Iran’s North Korean Path
Iran is reacting angrily to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s announcement on Tuesday, and to subsequent comments by US Defense Secretary James Mattis Wednesday, about a review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed between Tehran and world powers in July 2015.
On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a chief negotiator of the nuclear deal, tweeted: “Worn-out US accusations can’t mask its admission of Iran’s compliance with JCPOA, obligating US to change course and fulfill its own commitments.”
Zarif was referring to claims by President Donald Trump’s administration that while it was re-evaluating its Iran policy, it would not walk away from the deal in the meantime.
The part that Zarif and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been leaving out of their anti-American rhetoric — and Iranian assertions that the US is the party violating the agreement — is the real reason for Washington’s review of the JCPOA (which, in any case, merely delays Iran’s nuclear weapons program).
As Tillerson said, it is Iran’s “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time” that make it necessary to prevent the regime from traveling “the same path as North Korea.”
Indeed, even while it engaged in talks with representatives of the P5+1 countries (the US, the UK, China, France, Russia and Germany), Iran continued funding and training terrorists across the Middle East, leaving others to do its dirty work.
One of its key proxies is Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shiite organization that has also been fighting on the ground in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad.
Though Iran unveiled missiles inscribed with a Hebrew warning about wiping Israel off the map, it nevertheless has been relying on Hezbollah, situated along Israel’s northern border, to carry out this objective, bit by bit, through battles of attrition that involve both limited terrorist operations and all-out war. Hezbollah’s last major military campaign against the Jewish state took place in the summer of 2006. The 34-day Second Lebanon War, during which rockets blitzed northern Israel and even reached the major city of Haifa, culminated in UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was aimed at preventing Hezbollah from re-arming.
Before the ink on that resolution was dry, however, the terrorist group began to rebuild its arsenal and recruit additional fighters, all courtesy of Iran.
When Iran set up shop in Syria with Iranian and Russian weapons, Israel — abandoned by the Obama administration — was forced to appeal to Russia.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Kremlin several times, to “coordinate” military air traffic with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu requested and reportedly received an assurance from Putin that he would not shoot down any Israeli Air Force jets conducting strikes against Hezbollah convoys from Syria transporting weapons to its base in Lebanon.
So far, this arrangement seems to have been kept, as a few alleged Israeli attacks on such convoys have been carried out successfully, without interference from Moscow. Even more significant is the fact that these convoys contained advanced North Korean missiles.
This was not the only evidence of the tight ties between Tehran and Pyongyang. In fact, North Korea has been in nuclear cahoots with Iran for years. Tillerson’s concern, therefore, is as apt as it is late in coming.
Israel, the only US ally in the Middle East that actually shares its democratic system and values, has not had the luxury of ignoring such developments, which constitute a concrete threat to its survival.
To prepare for the next inevitable war with Hezbollah, backed openly by Iran and indirectly by North Korea, the IDF has been busy reinforcing its defensive positions along its northern border.
In a rare move on Thursday, members of the propaganda wing of Hezbollah took a group of Lebanese journalists on a tour of the border, and provided details — including the name of the head of the IDF Northern Command — of Israeli preparations, which he called a shift “from an offensive doctrine to a defensive one.”
One Hezbollah officer spelled out the large-scale engineering operation, launched by the IDF last August, to prevent terrorist infiltration. This included the building of trenches and erection of a fence around the 7-mile length of Har Dov (also known as the Shebaa Farms), a strip of land at the intersection of the Lebanese-Syrian border and the Israeli Golan Heights.
Last April, with a fifth North Korean missile test looming, former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah, lauded Israel for enabling America to “dodge a bullet in Syria” by bombing the North Korean-built, plutonium-producing reactor in the town of Al-Kibar, in the desert east of Damascus, in 2007.
Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, Hannah — a senior counselor at Washington-based policy institute the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — used the story of active North Korean involvement in Syria 10 years ago to warn against its behavior today.
“The greatest threat we face from [Supreme Leader] Kim Jong-un is probably not a suicidal attack against the United States or our allies in Northeast Asia with nuclear missiles,” he wrote. “Rather, the more likely danger is that North Korea’s tyrant sells part of his ever-expanding nuclear arsenal to other rogue actors that mean us harm.”
The Trump administration’s current review of the Iran nuclear deal is not likely to reveal anything worse than has already been publicized about the disastrous document, which simply provides Tehran time and money to keep its centrifuges going. Of greater importance is its tough stance on North Korea, whose demented dictator is not only unpredictable, but doesn’t even pretend to observe international agreements.
Let us hope that Israeli authorities have been supplying their American counterparts with the proof that Pyongyang has Tehran’s back. Seeing North Korea’s shadow on Iran’s footprint on the edge of the Jewish state, the rest of us can pray that Tillerson’s threat about “all options are on the table” is not empty.
Ruthie Blum is an editor at the Gatestone Institute. This article originally appeared in Israel Hayom.