AS one of the men responsible for the Iron Dome defence system, Professor Yaakov Nagel should be listened to when he warns of Iran’s continual threat to the world.
The Israeli told me from his home in Rosh Ha’Ayin: “When (Prime Minister) Bibi Netanyahu visited (American Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo in Portugal earlier this month, he was asked what topics they would talk about.
“Bibi answered, ‘firstly Iran, secondly Iran and, thirdly, Iran’.
“Iran is not just a threat to Israel, with it providing missiles to Hezbollah, but to the whole world.”
Currently a visiting professor at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology’s aerospace engineering faculty, Prof Nagel spent more than 40 years in the country’s civil service, working for the Israel Defence Forces, the Defence Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.
And Prof Nagel’s distinguished career is a long way from what he describes as a “simple upbringing” in the city of Bnei Brak, which today is still a centre of ultra-Orthodoxy.
His Polish-born parents, Henia and Menachem, were Holocaust survivors and, like many children and grandchildren of survivors, their experiences had an effect on his psychology.
“There is no doubt about it,” Prof Nagel explained. “Growing up, we could never throw away any piece of food and, if somebody did not have, you had to give them half your food.
“I was raised in a simple home and shared a bedroom with my two sisters, but it was also a home full of love and warmth.
“I tell my children all the time when they are buying cars, and this and that!”
A particularly emotional moment came when he led a group of 200 Israel Defence Force officers on a week-long trip to Poland, visiting numerous concentration camps, before ending their trip at Auschwitz.
Prof Nagel recalled: “We were standing in our Israeli army uniform at Auschwitz singing the Hatikva and listening to the shofar being blown.
“We all had tears in our eyes — it was like the closure of a circle.
“My father always told me, ‘be strong and make sure Israel is strong so nothing like what happened happens again’.
“In truth, he never really understood the jobs I was doing for Israel, but he was happy as long as I had money and was doing my best for the State of Israel.”
Prof Nagel, who attended a high school yeshiva, served in several positions in the IDF’s Intelligence Corps from 1979 to 1996.
As expected, he is not allowed to divulge most of what his work involved, but he revealed he did spend four years in New Jersey, where he developed projects for Israel alongside the Americans.
After 17 years, he transferred to the Mafa’at, the Defence Ministry’s Research and Development Agency, where he headed the so-called ‘Nagel Committee’, which was responsible for Israel’s decision to develop Iron Dome as the nation’s short-range defence system.
Originally deployed near Beersheba in early 2011, it is designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells from distances of 2.5 miles to 70 miles away, and whose trajectory would take them to an Israeli populated area.
Prof Nagel explained: “Brigadier General Danny Gold decided to start the Iron Dome project.
“We found we first had a problem with missiles when they started heading towards us from the north, in around 2000, and then from the south.
“We needed to find a solution, so we gathered a group of physics, radar and computer simulation experts, as well as engineers, and we were delivered 14 to 24 proposals.
“The Americans were sceptical about it at first, but they eventually gave us $205 million towards the Iron Dome’s production.”
However, Iron Dome ironically prompted Iran and its proxies to develop advanced weapons themselves.
Prof Nagel, who has been married to Leora for 35 years, said: “Iran is not playing around.
“A year ago, it launched a missile and, written on it, in Arabic and Hebrew, was ‘Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth’.
“Iran is working towards killing us all — we used to have a joke in Israel that our navy’s chief of staff and Iran have one thing in common in that they both see the State of Israel’s future in the sea.
“Iran are long-term thinkers and planners — they are willing to wait.
“Iran wants to build a bomb and wants to establish a hegemony over the Middle East.”
As a response to the Shi’ite-majority Iran, Saudi Arabia and a number of Gulf states, which are of mainly Sunni origin, have begun to develop ties with Israel.
Father-of-four Prof Nagel, who also led the Israeli team which worked with the countries that negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, continued: “Iran funds almost every terrorist organisation in the Middle East, from Hezbollah to Yemen.
“We need to convince the world that Iran is not just Israel’s problem, but, sadly, many countries do not understand this.
“The Middle East is a jungle, and you must be strong to survive and not apologise for it.
“We will not play around when it comes to existential threats towards Israel
“We saw what happened 70 to 80 years ago and it must not happen again.”
The grandfather-of-seven also served as head of Israel’s National Security Council and, for just over a year, as Netanyahu’s acting national security adviser.
But, once again, he is bound by secrecy when it comes to revealing the finer details of what his job involved.
It did mean being present at meetings between Netanyahu and then-American president Barack Obama, as well as his successor Donald Trump.
Prof Nagel said: “Obama was okay, but, for example, during the 2014 Gaza War, he did not support us at the United Nations.
“When Bibi met Obama the atmosphere was cold, and he was tough to work with, especially when it came to the Palestinians.
“The atmosphere has changed since Trump came in — it is more warm.”
Now 62, Prof Nagel is taking life easier, after coming to the conclusion that it was not good for his wife and children that he worked 24/7, 365 days a year.
He is not optimistic, either, for the next generation of Israelis who will lead the country in its bid for peace with the Palestinians.
“We don’t actually have a partner for peace, not in Gaza and not in the Palestinian Authority,” Prof Nagel said.
“The Palestinians need to understand that they are not going to get 100 per cent of what they want when they come to the negotiating table.
“This is why we have to continue to be strong. We need a Palestinian Anwar Sadat, a man who was brave enough to come to Israel and say ‘enough’.”
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