Meir Huberman (later Dagan) was born on a train between the Soviet Union and Poland during World War II to Polish Jewish parents who were fleeing Poland for the Soviet Union to escape the Holocaust. His maternal grandfather, Ber Erlich Sloshny, was killed by the Nazis. In 2009, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published two photos of Nazi soldiers standing next to a kneeling Sloshny shortly before they shot him. During his term as Director-General of the Mossad, Dagan kept one of the photographs hanging in his office. Meir and his parents survived the Holocaust, and in 1950, the family made aliyah to Israel. During the ship's approach to Israel, it encountered a storm, during which Meir stood on the stern, praying to reach the shore safely. The family initially lived in an immigrant camp in Lod before settling in Bat Yam, where Meir grew up and his parents ran a laundry business.
Dagan was conscripted into the IDF in 1963. He was considered for the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, but ended up joining the Paratroopers Brigade. He completed his compulsory service in 1966, but was called up as a reservist in 1967, and fought in the Six-Day War as an officer, commanding a paratrooper platoon on the Sinai front. In the early 1970s, he commanded an ad hoc undercover commando unit, known as Sayeret Rimon, whose task was to combat the increasing violence in the Palestinian territories. In 1971, he received a Medal of Courage for tackling a wanted terrorist who was holding a live grenade. Dagan later fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur War as an officer on the Sinai front, and participated in the crossing of the Suez Canal. During the 1982 Lebanon War, he commanded the Barak Armored Brigade, and was one of the first brigade commanders to enter Beirut. In the 1990s, he held a series of high-level positions in the IDF command, eventually reaching the rank of Major General before retiring from the army in 1995, after 32 years of service.
Dagan later served as a counterterrorism adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he initially served as a National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon appointed him Director-General of Mossad in August 2002, replacing outgoing Director Efraim Halevy. As Mossad director, Dagan was responsible for intelligence, counter-intelligence, and counter-terrorism activities outside of Israel and the Palestinian Territories (which are under the jurisdiction of Shabak as they are considered domestic areas). He was allegedly aggressive in ordering killings of terrorists on foreign soil. According to Mossad veteran Gad Shimron, “Israel is in the paradoxical situation of not having a death penalty but allowing itself to target Arab terrorists outside its borders with almost complete impunity. Meir Dagan fully subscribes to this thinking, unlike some of his predecessors.” By November 2004, at least four foreign terrorists had already been killed in suspected Mossad operations, and three major terrorist attacks planned against Israeli civilians abroad had been foiled.
Ehud Yatom, a member of the Knesset Subcommittee on Secret Services, stated that “as someone who is privy to the facts but not at liberty to divulge them, I can say this with complete authority. The Mossad under Meir Dagan has undergone a revolution in terms of organization, intelligence and operations.” Under Dagan's watch, Mossad tripled its recruitment efforts, launching a website where people can apply to join. Reportedly, much of its annual budget of $350 million was diverted from traditional intelligence gathering and analysis to field operations and “special tasks.”
Dagan was reconfirmed as Mossad director until the end of 2008 by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in February 2007, and in June 2008, Olmert again extended his tenure until the end of 2009.
He was re-appointed in 2009 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve until the end of 2010. In June 2010, a report from Channel 2 stated that Netanyahu had denied a request by Dagan for another year as Mossad director, though this was quickly denied by the Prime Minister's Office. In November 2010, Tamir Pardo was announced as his replacement.
Following his departure, Dagan made several controversial public statements concerning the prudence of an Israeli military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, openly contradicting the positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu. He called it a “stupid idea” in a May 2011 conference. After Dagan voiced criticism of the Prime Minister, he was asked to return his diplomatic passport before its expiry date. Dagan repeated the opinion in a March 2012 interview with Lesley Stahl of CBS News' 60 Minutes, calling an Israeli attack of Iran before other options were exhausted “the stupidest idea” and saying he considered the Iranians “a very rational regime.”
Dagan served as the director of the Israel Port Authority, and in 2011 was appointed chairman of Gulliver Energy Ltd., which announced that it intended to mine uranium at a license in the Dead Sea area and drill in search of gold near Eilat.
On October 17, 2012, it was reported that Dagan had been suffering from a previously undisclosed illness, and had undergone a successful liver transplant in Belarus ten days before. As criteria for a liver transplant in Israel dictate the patient must be no older than 65, the 67-year-old Dagan had to seek treatment abroad. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman helped facilitate the operation. On October 27, 2012, Dagan returned to Israel and was immediately hospitalized. He was discharged from Ichilov Hospital and began recuperating. Dagan was accompanied throughout his ordeal by Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, with whom he developed a close relationship, and later reciprocated by helping Firer raise funds for a new rehabilitation center.
Dagan was a vegetarian and an amateur painter, who studied painting and sculpture at Tel Aviv University. He was married with three children.
Meir Dagan died on the 17th of March 2016, at age 71.