Is the North Korean confrontation good or bad for Israel?

By Ted Belman

Chemi Shalev, writing in Haaretz, under the title Trump’s Clash With North Korea: Good for Putin, Bad for Netanyahu presented a different scenario to the one I have embraced. He charged that Trump’s fiery speech which he doubled down on and which McMaster supported, wasn’t vetted first. I find that hard to believe. he called the speech “dangerous nonsense” and “irresponsible rhetoric”. But many anti-Trump people did the same.

But what he suggests that is novel, at least to my ears, is the idea that this battle is very bad for Israel.

Even though Trump’s advisers tried to frame his words (fire and fury) as part of some coherent master plan, he did not coordinate his statement with his advisers in advance just as he didn’t consult with them before he tweeted, with no basis in fact, that America’s nuclear arsenal is stronger and more modern than ever. Secretary of State Tillerson tried to spin it as part of a double-edged strategy in which Trump, in contrast to Teddy Roosevelt’s admonition to talk softly, warns Kim “in the only language he understands” as international sanctions and diplomacy will convince him to come down from the tall tree he’s climbed and to reach an accommodation with Washington.

Given that Kim is an unguided missile himself, one can’t discount the possibility that Tillerson’s effort to put lipstick on a pig might actually be borne out in the end. But for the time being, Trump’s ill-conceived statements have violated the very same international consensus that produced a unanimous UN Security Council decision last week to impose new sanctions on North Korea. They have also backed China into a corner because Beijing cannot be seen as succumbing to Trump’s bluster.

Trump’s damaging outspokenness point to a failure of his new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to rein the president in. Trump’s statements were seen as yet another outburst of dangerous nonsense from an impulsive and narcissistic president who can’t stand to be out of the media limelight for more than a few hours. Trump had complained that the media wasn’t paying enough attention to the Security Council decision, which was indeed an achievement for Ambassador Nikki Haley and for U.S. diplomacy, but then he turned around and stole its thunder for himself.

Nonetheless, Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric is not the only or even main issue. He only poured high octane fuel on an already smoldering fire that has turned into a far more clear and present danger because, contrary to most expert predictions, North Korea is quickly attaining the ability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles and to arm them, according to a bombshell Washington Post report this week, with nuclear warheads. This report sparked a sense of panic in Washington and sent the Pentagon and the U.S. military to update their plans for preemptive operations and contingency attacks. It also unveiled another aspect of the White House war of the titans, in which Israel is playing an oversize role, between National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and general adviser Steve Bannon.

Kelly’s arrival was supposed to ease the battle, but the opposite seems to be the case. By backing McMaster from the outset, Kelly stopped an ongoing campaign, spurred by Trump’s expressions of displeasure, to have him replaced by someone more favorable to Bannon. With Kelly’s backing, McMaster proceeded to sack three National Security Council officials who were identified with Bannon and the far right. The right-wing media that worships Bannon immediately launched an all-out assault against McMaster, aided and abetted, for some reasons, by social media accounts identified with the Kremlin and by Jews identified with the far right, including Jerusalem Post columnist Carolyn Glick and the Zionist Organization of America, often seen as reflecting the views of Sheldon Adelson. They savaged McMaster by providing proof, as it were, of his opposition to the abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal and his continued support for a two-state solution.

Although the White House feud is often seen, in Israel at least, as one that pits nationalist hawks led by Bannon against middle of the road pragmatists such as Kelly and McMaster, it’s only an optical illusion. As far as North Korea is concerned, the opposite is true. McMaster is far more aggressive on Pyongyang, repeatedly describing its nuclear armament as intolerable and reportedly urging some kind of preemptive move. Bannon, on the other hand, wants to push Trump away from a confrontation with Kim Jong Un as part of his isolationist world view and his insistence that the U.S. not squander the energy it needs to confront the far bigger danger emanating from China. Bannon may talk the talk of cancelling the Iran deal in order to curry favor with the Jewish right, but in his view Tehran poses even less of a threat to U.S. security than North Korea and therefore merits even less American intervention.

