(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
'The World is Flat." This is the catchy title of the book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas L. Friedman in which he analyses the economics of the global village - home to call centers in Bangalore working for companies in places like Texas. The book is fascinating but lately I've been thinking more and more about the title and not just the contents. Somehow, the world seems not only to have shrunk but it has changed shape altogether. I'm beginning to see it as a universal version of those famous London Underground maps in which geographic location and distance are almost irrelevant.
In the new flat world, not only are China and India directly linked via computer and phone to the average Western household; Syria and Iran are neighbors of North Korea. (Next stop: King's Cross. Mind the gap!)
This is a flat world in which residents of London and Madrid among others have already discovered how short the distance is from al-Qaida's bases in places like Afghanistan. Attacks planned in Africa are carried out just a bit further down the line in Europe. Hardly any distance at all nowadays.
In the age of global information, surprisingly little is known as I write these words about the September 6 incident involving an alleged Israel Air Force foray into Syrian airspace. But it now seems, at least according to foreign media, that the mission was aimed at a joint Syrian-North Korean venture.
The foreign press reported that the target was a non-conventional weapons facility (heavily hinting that this meant a nuclear plant) and that the Israeli action followed a critical shipment of material from North Korea.
Journalistically, it is frustrating to be unable to answer any of the basic questions: We don't know exactly what transpired; where; why or even when the operation was conceived.
But something has happened and around the globe everyday people living everyday lives seem to be a bit safer as a result.
The rest of the world has been slow in understanding that in the virtual global Underground, what President George W. Bush has called the "axis of evil" is linked by myriad dark and foul-smelling tunnels. Finally, it seems to be getting the (ugly) picture. Syria and North Korea are not similar physically or culturally but in the flat world that makes no difference. On the virtual Underground route planner they are in close proximity and on the same track: anti-Israel/anti-The Western World.
Syria - and its henchmen Hamas and Hizbullah - along with Iran, is a threatening neighbor indeed for Israel, especially in the shadow of last summer's war.
Similarly, while most Israelis would not consider Pyongyang their headache - if you can't backpack there on an Israeli passport it barely appears on the local mental map - North Korea is clearly on the world's radar.
The same world which was willing to let terrorist organizations operate freely in Damascus - as long as their target was the Jewish state just south of the border - has a very different attitude to a Syria helping a nuclear North Korea.
The presumed sortie over Syria possibly dealing with a nuclear shipment from Pyongyang in fact led to very little negative fallout. The moderate Arab states, concerned with what analyst Dr. Gidi Netzer calls "the Iranization of terror," refrained from condemning the incident as much as Israel managed not to boast about it.
The incident - whatever it was - has had some added benefits to whatever it set out to achieve. As the head of Military Intelligence Gen. Amos Yadlin reportedly told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: "[Israeli deterrence] is having an impact on the whole region, including on Iran and Syria."
It also produced a sense of pride in Israel. True this was not, one assumes, an Osirak-style anti-reactor raid a la Menachem Begin. But neither was it perceived as a pre-election gimmick as Begin's many detractors tried to depict the 1981 operation.
John Bolton, a former UN ambassador and senior non-proliferation State Department official, told The Jerusalem Post it makes sense that Syria might have agreed to provide "facilities for uranium enrichment" for Iran and North Korea, two allied countries whose nuclear programs are being closely monitored.
Bolton also noted that North Korea had cooperated in the past with both Syria and Iran on ballistic missile development.
And Iran and Syria are definitely close in every sense.
It's not clear who was involved in the event in Syria we can't fully discuss. But let's face it, Iran is not the global village idiot but the local bully whose sticky fingerprints - and sometimes a whole fist mark - can be found at the scene of many crimes. Look at the apparent Syrian-sponsored attack in Beirut on September 19, for example. Or the statements the same day by the deputy commander of Iran's air force who said that plans have been drawn up to bomb Israel if the Zionist entity attacked it.
Even French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said with respect to Iran, "We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst, sir, is war."
The well-respected Jane's Defence Weekly on September 17 provided more evidence of the close relations between Teheran and Damascus in a report that dozens of Iranian engineers and 15 Syrian officers were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria.
According to the report, quickly picked up by the Israeli media, the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a Scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including sarin nerve gas.
But perhaps all these incidents are not earth-shattering. Maybe the world is spherical after all. It certainly continues to turn on the same - often peculiar - axis. Less than two weeks after Israel's alleged raid, the Post's Herb Keinon pointed out in a front-page story that the UN's nuclear watchdog elected Syria as deputy chairman of its General Conference.
The Syrian news agency SANA proudly reported the election at the 51st session of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, adding that Syria was also successful in including "the Israeli nuclear arsenal as an item on the agenda of the conference."
Iran's President Ahmadinejad can also feel proud of himself with his regular invitations to the United Nations General Assembly.
And you might have thought that having appointed Libya to head the UN Human Rights Council's antiracism panel redefined hutzpa well beyond the realm of the Jewish world.
Some people just don't get it. But let's spell it out: If global jihadists or anti-Western terrorists of any stripe get nuclear weapons the world really might be flattened. And the vast majority of us will be flatliners.