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I don't underestimate the power of words. Words, after all, are the tools of the journalist's trade. Nonetheless, one hopes that the leaders of countries under increasing threat of nuclear missiles have something more up their sleeves than a wagging finger and a verbal condemnation that sounds like the diplomatic version of "Naughty, naughty."
Tut-tutting, however loudly, has proven little protection against rockets and terror regimes. Ask the residents of Sderot and elsewhere in the Negev. The more Israeli leaders warned Hamas in Gaza that they would be forced to take action (but didn't), the larger the number and range of the missiles.
When the People's Republic of North Korea defied international warnings to test its long-range missile technology on April 5, President Barack Obama immediately retaliated by stating: "This provocation underscores the need for action - not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons."
Talking tough, however, might not be enough. Should the action Obama spoke of not be forthcoming, the regime in Pyongyang will obviously not perceive the threat to North Korea as serious - unlike the threat emanating from it. It doesn't take an expert in international relations to figure this out; just watch what happens when parents warn misbehaving kids and don't follow through.
North Korea says its "Kwangmyongsong-2" satellite is part of its peaceful bid to develop its space program. Ditto Iran about its Omid (Happiness) missile. But a rocket stack that can place a satellite in space can probably also launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, even a nuclear-tipped one, and the message beaming down from the cosmos is clearly not one of goodwill and joy.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency, quoted by AP, said: "The satellite is transmitting the melodies of the immortal revolutionary paeans 'Song of Gen. Kim Il Sung' and 'Song of Gen. Kim Jong Il' as well as measurement data back to Earth."
BUT DOWN here we're picking up a different tune.
The US, Japan and other countries might be getting the missile message. It's one thing for Iran to threaten to wipe Israel off the map and back up its words with a nuclear and missile program. It's quite another when it's Hawaii, Alaska and Japanese islands in the firing range.
North Korea is a long way from Israel, but not far enough. True, its missiles don't threaten residents of the Negev or Jerusalem, but its allies' rockets already cast a long shadow.
The launching serves as a wake-up call to the Western world. And the sound of the alarm can clearly be heard in this region, as if amplified by the muezzins' loudspeakers in fundamentalists' mosques all the way from the Far East to the Middle East.
A chill wind is blowing from Pyongyang, but this is not the Cold War. As I have pointed out before, nuclear capability used to be confined to the hands of leaders whose wisdom might be questioned but not their sanity. Now, rogue regimes are on their way to gaining the ultimate weapon, and their terrorist friends are also in the picture.
Despite the holiday spirit surrounding Pessah, Israel did not miss North Korea's signals. Iranian observers were reportedly present when North Korea test-fired a missile in the direction of the United States in October 2006. And Teheran openly supported Pyongyang's tests last week, too. Iran and North Korea are sharing more than technological knowledge. They are jointly studying the West's reaction. Beyond testing missiles, they are testing Western leaders.
As North Korea crossed one red line after another, it met with more than a friendly warning. It received substantial trade, technology transfer and "humanitarian" assistance. And although the atomic-obsessed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad words went from denying the Shoah to threatening a nuclear holocaust on Israel, he was feted in the UN.
Strangely, the West still clings to the hope that totalitarian regimes will not launch a global conflict at the expense of their own people. How this belief didn't get buried in the killing fields of World War II is not clear. And don't look for an answer in the human rights records of either North Korea or Iran.
IF ANYTHING GOOD can come out of this latest act of belligerency it is, perhaps, the realization that North Korea is not alone. Iran and even Syria, while no threat to the happy-go-lucky Hawaiians, could also cause a world conflagration, encouraged by what they see elsewhere in the axis of evil. No wonder Russia, more than willing to provide assistance to potential nuclear powers in the Mideast, has joined the US, UK, Japan and others in condemning the North Koreans. Iran, it should be noted, already boasts missiles that can reach 2,000 kilometers, putting Greece into range and placing France and Britain on the future lethal flight path - a fact often ignored because Iran has so far focused its venom on the Jewish state.
There is a link between Syria and North Korea in the field of nuclear weapons. And that link is Iran. Ehud Olmert's just-ended term as prime minister has been judged, so far, on his disastrous handling of the Second Lebanon War, the not-successful-enough Gaza campaign, and neverending corruption charges. Perhaps, however, history will treat him more kindly when it can be revealed what really took place in Syria on September 6, 2007, widely considered to be a raid that knocked out the country's nearly completed nuclear reactor, established with help from both North Korea and Iran.
As Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a former head of the National Security Council and deputy IDF chief of General Staff, pointed out a couple of years ago: "The nuclear club is turning into a mafia. Failure to stop North Korea should serve as a serious red light that the world needs to stop Iran."
North Korea's test was not exactly a bombshell, and fortunately it was not yet The Bomb, but the fallout nonetheless landed with an eerie echo. Their agendas may differ, but Iran, Syria and North Korea share the goals of regional dominance. And in the ever-shrinking world, this means ultimately becoming a global player.
Unfortunately, with the Palestinian peace track suffering serious difficulties - Obama's latest statements supporting Annapolis notwithstanding - the US is likely to put pressure on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to resume the Syrian course, in the hope that this might wean Damascus away from the mullahs of Teheran. Although it is the vain hope of vain leaders that Syria will receive control of the Golan Heights and suddenly become Israel's buddy rather than exploiting its new strategic advantage and enhanced standing.
No one wants to launch a war against North Korea, least of all Obama, still bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, but if the only action is verbal censure, I fear we'll find that words will fail us.
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