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Netanyahu’s former national security advisor provides a window into Israeli policy

Jacob Nagel headed Israel’s National Security Council from 2016-2017

Jacob Nagel, Israel's acting National Security Advisor at an event with Susan Rice, national security advisor to President Obama, and Tom Shannon, U.S. undersecretary of state, during a signing ceremony for the new 10-year defense assistance pact between the US and Israel at the Department of State in Washington, USA on September 14, 2016.

On this week’s episode of Jewish Insider’s podcast, co-hosts Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein are joined by Jacob Nagel, the former Israeli acting national security advisor and head of Israel’s National Security Council in 2016-2017. Nagel is currently a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a visiting professor at the Technion: Israel Institute of Technology within its aerospace engineering faculty. He is a reserve brigadier general in the Israeli Defense Forces and was involved in the development of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system.

During their conversation, Nagel touched upon Iran, the war in Ukraine and Israeli foreign policy.

Below are brief excerpts from the conversation:

On possible solutions to the Iranian issue that don’t require military action: “For the first time since the Shah went down,” Nagel said, “there is maybe, maybe a possibility that the Iranian people will take down the regime. So there is going to be regime change, and the new regime will understand that it’s better for Iran [to be the] Switzerland of the area, [and] they will abandon their wishes or dreams or aspirations about being a nuclear hegemony.” A second potential solution, he suggested, would be “a diplomatic solution. Like what happened in Libya, Iran will be blocked on all paths, on all issues, forever, from being a nuclear threshold country or a nuclear state. Ask me if it will happen by negotiations? No way.” Though Nagel asserted no other “peaceful” solutions exist, he added that there were about “15 or 20 ways to do it without kinetic war,” or active military action.

On Israel’s hesitancy to send weapon systems to Kyiv: The Israeli government — both past and present — has four reasons for not sending weapons to Ukraine, Nagel said. The first is not a question of “if,” but “how much, how many,” because if Israel sends the Iron Dome to Ukraine, he says, Iran will immediately capture the technology.  “Iron Dome is almost the most important system to defend Israel, so you think we will give it to Ukraine so it will go to Iran, so they will know how Hezbollah and Hamas and others will [act] against our systems? [That’s] insane,” he said.

The second reason, Nagel says, is that there aren’t enough Iron Dome systems in general, and Israel cannot afford to give one up. “What do you want from us? To take a system from Beersheva or Sderot or Tel Aviv and send it to Ukraine? We don’t have enough, and opening a production line takes two to three years to produce those systems,” Nigel said.

The third hesitancy, he explained revolves around timing — it takes too long to train Iron Dome operators how to work the system. “The two Iron Domes that we sold to the [U.S.] army, [it’s been] almost a year and [they’re] not operational yet,” Nagel said.

The final reason, which Nagel said the international community chooses to focus on while ignoring the other three issues, is Israel’s strategic relationship with Russia with regard to military action on the Jewish state’s northern border. “Yes, we have Russians in our area, they are our neighbors. There are some very good things about it, some bad things, but we still have full freedom. Not full, almost full freedom in the north to do what we need when they are violating one of our three red lines,” Nagel said. “But we don’t want to put the finger in the eyes of the Russians.”

Bonus lightning round: Favorite Yiddish word or phrase? “Bubbameister…I didn’t want to say, you know, bullshit, because bullshit is not nice, but bubbameister is the nice word in Yiddish for bullshit.”

Favorite Israeli wine? “I like the Ramat HaGolan ‘HeightsWine.’ If you don’t know what [it is,] it’s, Canadians have it, [it’s] very sweet. You have to drink it very, very, very cold. It’s called HeightsWine.”

Favorite Jewish food? “I like fish very much, and every opportunity that I have I eat fish, because at home, fish is not entering. My wife hates fish, and there [is] only one day in a year when fish [is allowed in] our home, it’s Rosh Hashanah.”

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