(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It is “fortunate” that Israel signed a $38 billion defense package with former US president Barack Obama because, with the cuts in US foreign aid under US President Donald Trump, it is not certain such a deal would be made today, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded, in English, “no comment,” to Steinitz’s remarks, which came at the weekly cabinet meeting.
As things turned out, Steinitz continued, reaching the deal under Obama “was good timing.”
This recorded exchange, picked up by Israel Radio, came as Netanyahu was taking leave of acting National Security Council head Yaakov Nagel, who was attending his last cabinet meeting in his current role.
Rice: Military aid deal, a memorandum of understanding, is win-win for US, Israel
The prime minister singled out Nagel’s work on the 10-year defense package, saying the deal – the largest security assistance package Israel has ever received and that the US has given to any country in its history – was “a very important achievement, which, of course, will serve the State of Israel in the coming decade.”
Nagel, who was instrumental in hammering out the deal, is leaving the NSC as of April 1. He took over as acting head in January 2016 when the agency’s former chief, Yossi Cohen, was appointed Mossad chief.
Netanyahu’s candidate to replace Cohen, Avriel Bar-Yosef, eventually withdrew his name from contention and is currently a suspect in conspiring with a German businessman to promote personal business interests surrounding the development of the Tamar and Leviathan gas reserves.
As a result, Nagel – a deputy head of the NSC since 2011 – stepped into the No. 1 slot on a temporary basis.
In November, Nagel declined an offer by Netanyahu to become the permanent head of the NSC, citing “personal reasons.”
With Nagel’s departure, Netanyahu’s small inner circle is getting smaller still.
A spokesman in the Prime Minister’s Office said “there is nothing yet to say” about who will replace Nagel.
A key foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu, Nagel’s departure follows quickly on the heels of the exit of another key prime ministerial adviser, Ran Baratz, who left as Netanyahu’s top media adviser in the beginning of February and has not yet been replaced.
Chief-of-staff Yoav Horowitz has emerged in recent weeks as a key player inside the PMO, as evidenced by the fact that he led Israel’s team to Washington last week for discussions on drawing up guidelines on building in the settlements. He was joined by the NSC’s Jonathan Schachter, who is emerging as Netanyahu’s key foreign-policy adviser.