Some point to the 1994 Agreed Framework worked out between North Korea and the Clinton administration as a precedent that highlights the inadequacy of the nuclear deal with Iran, ignoring fundamental differences between the regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang as well as the GOP sabotage of the deal, first in Congress and later by the Bush administration. In fact, the counterclaim can also be made that North Korea is behaving much like any other fanatic regime with nuclear ambitions and no treaty-imposed restrictions and supervision in the face of what it views as a hostile world.

One way or another, there can be no doubt that the North Korea crisis could have direct and possibly dramatic ramifications for the future of the Iran nuclear deal, but none of the scenarios bode well for the more aggressive approach favored by Benjamin Netanyahu. If Trump intends to regroup the international community in order to pressure North Korea, he cannot afford to enrage it by unilaterally reneging on the agreement with Iran. Taking Kim on militarily might send a deterrent message to Iran, but could also divert Washington’s attention away from Iran. And if North Korea responds in force and Kim lights up the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. will forget about Iran altogether.

The chief beneficiary of the North Korean mess, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been Moscow. Vladimir Putin has been content to sit back and watch America get drawn into a conflict it cannot afford to have, to see its outreach towards Beijing hit a serious snag, and to witness the fear and loathing that Trump is inspiring throughout the world. Russia’s role in sparking suspicions about Trump’s motivation, on the other hand, is at center stage. Trump’s critics can’t decide if his behavior is the result of his usual mix of arrogance and ignorance or perhaps an attempt to divert attention, wag the dog style, away from the ongoing and ever-tightening investigation of his alleged collusion with Russia during the elections. Such suspicions will only grow if Trump gets drawn into conflict in the Far East, a point that is also relevant for his BFF in the Middle East, Netanyahu – who is normally more cautious than Trump – but as his speech in Tel Aviv this week showed, is no less consumed by paranoia, self-victimization and strange sense of hubris.

You decide.

August 12, 2017 | 28 Comments »

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  1. @ yamit82:
    @ Sebastien Zorn:
    Zorn, I have been concerned for some time that you comment more than the rest of us combined. You dominate and as Yamit points out, your comments are tangential at best.

    Please restrict yourself to commenting on the information in the article or whatever point I am making. If you want to do more, do it in Chit Chat. That’s why it was created.

    Some of you may have noticed that Abolish Big Government, or whatever his moniker was, is no longer commenting here. I asking him to change his moniker and to stop with his mantra. He ignored my email and after he ignored a second request, I deleted his registration.

  2. Ret. Gen. McInerney: Be ready to nuke NK
    By Peter Barry Chowka

    China is the real power behind the “animal” it has bred – North Korea – in the view of retired Air Force lieutenant general Thomas G. McInerney. And if necessary, the United States should be prepared to use nuclear weapons to neutralize the threat North Korea represents to the United States.

    With the crisis situation involving North Korea leading the news on Thursday, one of the more interesting, provocative, and sobering analyses I heard was offered by Gen. McInerney, who retired in 1994 after a distinguished 35-year career in the military that began after he graduated from West Point in 1959. During the Vietnam War, McInerney flew over 400 combat missions and then served in a variety of high-level command positions around the world. In recent years, he has been a contributor to Fox News, and he appears often in the media. On September 6, 2016, along with 88 other retired U.S. generals and admirals, McInerney endorsed Donald Trump for the presidency.

    On Thursday, August 10, McInerney appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio program and gave his opinions on the North Korea situation. The transcription of Hannity’s Q&A with McInerney is my best effort based on the program’s audio podcast that went online after the show aired

  3. If war breaks out with North Korea the USA will need to resort to Nuclear Weapons immediately to get rid of the regime and eliminate the danger and minimize loses for the USA, South Korea and Japan.

    This is what I have been told. The conflict has been gamed out numerous times and if the USA uses non-nuclear weapons to start, in the end to win the conflict it will need to resort to nuclear weapons in any case. So in all cases it ends up being nuclear.

    Not a pleasant thought.

