Friday nights, while we’re sitting together around the Shabbat dinner table with friends and family, is the perfect time to try to decipher the secrets of the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
We’ve all seen the publications about the nuclearization of these two countries, but what are their real intentions? Although technically there isn’t one, there are many similarities between the two nations. Iran is a religious, fundamentalist country that is closed to outsiders. It is ruled by a dictatorship that is focused on conquering the entire Middle East and turning it into a Shi’ite caliphate.
North Korea is a closed communist country ruled by a despot who requires his citizens to worship him as if he were a god. Like Iran, North Korea also has dreams of ruling territory far larger than just the Korean peninsula.
Iran has great aspirations to achieve advanced nuclear capabilities, and North Korea has already conducted several tests with nuclear bombs. Both countries are ruled by irrational leaders whose actions are unpredictable and are bordered by enemy countries.
North Korea shares a border with South Korea and is just across the sea from Japan. Iran shares a border with Iraq, and sits just on the other side of the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia. A little further on lie Turkey and Israel.
And of course, the greatest enemy of all, the United States (aka the Great Satan), represents everything evil in the West.
Another country that is part of the power equation is Russia, or the former Soviet Union. For many years, Russia has been a supporter of both Iran and North Korea, which turned communist as a result of Soviet influence, and the Soviet Union was among the first nations to recognize North Korea in 1948. Russia has vowed to back both of these regimes if they were to come under attack by the West.
Both countries follow ideologies that separate them completely from the world around them. They oppress their peoples and use military might to aggressively express their desire to expand territorially.
Despite this, the world continues to allow these two regimes to continue arming themselves and strengthening their militaries, even though they consistently harm their own citizens, refuse to grant them basic rights and threaten their neighboring countries and the entire planet.
How is all this connected to us here in Israel? While neither has any direct conflict with nor claims against the Jewish state, both regimes pose some amount of threat to us. Iran refers to Israel as the Little Satan, and believes we are the representative of the US in the Middle East. We are like a small, but stubbornly tenacious bone that is lodged in their throat.
For the Iranians, we are one of the main obstacles to the creation of a Muslim caliphate in the Middle East.
For the North Koreans, we represent the US’s hold on power in the Middle East.
In addition, Russian influence in the countries surrounding Israel, namely military bases in Syria, is another factor that heavily affects the balance of power. Both countries benefit from Russian protection, which is one of the factors that enables their oppressive regimes to survive and even thrive.
But what else do North Korea and Iran have in common? It is highly unlikely that North Korea will have the audacity to attack Israel either directly or even indirectly before it deals with its hated and close neighbors, South Korea and Japan. Israel’s alleged nuclear capability is well known, and this should convince any leader to think twice or even three times before carrying out a move that would carry it past the point of no return.
Even the erratic leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, knows that once you push the red button, there’s no going back. As a result, it’s more likely that he’ll continue making threats and testing the limits, but stop before engaging in a nuclear war that he knows also could end in the destruction of his own country.
The same is true for Iran. Despite support from Russia and its successes in spreading Shi’ite control over a large territory between itself and Israel, Iran still must overcome a number of obstacles and it’s hegemony is threatened by Sunni Saudi Arabia, Kurdish forces, Israel and the US.
Iran has not yet acquired nuclear capability, however thanks to the catastrophic agreement former US president Barack Obama signed, it’s likely that it will reach this level within a number of years. That is, if Iran’s supreme leader and his Islamic fundamentalist regime don’t collapse due to the opposition made up by the Sunni underground and young people who are suffering under the despotic regime.
Even if Iran does achieve enough low-enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, it’s not clear if it would dare to use it. The Iranians also understand that there’s no going back once you’ve pressed the red button, and that if they do launch a nuclear strike at Israel, the Jewish state and the US would also launch dozens of missiles aimed back at Iran.
As crazy as Iranian leaders might seem, they probably aren’t interested in destroying the 82 million people living there. As a result, they too will most likely make threats and test the limits with slogans, but not necessarily start a war.
In short, the chances of a nuclear war breaking out in Asia or the Middle East in the near future are therefore pretty low. That’s not to say that the leaders of Iran and North Korea are not extremely dangerous or that they will refrain from causing severe harm to their neighbors.
However, we must manage the conflict cleverly, talk less and carry out actions that will lessen the threat caused by these two nations.
Instead of exacerbating the situation, we should carry out special covert missions, engage in cyber security, use quiet weapons, and carry out espionage. These are the actions that will keep us safe and prevent war.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.