North Korea, in league with Iran, poses an existential threat to Israel — with its tiny land mass, Israel could not withstand a successful nuclear attack
North Korea’s rhetoric, like its promise earlier this year to unleash a “merciless, thousand-fold punishment” on its enemy, is familiar to us. But the target of the invective may surprise some. That particular threat was levied against Israel, and understandably so. Kim Jong-Un has reason to fear and loathe Israel.
The United States, South Korea and Japan—the three Pacific countries the Western press focuses on—haven’t been willing to kill North Koreans. Israel has. The U.S., South Korea and Japan haven’t blown up North Korean facilities. Israel has, many believe, and for good measure it also exercises control over North Korean shipping. Kim knows that Israel acts militarily and covertly to thwart his plans at home and abroad and that Israel is far likelier to take pre-emptive actions than his appeaser-neighbours. Unlike Trump, who issues loud threats of his own but is restrained in action, Israel acts and remains silent.
One of the highest profile, if initially unpublicized, military attacks in the undeclared war between North Korea and Israel occurred a decade ago, when Israeli jets destroyed a nuclear reactor that the North Koreans were building in Syria, and with it 10 North Korean officials. Three years earlier, shortly after a Mossad agent surreptitiously entered North Korea using a stolen Canadian passport, a massive explosion in a North Korean freight train carrying nuclear material killed at least a dozen Syrian nuclear scientists, and many more North Koreans. Israeli intelligence, which is thought to have played a role in the attack, reported that there was so much radioactive material onboard that the scientists were flown back to Syria in lead caskets.
Kim Jong Un has reason to fear and loathe Israel
Israel, sometimes in co-operation with the U.S., is also believed to have intercepted shipments from North Korea to Middle Eastern nations involving technology for missiles, conventional arms and chemical weapons as well as nuclear weaponry. In 2017 alone, according to a UN report leaked last month to Reuters, two North Korean arms shipments bound for the Syrian agency responsible for chemical weapons were intercepted by two unnamed governments.
North Korea’s hatred of Israel is ideological, dating back to the West vs. Communist Cold War era. It is the only non-Muslim country to have never recognized the state of Israel and the only one to have taken Israel on militarily. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli air force’s first and last dogfights in the skies over Egypt involved North Korean pilots flying Soviet MIG fighters. North Korea has trained and armed the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and Hezbollah. One North Korean specialty—tunnel technology—is valued by Iran, which needs to protect its nuclear facilities against attack, and by Hamas and Hezbollah, who use it to infiltrate Israel. Iranian scientists have been special guests at North Korean nuclear bomb tests.
Israel has more than North Korea’s ideology to worry about, however. North Korea’s chief source of revenue is arms and its chief customer is Iran. It was Iran that financed the Syrian nuclear reactor—price tag estimated at U.S.$1 billion to $2 billion—and it is Iran that has been importing North Korean missile technology as well as nuclear technology. Now that North Korea has miniaturized nuclear bombs, it is able to sell Iran ready-made bombs as well.
Iran has missile technology and lacks only the nuclear warhead. Now it has in North Korea a willing seller, one that will be in increasing need of funds if the economic sanctions imposed by the UN take hold. Israel thus faces a nightmare scenario in which the U.S. refrains from disarming North Korea, leaving North Korea free to ship unlimited numbers of nuclear bombs to Iran, whose mullahs are bent on destroying the state of Israel.
North Korea poses a major threat to the U.S. but not an existential threat, and if U.S. intelligence agencies are correct, not an imminent one. North Korea, in league with Iran, poses an existential threat to Israel—with its tiny land mass, Israel could not withstand a successful nuclear attack.
Israel has a history of taking pre-emptive action against mortal threats, even when opposed by the U.S. and world opinion. It will do so again if it must. If it does take out North Korea’s nuclear capability, especially if Israel is perceived to have acted alone, North Korea would have no reason to retaliate against the U.S., South Korea or Japan. A tragic carnage in the Korean peninsula would be averted.