  4. @ LtCol Howard:

    Stupid Bush went after the wrong enemies….Saddam was never a threat to America but an impediment against Iranian expansion… Afghanistan never a threat to America nor the Taliban sapped American treasure and lives for nothing.

    In asymmetrical warfare the winner is who is the last man standing….America has lost both Iraq and Afghanistan and you can’t reverse the losses Iran is in control of Iraq, soon half of Syria and all of Lebanon. Taliban will control Afghanistan ….. To rely on America is foolhardy……Defensive missile systems can be overwhelmed by massive missile attacks where some are sure to hit targets so Iran is shooting for over 100 weaponized ICBM’s with many dummies and if they succeed NOKO will have them as well. Best thin America can do now is to break them economically by By flooding global energy markets with so much product that the prices will drop to almost 2001 prices. It will break Iran and Russia. Use non kinetic weapons against NOKO and restore Nukes to So Korea… I was stationed next to 4th missile command and when I was there so were our nukes. It deterred the NOKO and Chinese then and can again. Might consider neutron bombs as well….

  5. @ Ted Belman:

    I agree we need to distance ourselves as much as possible from Trump he seems as unstable as Nutjob in NOKO…….and has shown he is not aligned with our regional interests if any he is antithetical to our regional interests. Have very bad vibes about Trump and where he and we are going.

  6. Iran-NOKO-China and to lesser degree Russia are all joined at the hip…… We Know Iran and NOKO are jointly working on ICBM’s and Nuke weaponizing for their array of missiles. We know China is a major supplier to NOKO and Iran for Their well developed Missile and Nuke programs. Their ultimate target is the USA. NOKO is the barking dog of China and Iran a cash and energy cow. Russia is aligning with China more each day and it’s expensive for Russia but they have no choice due to sanctions, it limits their independence.

    NOKO is not ideological but Iran is …making them the greater existential threat and they have money NOKO doesn’t. On the face of it NOKO is no threat to America or anyone else as long as the regime believes it is in control internally and free from fear of imminent attack by the USA. The danger of NOKO is the sale of their nukes missiles and technology to rogue 3rd parties for hard currency and commodities. Just like Bush went after the wrong enemies so Trump seems to be following suit in elevating NOKO to major threat and leaving Iran to continue it ‘s drive for ICBM’s and weaponized nukes. Trump’s one trick pony ISIS in Syria has aligned America firmly in the Iranian, Assad Hezbollah and Russian camp now arrayed not far from Israel’s northern border on the Golan. American special forces now fighting alongside Hezbollah and Assad’s forces against ISIS. Israeli supported rebels are disintegrating fast.

    My feeling is that Trumps myopic and duplicitous moves against Israeli interests have the makings of a possible confrontation between Israel and IRAN, Hezbollah, Russia and America…… This is the most dangerous position Israel has been in since the first days of the Yom Kippur war….. This is what Trump is using as a sledge hammer over Israel’s head to make a deal and for Trump any deal is good as long as he can take credit for it.

  7. @ ArnoldHarris:
    Fascinating. I was unaware of this:

    “The German scientist Fritz Hahn found plans in an archive in Washington DC showing that USA planned a gas-war against Germany. According to the US-plans they should start a 15-day operation “…using gas bombs after the Axis-Countries have started the bombing.” The result of this operation was calculated to result in 5.6 million dead and 12 million very sick Germans – so sick they would need prolonged medical attention. The German cities of Munich, Augsburg, Stuttgart and Karlsruhe were the main targets of the plan with the Americans intending to use 100 airplanes with 500-pound poisonous gas shells over Germany.

    This was all first made public in 1984 when the world learnt the truth about English plans regarding using poisonous gas over Germany. The BBC reporter Robert Harris found documents regarding the use of chemical and biological weapons against Germany.

    These documents clearly showed Churchill’s intentions and the chief of the British high command, General Lionel Hastings quoted Churchill, thus… “I want a cold-blooded war to be started using poisonous gas… We can bomb the cities along the Rhine and many others with gas until most survivors will need medical care for the rest of their lives.”

    You, of course know of Abba Kovner’s aborted revenge plan

    At the end of the war, Kovner was one of the founders of a secret organization Nakam (revenge), also known as Dam Yisrael Noter (“the blood of Israel avenges”, with the acronym DIN meaning “judgement”)[9] whose purpose was to seek revenge for the Holocaust.[10][11][12] Two plans were formulated. Plan A was to kill a large number of German citizens by poisoning the water supplies of Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, and Nuremberg, Nakam intended to kill 6 million Germans.[13] Plan B was to kill SS prisoners held in Allied POW camps. In pursuit of Plan A, members of the group were infiltrated into water and sewage plants in several cities, while Kovner went to Palestine in search of a suitable poison.[9] Kovner discussed Nakam with Yishuv leaders, though it is not clear how much he told them and he doesn’t seem to have received much support.[12] According to Kovner’s own account, Chaim Weizmann approved the idea and put him in touch with the scientist Ernst Bergmann, who gave the job of preparing poison to Ephraim Katzir (later president of Israel) and his brother Aharon. Historians have expressed doubt over Weizmann’s involvement, since he was overseas at the time Kovner specified.[12] The Katzir brothers confirmed that they gave poison to Kovner, but said that he only mentioned Plan B and they denied that Weizmann could be involved.[9] As Kovner and an accomplice were returning to Europe on a British ship, they threw the poison overboard when Kovner was arrested. He was imprisoned for a few months in Cairo and Plan A was abandoned.[11][12]

    In April 1946, members of Nakam broke into a bakery used to supply bread for the Langwasser internment camp near Nuremberg, where many German POWs were being held. They coated many of the loaves with arsenic but were disturbed and fled before finishing their work. More than 2,200 of the German prisoners fell ill and 207 were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported.[12][14] ”

    Wow, nice:

    “The Dachau liberation reprisals were a series of incidents in which German prisoners of war were killed by American soldiers and concentration camp internees at the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945, during World War II. It is unclear how many SS members were killed in the incident but most estimates place the number killed at around 35-50. In the days before the camp’s liberation SS guards at the camp had murdered thousands of the camp’s internees and sent tens of thousands more on death marches in which thousands were murdered by their guards.[citation needed] When Allied soldiers liberated the camp, their reactions varied from being shocked, horrified, disturbed and angered by the masses of dead they found and the combativeness of some of the remaining German guards who had initially fired on them and had refused to surrender.”

    We need to make our enemies take us seriously again.

    MADD mutually assured destruction works.

  8. @ ArnoldHarris:
    Anybody who threatens to nuke America or its allies should get the same response FDR made to Japan and Germany. And we should follow through. Obviously. Right?

  9. @ ArnoldHarris:
    But, in any case, neither my argument nor my caveat that this was the exception are affected by these technically accurate corrections (thank you). With my thesis, though, do you agree, disagree, or agree with reservations. I mean Trump just spoke common sense, no.

  10. @ ArnoldHarris:
    Debatable. What do you think of Steve Johnson’s reply?
    As a functioning wartime navy, as he explains in detail, weak, to begin with, it was incapacitated. “The devil is in the details.”

    You are correct about the immediate trigger for the embargo but it was the culmination of a series of escalating responses beginning with the invasion of Manchuria. See:

  11. 1) The Kido Butai (Aircraft Carrier Str Force) did not the peace-time US Navy. Only two of Pearl Harbor’s eight battleships were destroyed: the Arizona and the Oklahoma.

    2) The oil embargo was put in place in he summer of 1941, upon Japan’s military takeover of the southern part French Indochina. Japan’s occupation and annexation of Manchuria took place 10 years earlier, in 1931, and resulted in little more than concern couched in the careful tenor of foreign offices everywhere.

    Precision, SZ. There is no substitute for precision.

    Arnold Harris, Outspeaker

  12. Of course, there are exceptions. We imposed an oil blockade on Japan in retaliation for their occupation of Manchuria and they bombed Pearl Harbor and declared war, destroying our peace-time navy in the process.

    But, we still won and kicked so much stuffing out of them, we made pacifists out of them. That’s the model. If necessary: Nuke ’em.

