Are Israeli officials in dreamland over the Korea talks?

It’s understandable why Israel would want US President Donald Trump to score a tough nuclear deal with North Korea. It's less understandable they expect any kind of deal would put pressure on Iran.

June 11, 2018 19:27
2 minute read.
NORTH KOREAN leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with Suh Hoon, South Korea’s chief of the National Inte

NORTH KOREAN leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with Suh Hoon, South Korea’s chief of the National Intelligence Service at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in South Korea, April 2018. (photo credit: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/REUTERS)

It’s understandable why Israeli officials would really want US President Donald Trump to score a tough nuclear deal with North Korea. If he does, the pressure will be on Iran.

What is less understandable is why Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionist Union MK and retired Maj.- Gen. Eyal Ben-Reuven seem so optimistic that this will happen.

Are they dreaming and engaging in wishful-thinking? Tuesday’s summit is likely going to be historic, simply because it is taking place and at the very least in the short term will likely boost Trump’s stature.

And if Trump really does pull off the impossible, a tough deal could put pressure on Iran.

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Netanyahu relates Trump's efforts to denuclearize North Korea to his efforts to denuclearize Iran at the AJC Global Forum, June 10, 2018 (GPO)

But there has been nothing to indicate that this will be a strong deal. The summit itself is a huge gift to Kim Jong Un and it came at almost no price.

National Security Adviser John Bolton, the administration’s hawk on North Korea, has been side-lined on the issue. Trump’s own rhetoric has growingly suggested that he wants a legacy deal even if he has to settle for less. Most North Korea experts say that “denuclearization” means something very different for Kim than it does for the US.

When Netanyahu said that “everyone prays for the success of this effort” – will he be ready to lower the definition of success to a weaker deal the way that Trump has signaled he will do? If Japan complains about the deal as weak - something he alluded to in a rhetorical scenario – but Trump asks for his support, what will he do? When Liberman said, “I wish that the model of total [North] Korean abandonment of its nuclear program could be realized in the case of Iran as well” – does he realize that all signals are that Pyongyang will not agree to complete denuclearization.

Does he realize that whatever they do agree to will likely be cash heavy on the front end toward the North with nuclear concessions spread out over time much like the Iran deal? When Ben-Reuven said that a US deal with North Korea should include provisions for it ending its alliances with Iran, Hezbollah and Syria – does he realize these items are either not, or barely on, the agenda? The chorus was so speculatively positive from a group that is normally skeptical that one wonders whether Israeli officials were asked to make positive comments.

The only political official whose public statements seemed to fully encompass not just the potential benefit for Israel with Iran from this summit, but also the potential dangers, was Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Steinitz told Army Radio on Monday that a positive result with North Korea could lead to pressure on Iran, but he also sounded clear-eyed about the pitfalls.

“If in contrast, there is a failure with North Korea and if North Korea succeeds to outwit the US and is able to maintain its nuclear weapons and nuclear infrastructure, then the Iranians will dig in and do everything to maintain their [nuclear] infrastructure with the hope that they will also obtain a nuclear weapon in the future,” he said.

There is nothing wrong with hoping for the best and positive breakthroughs in international relations do happen. But one thing that has saved Israel in the past has been always also planning for the worst.

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