Visiting Professor Brigadier General (Res.) Jacob Nagel heads the Center for Security Science and Technology and the Peter Munk Research Institute, teaching classes on R&D strategy, policy, and systems engineering. Prior to joining the Technion in 2017, he served as acting head of Israel’s National Security Council and as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security advisor.
Jennifer Frey (JF): Can you comment on the current and future state of Israel’s security?
Jacob Nagel (JN): Israel’s overall strategic balance is very good. Why? We look around and we see the world in chaos. There’s tension between the superpowers — power fights in Saudi Arabia, upheavals in Syria and the Ukraine, issues with energy prices, arms control, cyberattacks, and trade wars. I’m looking at all of those tensions and fortunately I don’t see Israel’s name inside.
Israel has its own threats, namely Iran. Yet standing up to Iran has enhanced mutual interests and connections with the U.S. and the moderate Gulf countries. We have a president in the U.S. that is a very good friend of Israel, moving the embassy to Jerusalem and now declaring the Golan Heights part of Israel. God finally sent us some energy resources. Israel has superior technology and cyberpower, so a lot of the countries around the world are looking to enhance their relations with Israel. When I look at whether the glass is half full or half empty, I see it for sure as half full.
JF: What are the top three research projects you’re heading at the Technion?
JN: First of all, Israel needs intelligence surveillance from space to stay safe. Better surveillance requires sending bigger cameras into orbit, and there isn’t room on our satellites. We’re developing a folding telescope that will be relatively small in the payload but will open to twice the size in space, and with lighter materials.
We also need faster missiles. Ramjet rocket propulsion allows you to launch missiles at three to five times the speed of sound. We’re developing a liquid fuel rocket demonstrator using ramjet technology. And everyone uses drones for intelligence, but they are noisy. So we’re developing a technology to measure the noise and create quieter drones.
JF: You’ve held many high-profile government and military positions. What motivated you to transition to academia? And why the Technion?
JN: I wanted to bring my 40-plus years of experience in government and intelligence to teach the students how to initiate and manage R&D. I’m focused not only on research and papers, but on connecting the real-life requests of the customer — mainly the IDF and the Ministry of Defense — and the capabilities of industry with the game-changing ideas of Israel’s brightest minds, namely Technion professors and their students. The Technion is undoubtedly the elite academic unit to do this job. The place where you can take your ideas to outer space, and you are allowed to dream. I know that not all the ideas will mature, but if we are not daring, Israel cannot maintain or enhance its relative advantage.