Meir Dagan, the former longtime chief of Israel's intelligence service, Mossad, has died of cancer at the age of 71, the Israeli prime minister's office said.

"The Mossad announces that former Mossad Director Meir Dagan passed away this morning," the office said in a statement published on Thursday.

Dagan joined the Israeli army in 1963 as a paratrooper and commanded a company in the Sinai desert during the war in 1967.

In 1970, under command of then-army leader Ariel Sharon, Dagan formed the Sayeret Rimon, a unit of soldiers disguised as Arab locals that worked in the Gaza Strip to locate Palestinian fighters.

Dagan directed the Mossad from 2002 to 2011. Under his leadership, the spy agency reportedly carried out covert attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists and unleashed cyber-attacks, including the Stuxnet virus that delayed the Iranian nuclear programme.

After he stepped down, Dagan was a fierce opponent of a military strike in Iran. He openly criticised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opposition to the recently implemented nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Born in 1945 in Ukraine to Holocaust survivors, Dagan reached the rank of general in the Israeli army.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies