Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security advisor talked about regional challenges facing Israel’s security at an event in New York City last week organized by Friends of European Leadership Network (ELNET).

Brig. Gen. Jacob Nagel, a current visiting professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, discussed the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), as well as Syria and Iran.

Of the latter, he called it a country that does not want peace. Rather, it is “a country that wants to annihilate Israel,” and said that Israel cannot accept an agreement with Syria that allows Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, to remain as ground forces in the country because they are threatening the security of the Jewish state.

He also explained why he believes that Israel’s strategic situation has never been better, bolstered by the support of U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration. And he noted circumstances such as Israel becoming a “superpower” in the field of energy; the fact that Israel has the strongest military in the region; the withstanding peace agreement between Israel, Egypt and Jordan; and the strong Israel-Russia alliance.

Weighing in on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Nagel said for negotiations to begin, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas must acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish democratic state. Abbas’s refusal to do so is the reason why he and Netanyahu have talked no more than seven hours in the last eight years, said the officer.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Israeli National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sept. 18, 2016. Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.

Addressing the ongoing violence coming from Hamas in the Gaza Strip—both protests at the border and the barrage of rocket fire earlier this month—Nagel said, “Why is there no solution? Because they don’t want a solution. They share the same view as the chief of the Israeli navy: that the future of Israel is in the sea. This is where their mind is at—that we should be in the sea. Not living.”

“They don’t want the 1967 borders; they want Jaffa, they want Nahariya, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem,” he continued. “The only chance for peace in the West Bank, Gaza or with the Palestinian Authority is if someone on the inside will rise up and say enough, we cannot get 100 percent. We cannot get the right of return. This is Israel, and Israel Is here to stay.”

He added that if Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sign an accord, “the Palestinians will understand their support is gone, and maybe they will come to the table.”

As for Hamas, he berated them for using funding—given to help their humanitarian crisis—to instead build more missiles and tunnels in the effort to attack Israel.

‘We have to be prepared to fight’

Nagel, who served as the head of Israel’s National Security Council, led negotiations and signed the agreement to give $38 billion in military aid to Israel from 2018 to 2027.

He explained that Israel is focused on toughing its military, economic, political, social and spiritual strength, and that the “Israeli force” is based on four pillars: deterrence, early warning, intelligence, and defensive power and offensive power.

“We have to be prepared; Israel doesn’t have the luxury to lose one war and then win another war,” he said. “The first war that we lose will be the last one. We have to be prepared to fight regular armies, paramilitary, terrorists, terror along our borders and all over the world, in addition to cyber attacks and, of course, threats to our legitimacy.”

From May 2011 to December 2015, Nagel headed the Strategic and Defense Policy Directorate at Israel’s NSC, where he led a team of Israeli experts that worked with the countries that negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Additionally, he headed the Nagel Committee, named after him, which was responsible for Israel’s decision to develop the Iron Dome air-defense defense system.

Nagel explained that out of every 100 missiles fired at Israel, Iron Dome does not try to intercept 75 percent of them because it knows the missiles will land in unpopulated areas. Of the other 25 percent, the Iron Dome will fail to intercept about four or five missiles, which can strike populated areas, forcing locals to take cover in bomb shelters.

The brigadier general concluded his speech with a metaphor about Israel’s strength, saying, “We are living in a jungle. Israel is the villa in the jungle. All the elephants, the lions … they want to be together with you in the villa, but in the villa, there’s only one way to survive. You have to be strong, and you have to make sure that the others will be afraid of you and understand that they cannot attack you; otherwise, they will be the ones who won’t survive.”