North Korea's successful testing of a nuclear bomb should serve as a "wake-up call" for the world concerning the looming nuclear threat from Iran, Israeli defense officials said Monday.
Earlier Monday, North Korea became the ninth country in the world known to have nuclear weapons when the Korean Central News Agency announced that the military had performed a successful underground test "with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent," and that no radioactive material had leaked from the test site.
The US Geological Survey confirmed that a magnitude 4.2 tremor - which was man-made - occurred at the time of the test. A South Korean seismic expert said the explosion was equivalent to 550 tons of TNT.
The nuclear test, performed in defiance of US-led opposition, led to concern in Israel that the international community, which had failed to stop North Korea, would also fail to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear capability.
Demise of the non-proliferation treaty?
On Thursday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin and Mossad director Meir Dagan to discuss the repercussions of the test and Teheran's progress in its race to the bomb.
"North Korea's success will encourage Iran," one senior defense official said. "The world needs to wake up and do everything now to prevent another mistake from happening."
Uzi Eilam, former head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, told The Jerusalem Post that the world needed to be concerned that North Korea would help Iran build nuclear weapons.
"It is certainly possible that Pyongyang will share its nuclear know-how with Iran, in return for a sizable financial reward," Eilam said.
"North Korea's nuclear program is far more advanced than Iran's. While Iran has only started to produce fissile material, North Korea has done so at least five years ago."
North Korea's success, he said, could also motivate Syria to actively work to develop nuclear weapons. "Syria, which is also under heavy international pressure, could look at the North Korean example and decide to actively push for its own nuclear capability, taking into account that it would be a great deterrent to alleviate the pressure and get the international community off its back," he said.
While Monday's experiment meant, Eilam said, that North Korea had successfully produced a device whose core is the heart of a nuclear bomb, in order to get operational nuclear warheads it would need to integrate its technology in a weapons system.
"Since it is known that they have been working on missile technology for many years, it is not unforeseeable that North Korea could achieve nuclear weapons capability in 1-2 years," he said.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a former head of the National Security Council and deputy IDF chief of General Staff, said that 2007 would be the year to stop Iran. If the world failed, Israel, he said, would need to be ready to strike against Teheran's nuclear facilities.
"The nuclear club is turning into a mafia," Dayan said. "Failure to stop North Korea should serve as a serious red light that the world needs to stop Iran."
Dayan, who returned from talks with White House and State Department officials in Washington last week, said that it was time for the US to translate its tough talk into tough actions. "2007 will be a critical year and the point of no return in the sense that if we do not act with enough determination, then afterward the only way to stop Iran will be through military action."
Labor MK Ephraim Sneh, a former brigadier-general and a senior member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said the weapons test showed that the West had failed to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
"It could be a good thing," he said, because Israeli policymakers and advocates could use developments in North Korea to convince the international community to "do something [about Iran] before it's too late."
The risk posed by North Korea obtaining nuclear capability, Sneh said, was less relevant to Israel than the threat posed by Teheran, which was committed to the destruction of Israel.
Sneh said that tough international economic sanctions could be a viable deterrent for Iran. While the Islamic Republic produced crude oil he said, it lacked a domestic supply of refined petroleum products. In fact, he said, Iran imports about 40% of its gasoline. "A serious international embargo would be effective," he said.
Dr. Soli Shahvar, a University of Haifa expert on Iran, said he was convinced economic sanctions would be ineffective against Iran. "The only option I see is a serious effort [to affect] a regime change," he told Israel Radio.
The fact that North Korea reached such an advanced stage of nuclear experimentation - and Monday morning's experiment was still not tantamount to nuclear weapons capability - could serve as a strong hint to the Iranians that they were on the right track with their nuclear program, Shahvar said.
"The Iranians are very certain of their direction," he said, adding that he "wouldn't rule out" the possibility that Iranian representatives had been present at North Korea's experiment.
North Korea, Shahvar said, was much worse off economically than Iran, which had plentiful energy resources. Those same energy resources provided the West with a much stronger incentive for cooperation with Iran than with North Korea, he said.
"North Korea's nuclear experiment must alert the entire world that the next nuclear weapons test could be conducted by Iran," Shahvar said.
AP contributed to the report.
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