    To turn the liberals’ favorite phrase back on them: Yes. Might always makes right so long as we have it and our enemies don’t.

  13. As he was true to President Obama’s word in Syria. Go President Trump! Sis boom bah, Yay!

    Remember, when we advance, they retreat, when we retreat, they advance. It’s always worked like that. It continues to.

    At the end of the Cuban Missile crisis, Kruschev withdrew his missiles from Cuba in exchange for our removing ours from Eastern Europe. But, JFK had to play nuclear chicken with our navy facing off against theirs to get there. A similarly bold gamble, but it was the right thing to do then and now. That’s cold war reality.

  14. And N. Korea might as well be regarded, for all intents and purposes, as an Islamist country. The difference between Iran and N. Korea is a difference without a difference. In fact, as has been pointed out elsewhere, their nuclear weapons programs may be the same one, not separate. N. Korea is in a state of war with Israel and has joined in attacks on Israel before.

    As with Iran, regime change should be first and foremost, on the table.

    N. Korea recently threatened to nuke Israel over Lieberman’s observing that their glorious leader was a nutjob.

    N. Korea has to go. “By any means necessary.”

    Though another commonality with Iran is that their people disagree

    I agree with the President and I hope he is true to his word.

  15. Found one of them:

    June 5, 1942

    White House news release.

    Authoritative reports are reaching this Government of the use by Japanese armed forces in various localities of China of poisonous or noxious gases. I desire to make it unmistakably clear that, if Japan persists in this inhuman form of warfare against China or against any other of the United Nations, such action will be regarded by this Government as though taken against the United States, and retaliation in kind and in full measure will be meted out. We shall be prepared to enforce complete retribution. Upon Japan will rest the responsibility.”


    The original plan before nuclear weapons became available was to use chemical weapons to get Japan to surrender as otherwise millions of Americans would have to die conquering it inch by inch. The Allies agreed that only unconditional surrender would do because the lesson of the WWI armistice was that if you don’t get an enemy to acknowledge complete defeat before ending hostilities, they will try it again because they will believe that they could have won if the war had been fought to the finish. They must be completely vanquished and crushed before there can be a new beginning. This applies to the Muslims. There may very well be good Muslims, in fact, there are, but, there were “good Germans” too. That didn’t change the collective reality of them as the mortal enemies of civilization and basic decency everywhere.

  16. I think the prospect of World War is bad for everybody but I agree with Ted that it is generally better when the world’s eyes and meddling fingers are off Israel and obsessed with something else, including the U.S. When I read in JPost that Kushner — after that off-mike response about peace being difficult or impossible to arrange — is heading back there to make peace again, I responded with the quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results each time.”
    What the world needs is a new and updated Orwellian “Newspeak”/English dictionary.
    The dictionary entry for “Middle East Peace” should read: “The process whereby Israel is pressured by hostile or confused external and internal forces into giving Jewish land and safety away in exchange for hot air.”

  17. In the minds of liberals, is half a proverb better than none? The unabridged Theodore Roosevelt quote reads:

    “I have always been fond of the West African proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

    Or is the author suggesting that the President should attack various countries surreptitiously and without warning like Obama?

    FDR threatened Germany with chemical weapons carpet bombing if it attacked allied troops or civilians with chemical weapons [The Bergson group couldn’t get that extended to us Jews because, well, you see, it turns out you have to have a state to be considered an ally.] Did they?

  18. @ Ted Belman:
    Excuse me for cutting in. I rad the article as ou detail it, nearly all from Ha’Aretz, in fact in my post I castigated the HaAretz writer for it. I never associated you with it at all except for introducing it. It has elicited some comment but not nearly enough considering the material content. I don’t agree with Lt. Col Howard, but he is an expert and i am just a common-sense being with a sense of knowing what logical results can follow from stated actions,plus possibilities as offshoots. Other than my speculation above, i don’t see any negative effect on Israel-except perhaps in the event of actual hostilities there may be less temporary attention to Israeli situations….which as it stands today would not be such a bad thing. What we DON’T need is fumbling help from the best of allies, who it seems is still not au fait with the real situation.

