As Iran watches Korea

For Israel, South Korea is the model we must strenuously avoid emulating.

November 27, 2010 22:01
3 minute read.
Smoke rises from South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.

north korea attack_311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The North Korean attack last week on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island included elements all too familiar to Israelis. But the horrified global reaction was of a very different order.

On the face of it, what happened between the Koreas greatly resembled what we here have experienced almost routinely at times – out-of-the-blue, unprovoked shelling of civilians by apparently inscrutable and fanatical enemy forces.

Israelis – North and South – have found themselves targeted by rockets, mortars and sniper fire so frequently that we’ve learned to take such incidents almost in our stride. So has the rest of the world. Often Kassams, Grads and other assorted projectiles lobbed into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon fail to get so much as a mention in foreign news outlets.

The Korean confrontation, however, appeared to shake the world, to the extent of triggering a downward slide in leading stock markets. Governments outdid each other in censuring Pyongyang’s aggression. In our case, the widespread reaction is to generally downplay Arab aggression, fault the victim (Israel) and warn Israel not to retaliate.

This double standard is particularly unfortunate given the similarities of the two situations. Both South Korea and Israel face implacable enemies with tyrannical regimes, ostensibly impervious to Western reasoning and not readily predictable. In both instances the danger of nuclear weapons looms large.

JUST BEFORE last week’s onslaught, North Korea showed off 2,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges and the initial construction of a 100-megawatt light-water reactor to visiting American scientists. Concomitantly, Israel is menaced by Iranian efforts to amass nuclear prowess.

Indeed, North Korea reportedly exports nuclear knowhow and ballistic missile technology to both Iran and Syria. The Syrian reactor destroyed by Israel in 2007 was constructed according to North Korean blueprints.

Pyongyang’s finger stirs many a Mideastern plot.

Both North Korea and its Mideastern associates are testing the limits of world tolerance, attempting to gauge how far they can go with impunity. It’s no stretch to suggest that Teheran and Damascus carefully monitor every nuance of Washington’s response to Pyongyang’s actions.

They must have derived satisfaction following Pyongyang’s boasting about its expanded nuclear program, when US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth declared that “This is not a crisis.”

It needs be remembered that despite heavy sanctions, the number and scale of North Korean provocations has only increased of late. North Korea tests nuclear devices and ballistic missiles, and last March one of its submarines sank a South Korean naval vessel.

North Korea is Iran’s role model for bamboozling the US and getting away with it. Yet Washington, merely sending an aircraft carrier into the area, looks set to let Kim Jong Il continue to get away with quite a bit, as long as he doesn’t overly embarrass it with barefaced gamechanging.

The Obama administration has ways of underscoring unmistakably vigorous messages both to Pyongyang and to Teheran. A feeble American reply in East Asia would dangerously embolden West Asia’s ayatollahs.

If Kim can thumb his nose at Obama, so can Ahmadinejad. And Ahmadinejad is watching attentively.

In fact, most analysts agree that, for all his bravado, Kim is less likely to cross the Rubicon and instigate war than are rogue Islamic regimes vowing to erase Israel off the map. Nuclear weapons in Iranian hands would make this an exceedingly more insecure world than do such weapons in North Korean possession.

This is America’s foremost challenge – even if, disconcertingly, it sometimes sounds as though the greatest danger to world peace stems from apartment construction in some east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods.

FOR ISRAEL, South Korea is the model we must strenuously avoid emulating. South Korea is a blackmailed nation, compelled to take it on the chin from its northern sister lest it inflame a dreadful – perhaps nuclear – confrontation.

Israel cannot afford a nuclear Iran, which would change the regional balance of power at a stroke, embolden Teheran to pursue its expansionist ambitions and impose South Korean-style constraints upon our self-defense. We can tolerate constraints immeasurably less than Seoul, whose population isn’t threatened with outright physical annihilation.

Winning the face-off against Iran requires intensified US-led international sanctions, backed by a credible threat of military action; the more credible that threat, the less likely it would have to be realized. Similar US-led resolution in the case of North Korea would send an important signal to Iran.

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