Netanyahu taps veteran Iran hawk Tzachi Hanegbi to lead National Security Council

Longtime ally and former minister recently said incoming PM would strike Islamic Republic if US failed to stop Tehran’s nuclear program

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Tzachi Hanegbi attends a Conference of the 'Besheva' group in Kedem, in the West Bank, on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)
Tzachi Hanegbi attends a Conference of the 'Besheva' group in Kedem, in the West Bank, on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed his longtime political ally Tzachi Hanegbi as head of the National Security Council on Tuesday.

Hanegbi, 65, will replace Eyal Hulata, who has been National Security Advisor since July 2021.

Hanegbi, a veteran lawmaker for the Likud and Kadima parties, has headed a range of ministries over the past three decades, including the health, justice and public security ministries.

He has also been a minister tasked with overseeing the Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence agencies, the Atomic Energy Agency and security ties with the United States.

Hanegbi, a journalist and paratrooper during his IDF service, also served as deputy foreign minister and as head of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs Committee.

He is considered an expert — and a hawk — on Iran’s nuclear program.

In November, Hanegbi said that he believes Netanyahu will order a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if the US does not secure a new nuclear deal with Tehran and fails to take action on its own.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Tzachi Hanegbi at a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, on February 22, 2016. (Miriam Alsterl/Flash90)

Speaking to Channel 12 news, Hanegbi said that in such a situation, Netanyahu “will act, in my assessment, to destroy the nuclear facilities in Iran.”

Hanegbi, who placed 46 on the party’s slate in the latest primaries and did not make it into the current Knesset, has made threats of a potential Israeli strike in the past to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The Air Force has long been preparing for a potential strike on Iran’s nuclear sites to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, though it is unclear that it has the capacity to cripple the Islamic Republic’s well-protected facilities on its own.

FASF Rafale fighter jets fly alongside an IAF F-16i aircraft over Israel during a drill, December 6, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Following the signing of the nuclear accord between Iran and world powers in 2015, Israel put the issue of a military strike on the Iranian nuclear program on the back burner, allowing the IDF to invest its resources in other areas.

But following the US abrogation of the nuclear deal in 2018 and Iran’s subsequent violations of the agreement since then, the matter has taken on renewed importance to Israel, which views an Iranian nuclear bomb as an existential threat.

Hanegbi has faced legal troubles in his career, including being cleared for bribery and fraud charges, while being found guilty of perjury. The case revolved around appointments made in the Environmental Protection Ministry while he helmed it 20 years ago.

In 1979, Hanegbi — then the head of the students union at Hebrew University — was involved in a fight with Arab and left-wing students in which he attacked one of them with a metal rod. Claiming one of the Arab students had a knife, Hanegbi and his deputy — Israel Katz, another now-veteran Likud politician — were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

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