  19. @ LtCol Howard:
    From my point of view, whenever the US focuses on the peace process they pressure Israel. Better they are distracted so that they leave us alone. The PA as you know, keeps begging the US to keep involved.

    The US got involved in ceasefire discussion in Syria.The result was a bad deal for Israel.

    Whatever the US does with NK will have implications for Iran. That’s where my focus is.

  20. The United States has only the emotional resources to concentrate on one action for a short period of time.
    Hence, any diversion for any reason means that the United States will fully exhaust its limited stockpile of physical and intellectual capital on its lower priority [immediate action] . This knee-Jerk response forestalls its ability to respond to later situations that should have had a higher priority. For example, when after overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the United States expanding tremendous resources in Iraq and its attempt to nation build and freed Iran, a greater threat, to pursue its terrorist international expansion and his pursuit of nuclear weapons and the required missiles to deliver them.

  21. LtCol Howard Said:

    ANY US action… ANYWHERE…undercuts support of Israel

    Why so?

    My only contribution to this post is the first two paragraphs. The rest is extracted from Haaretz.

    My purpose in doing so was to illicit discussion on the implications for Israel. I think that what Trump will do regarding NK will be also a message to Iran.

  22. Ted,
    This article sounds as if you write for Haaretz. ANY US action… ANYWHERE…undercuts support of Israel . Concerning China and Russia they regard Trump as a loose cannon. His message was heard and played a huge role in their support of the UN resolution. China does not want any unrest on the Korean Peninsula since they fear a refugee invasion from North Korea should anything get disastrous. Russia enjoys our discomfort and continues with their expansionist objectives in Europe and the Middle East.The only country that wants the US destroyed is Iran [and this desire is part of a religious imperative by the leading clerical and revolutionary guard establishment].

  23. Hi, Ted.

    With your extra indentation of the third paragraph, I have to wonder when you’re opining for yourself, and when you’re quoting Ha’Aretz. Let me just hang it all, and give my own opinions:

    1. Donald J. Trump is the President. I don’t care what Tillerson says, what McMaster says, etc.

    2. Trump has been very clear about how he (and therefore WE, as Americans) stand concerning Kim’s actions. He has warned Kim:

    a. to be careful about his threats. If he THREATENS to attack us, and has the credible means to do so, that could be enough for us to strike him pre-emptively.

    b. that we are not afraid to use nuclear weapons ourselves, if that is needed. That pretty much frees the US to act in ANY way it sees fit.

    None of the above disturbs me; and as far as I can see, these are the words of a very clear-headed, deliberate American president.

    Are Trump’s (and therefore America’s) positions vis-a-vis Korea good or bad for Israel?

    The most important thing Trump says or does, as far as Israel is concerned, is to match his words with his actions. If the US president does this with Korea, he will likely do it with Israel; and visa versa.

    I quit reading Ha’aretz years ago. They could take the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and turn it into a diatribe against Donald Trump.

  24. I don’t blame Netanyahu for being “consumed by paranoia, self-victimzation ( I suppose he didn’t mean to include the “self”, and etc.etc. The wolves of the Left are attacking him unmercifully and at least he’s entitled to employ self-defence.

    As for Nth. Korea’s connection with damage to Israel, presumably through the PM’s self-defence attitude, I can’t see it.

    However, there IS a way that it could cause damage to Israel, and I’m surprised that such a smart man as the Ha’Aretz know-it-all scribbler didn’t see it. It is that if Nth. Korea, in mad dog style, is attacked or on the verge of being attacked by the U.S. the first thing they’ll think of doing, is to retaliate against one of America’s closest allies, with a tiny area, and which would suffer massive damage, from even a single non-nuclear ballistic missile. Of course a nuclear bomb could destroy most of the populated area as well as nearly all the industry.

    They’ll consider that with Jared Kushner and Trump’s daughter and his other son potentially being married to a Jewish girl etc. it would hurt Trump himself the most.

    Being sane and rational myself, I really don’t know, but it’s a possible scenario.