September 7, 2022 | Haaretz

How North Korea Taught Iran to Entrap and Threaten Israel

While the West appeases Iran, Israel is now battling Tehran's efforts to engulf the Jewish state in a 'ring of fire' – a strategy the theocracy adopted from its longstanding partner-in-intimidation, North Korea
September 7, 2022 | Haaretz

How North Korea Taught Iran to Entrap and Threaten Israel

While the West appeases Iran, Israel is now battling Tehran's efforts to engulf the Jewish state in a 'ring of fire' – a strategy the theocracy adopted from its longstanding partner-in-intimidation, North Korea

As its technology has advanced, Tehran has armed its proxies on Israel’s borders with precision-guided missiles, saturation-fire rockets, and explosives-laden unmanned aerial vehicles. The ultimate, complementary weapon – the nuclear bomb – will be added to this intimidating arsenal.

This strategy, which gives the theocracy the conventional tools to regularly harass the Jewish state, while giving the theocracy a nuclear tripwire that might well prevent Jerusalem from bringing real pain to Iran, is similar to what the Kim regime has deployed on the Korean Peninsula.

Pyongyang pioneered this strategy of “integrated deterrence” – conventional military forces, special operations, and weapons of mass destruction – to provide freedom of maneuver for political warfare and diplomatic blackmail.

It wouldn’t at all be surprising given the intimate contact between these two states – North Korean missile experts have aided Tehran in developing longer-range missiles; the former Iranian president and clerical major domo Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani gleefully recounted in his diaries how “special” shipments from North Korea evaded the U.S. Navy – included “lessons-learned” guidance for use against Israel.

Israeli officials have used the term “ring of fire” to describe the weaponry wielded by Iranian-backed forces: missiles in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, lethal unmanned aerial vehicles in Yemen, and rockets in Gaza. This recalls the “sea of fire” that Pyongyang threatened to engulf South Korea with during a flare-up of tensions in 2011.

As was the case with North Korea’s massed artillery that could reach Seoul, the enemy’s conventional weaponry could deter Washington or Jerusalem from taking military action to halt an obvious, decades-old nuclear advance.

The Kim regime’s nuclear weapons project as well as its development of delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, proceeded largely unfettered. Iran certainly wants the same freedom of action; it could bankroll its own version with an estimated $1 trillion dollar in sanctions relief that would come with a new nuclear deal with the Biden administration.

Recall that North Korea exploited the 1997 Sunshine Policy, which transferred billions of dollars from Seoul to Pyongyang, saved North Korea from famine, and financed the regime’s nuclear program. The Kim regime’s first atomic test occurred in 2006; five more followed through 2017; a seventh test is expected by the end of this year.

Jerusalem is now waging an asymmetric shadow war with Iran to prevent something similar from happening. The Israelis call it the “war between wars.”

They are destroying Iranian-linked military facilities and weapons transfers to third-party countries with the goal of preventing Tehran from turning Tel Aviv into a Seoul on the Med. Jerusalem previously stopped two nuclear programs with military strikes, in Iraq in 1981 and in Syria in 2007, the second of which North Korea assisted in constructing. It’s not at all unlikely that Iran had a hand in assisting the development of Syria’s nuclear facility.

As with the South Korean capital, Tel Aviv is home to a critical mass of the country’s population, commerce, and technology and military infrastructure. It has key government installations and, on its outskirts, Israel’s only fully functioning international airport. Strikes by precision-guided missiles or UAVs, accompanied by the random chaos of rocket salvoes, could kill thousands of Israelis while paralyzing the city – and Israel as a whole. It could diminish, even end, crucial foreign investment.

The regime in Iran is wielding the threat of this scenario to safeguard its final dash toward nuclear weaponry. Like North Korea, the rulers in Tehran know that world powers are especially likely to capitulate; the mullahs believe that America is not prepared to take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear march given that it could embroil Washington in another Middle Eastern war. They also calculate that, without U.S. support, Israel could only do limited damage to their nuclear program and would not risk a simultaneous conflict on every border with Iranian proxies.

The Israelis recognize Iran’s strategy. They well understand the historic fecklessness of the international community’s approach to threats from rogue regimes. Disrupting Iran’s “ring of fire” is a top priority for Jerusalem. It is extraordinarily difficult, however, for Israel to try to do what his necessary when the Americans and the Europeans – the Jewish state’s most important allies – are augmenting the treasury and abetting the nuclear quest of an enemy that has built its foreign policy and defining rhetoric on antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

One would think after the North Korean experiment, after the frightfulness of the twentieth century, Westerners would have more foresight and backbone.

Mark Dubowitz is the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Twitter: @mdubowitz. David Maxwell, a retired U.S. special forces colonel who served in Korea, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Twitter: @DavidMaxwell161. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Israel Nonproliferation North Korea