North Korea's Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched, November 2017.
(photo credit: KCNA/ REUTERS)
The false alarm of an incoming ballistic missile that sent Hawaii into a panic this weekend underlines what happens when madmen like Kim Jong Un get their hands on immense firepower.
The sudden feeling of fear and helplessness is familiar to Israelis who live within rocket-range of Hamas terrorists in Gaza or Hezbollah Islamists in South Lebanon.
No one is completely sure what Kim is capable of doing. The man may or may not be a rational actor, which is why people took seriously warnings mistakenly sent out by an employee of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that indicated a ballistic missile was about to hit the islands.
There was real fear that US President Donald Trump’s ongoing attempt to strengthen American deterrence vis-a-vis Pyongyang had triggered Kim to unleash nuclear warheads.
During the 38 minutes it took for the agency to withdraw the alert, which was sent to cellphones across Hawaii Saturday morning, hundreds of thousands of people scrambled for cover.
Many of the houses on the Hawaiian Islands are made of single-ply walls and have no basement. As a result, many people gathered their families, scrambled into their cars and headed for buildings with concrete walls, all the while aware that they were racing against time.
When the word came that it was a false alarm, the relief was palpable. People hugged, cried and shook with a combination of relief and emotional drain following the initial scare. There is talk now of how tourism, Hawaii’s biggest industry, will be hurt by the incident.
Israelis have little trouble empathizing with the horror people in Hawaii must have felt when they saw the warning of an imminent ballistic missile attack. Living under threat of a ballistic attack – albeit a non-nuclear threat – is familiar to Israelis. Towns and cities close to the border with Gaza and Lebanon are most directly and consistently affected. But even more distant towns, such as Ashdod in the South or Haifa in the North, have experienced not only the fear of a potential ballistic attack, but the destruction and mayhem an actual strike would cause.
Again, Israel’s immediate threat is not nuclear but conventional. However, Iran, a regional power with nuclear ambitions, is the prime backer of Hamas and Hezbollah. The 38 minutes of drama in Hawaii is just a taste of what Israel will face should Iran manage to achieve nuclear weapon capability and provide a nuclear umbrella to its proxies on Israel’s northern and southern borders.
More pressing than a nuclear-armed Iran, however, is the recent escalation in the South. On Saturday, the IDF destroyed a Hamas attack tunnel that ran underneath the Kerem Shalom Gaza crossing. It was the third tunnel destroyed in recent months. Since Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Jerusalem there has been an uptick in violence on the West Bank, in and around Jerusalem and coming from Gaza.
According to IDF data, in December alone, 19 rocket and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli cities and towns. This is more than half of the total number of ballistic attacks on Israel from Gaza Strip in all of 2017.
Supported by Iran, Hamas is once again prioritizing terrorism over the welfare of Gaza’s residents. Instead of focusing on turning the Gaza Strip into a viable, autonomous Palestinian state at peace with Egypt and Israel, Hamas, not unlike Kim’s regime in North Korea, devotes most of its resources toward preparation for war. Inevitably, this will lead to conflict with Israel, which cannot allow its deterrence to be undermined by Hamas.
For 38 minutes on Saturday, Hawaiians were convinced that a totalitarian dictator with what appears to be only a loose grip on reality had launched ballistic missiles. Israelis living near the border with Gaza face a similar reality on a regular basis, but instead of a Korean dictator, the aggressor is a group of nihilistic Islamist terrorists. If or when war breaks out again between Israel and Hamas we hope Hawaiians, Americans and the entire peace-loving world will know which side to support.