that I have dedicated 45 years to defend. I have no other aspirations," he told a receptive crowd in the square where Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated almost two decades ago.
Recalling the trying times during his service in which he valiantly fought to defend the country, Dagan remembered that in 1973 "I thought if they cannot destroy us now they probably never will. I still believe that today. Israel is surrounded by enemies. Enemies do not scare me; I worry about our leadership."
Dagan said he fears "there is a lack of vision, a lack of direction and determination, and a dearth of exemplary leadership. I fear hesitation and stagnation. I fear – above all – a crisis at the helm. The crisis we are experiencing today is the worst that I can remember since the creation of the state."
"For six consecutive years Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled as prime minister. Six years in which he did not lead one real move to change the face of the region or to create the foundation for a better future," he told the crowd in his impassioned address.
Though claiming to represent no faction, Dagan nevertheless harshly criticized the policies of Netanyahu without mentioning his coalition partners. "On his watch Israel conducted its longest campaign since the War of Independence, during which the home front was under fire."
"For an entire summer the people of Israel sat in shelters while thousands of rockets were fired at them. We paid a heavy price in blood for a campaign that ended for nothing – no deterrence and no diplomatic achievements," he said.
Michal Kesten-Keidar, the widow Lieutenant Coronel Dolev Keidar, who was killed in Operation Protective Edge, shared her tale of loss. "No one is talking about the diplomatic process or peace agreements anymore," she said. "An entire election campaign is being run without mentioning the blood that was spilled here this summer. Maybe it's too scary. Too difficult. But I, last summer, lost the love of my life to war, and I have come here to ask you – when you go to the ballot box, vote for those who will try to prevent the next war. For those who are willing to do everything possible to prevent more deaths."
Referencing Netanyahu's response to the state comptroller's housing report, Kesten-Keidar said that "what's important is life itself. But you can't always talk about Iran and shut your eyes; you can't always talk about Iran and shut your eyes to the bloody conflict with the Palestinians, which costs us so much blood. How many lost women like me will lose their hearts, their lives? How many miserable parents will lose their sons until our country realized there's no other way but to reach an agreement? We have already lost our Dolev. Nothing will bring him back. But we have to prevent the next deaths.
I would give everything to prevent the last war. I won't be able to do that, but I ask you, for my sake, for my children's sake, I am begging you. We deserve hope. We deserve another, better life. Please, do everything you can to prevent to next war."
"We are all here because we can no longer stand idly. I sensed that Israel was losing its way and that we are galloping towards disaster – and that's why I'm here, and that's why I'm fighting this war on this stage that is so foreign to me," said Major General (res.) Amiram Levin. "We are in a war over the country's character and over its very existence. This is a war over the Zionist dream. This is war over our future, and our children's and grandchildren's futures. This is a war over our belonging to the family of enlightened peoples in the world."
Levin said Netanyahu had failed to bring security to Israel. "Ask the residents of the Gaza envelope, who for the first time lost faith in the security forces. Ask the residents of Jerusalem. We are in imminent danger of losing our character as a Jewish state and as a cultured and enlightened society. But there is another way. We must change course, and we can change course."
Josef Regev, who was in the first IDF tank to cross the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War and was gravely wounded in the fighting, lashed out at Netanyahu. "I learned the hard way the horrors of war. Last year, my friends and I led the call for reviving work on an agreement. But we were disappointed to learn that the prime minister's conduct only hurts the possibility of reaching an agreement."
He urged the crowd to vote in the election for new leadership to push the peace process forward. "To preserve our national strength we need a courageous and responsible government. That's why, on March 17, all of us must go out and vote. For our future and for the generations to come, we must replace the administration."
The rally's organizers explained that they expect "a mass show of force, with Rabin Square filling up with hundreds of thousands demanding to replace the administration and change the priorities of the state."
The list of slated speakers included Michal Kesten-Keidar (the widow of Lt.-Col. Dolev Keidar, killed in Operation Protective Edge), social activist Orly Bar-Lev, and Maj. Gen. (res.) Amiram Levin.
Central avenues leading to the famous square were blocked starting at 6 pm. Police directed those arriving by private vehicle to use specific parking lots across the city to avoid massive congestion in the heart of Tel Aviv.
Before the rally, former Mossad chief Maj. Gen. (res) Dagan warned against allowing Netanyahu to continue implementing his 'dangerous' policies. "As one who served the State of Israel for 45 years in a series of security roles – including in our darkest hours – I feel that we are in a critical period for our future and our safety."
"I have no personal animosity towards the prime minister, his wife, his expenses, and his guests – I am only looking at the policies that he led. These are policies which are destructive to the future and the safety of Israel," stressed Dagan.
The former spy chief, who will headline the anti-Netanyahu protest, appealed to his fellow Israelis ahead of the rally. "As one who raised his kids here and is now raising grandchildren here, as one who believes with all his heart in the Zionist dream – I feel a threat to the continuation of that dream, and that is what I will address."
Shachar Hay and Gilad Morag contributed to this report.