"We haven't won yet"

Jacob Nagel credit: GPO
Jacob Nagel credit: GPO

Brig. Gen. (res.) Prof. Jacob Nagel, former head of Israel's National Security Council and Senior Fellow FDD, cautions that although the IDF is doing well, much work must be done to defeat Hamas.

Since the outbreak of fighting and the atrocities on October 7, the IDF has been gaining the upper hand and intensifying attacks on Hamas as each day passes. IDF fighters are inside the Gaza Strip, and according to the announcements of the IDF spokesman, fierce battles are being fought, some of them in hand-to-hand combat, against Hamas terrorists with the Israeli soldiers gaining the advantage.

With the war progressing relatively smoothly, some Israelis might feel the war is coming to a close and that victory is within the IDF's grasp. Brig. Gen. (res.) Prof. Jacob Nagel, Senior Fellow at the Washington DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and former Head of Israel's National Security Council, sees things differently.

He tells "Globes," "The IDF has restored some of its lost dignity, which was dealt a severe blow on October 7, but don't count your chickens before they have hatched. We haven't won yet. We still have a great deal of work ahead of us. It seems that the IDF is doing the right and important things and is maintaining the fog of war. The IDF has its feet on the ground, this gives it a great deal of intelligence and gets us closer to more information about the hostages. And the closer we are to them, the greater the chance that we will know more about their whereabouts."

"The US role is to deter Iran"

Nagel says that so far, the nature of the fighting is not what Hamas expected. "The army has not entered the tunnels as Hamas planned, but draws the terrorists out and deals with them above ground. So far the IDF has killed generals and other high-ranking officials, but except in one case, it still hasn't managed to get to Hamas's top two echelons."

Nagel adds that the challenge in finding and eliminating the top echelon of the terrorist organization is enormous. "Apparently many of the senior officials fled from the north of the Strip, to the south, or even left Gaza as cowards. In fact, we are not sure where Mohammed Deif, Yahya Sinwar and their close aides are hiding. Although the war cannot end without the full achievement of the war's goals as defined by the cabinet, including reaching the leaders. They are all mortal, and they all need to be killed."

Another issue Nagel refers to is international pressure. "We only have to consider one entity - the US. We can face Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north alone. So the main US role should be in deterring Iran, which itself is a threat to the US. The President and Congress are promoting an aid package of over $14 billion." Nagel illustrates the scale of US aid, "At the time I signed on behalf of Israel an aid package worth $38 billion dollars over 10 years. The current aid is extraordinary compared with everything we have known."

In addition to the aid, there is close involvement by the US, but Nagel is does not complain about it. "Until now, the demands have focused on issues related to humanitarian aid. I didn't like it at first, but it connects to our interest. I have no problem with a humanitarian pause to bring food, medicine and equipment into the southern Gaza Strip to convince people to move there. Everyone declares that Biden is asking for a ceasefire, but he is actually asking for a humanitarian pause, and there is a big difference between a pause and a ceasefire. Such a pause would take place in northern Gaza, as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, only with the release of hostages, and even then it is a matter of a pause for a few hours, which would not allow Hamas to arm itself."

"'The day after' must not affect the fighting"

Nagel also speaks about speculation on 'the day after' in Gaza. "We are far from achieving the goals of the war and are starting to talk nonsense about the day after. My plan, about which I have written extensively in various places, begins only after the achievement of all the aims of the war and it must not affect the strategy of the war, or be used as a brake on the achievement of the aims. The main points of my plan are that Israel will have full security control over the Strip and it will be completely cut off from any civilian responsibility and control. So who will control the Strip from a civilian point of view? We will take care of that together with the international community after the end of the war.

"Unfortunately, some of the solutions that have been put forward are from people who made mistakes in the past, which had disastrous results. I in no way accept the concept that the Palestinian Authority will be part of the solution and take responsibility for Gaza. This is the worst of all evils and a terrible idea that must not happen. We made mistakes in Oslo and disengagement, and we must not make another mistake."

It was recently reported that there is a dispute within the IDF on how quickly it is possible to proceed and how to cope with the tunnels. What is your opinion on the matter?

First of all, I don't think it's right or appropriate for operational debates to be conducted in the media, so I hope it's not true. In my opinion, the answer is clear. Do not enter the tunnels, unless there is concrete intelligence that there are prisoners inside. This is the only case in which I would enter a tunnel."

In recent days we have seen fewer rockets launched from Gaza. What is the reason for this in your opinion?

"They think that the war will be long and they want to hold back missiles for themselves for a longer time. They are aware that most of the rockets are intercepted and their goal, in my opinion, is to show that they still can, and that we have not disabled them completely, while making Israelis frustrated by the alerts and missiles. They do not control a large part of these missiles, but they operate on by timers and remote control. On the other hand, they probably really have lost some of their capabilities. The IDF has destroyed many launchers and controls quite a bit of territory in the Strip."

The shared and strange interest of both sides

How will we actually know if we have won?

"The answer is clear. When Hamas is no longer in Gaza. When we will see its leaders killed. Can I tell you that every tunnel will be dealt with? Absolutely not. Will there be some terrorists left in the tunnels? It's possible. But Hamas as an organization will not exist. Its leaders will no longer be alive and they will not be able to rule."

What about the north? What are the chances of war with Hezbollah?

"Nasrallah can surprise at any moment, we were already surprised in the south. It's better not to make that mistake again. He needs to understand that if he makes a mistake, he personally, and especially Lebanon, will pay an unbearable price. Regarding what should be done now, there is disagreement but my opinion is clear. Probably a strange interest has arisen with Iran, Hezbollah, the US and Israel not to start a full-scale war in the north.

"I don't know how long it will last, but during the war, even if it ends with complete success in the south, if we h not acted in the north, we would have had a huge problem.

"How can we look the residents of the north in the eyes and tell them 'go back to your homes' when (Hezbollah's) Radwan commando unit sits on the border, and which is much stronger than the Hamas terrorists? If we don't keep them away from the border and return to normal, as if nothing happened in the south, it will be a big mistake."

Despite the demand for action in the north, Nagel clarifies, "I want to remain within the framework of realistic goals, we will not destroy Hezbollah now, but we definitely need to take significant actions to address the threat to the fence in the north. So we can look in the eyes of those who live there and say to them: 'Come back, you are safe'".

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 7, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Jacob Nagel credit: GPO
Jacob Nagel credit: GPO
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