Analysis: Why is North Korea different from Iran?

Despite worldwide response to the contrary, Israel believes it isn't.

Kim Jong Il 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Kim Jong Il 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
In February, Iran launched a satellite into space. Called Omid, the tiny satellite was launched in honor of the Islamic Revolution's 30th anniversary. It generated headlines around the world and spurred genuine concern in Israel, which warned that the satellite had been launched to cover up the country's development and production of long-range ballistic missiles. "You need specific and added energy when firing a satellite which weighs between 30 and 50 kilograms into space," Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a former Kadima MK and current chairman of the Israeli Space Agency, explained at the time. "The equivalent within the atmosphere is firing a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead that weighs one ton all the way to Western Europe." North Korea's launching of a ballistic missile on Sunday, reportedly carrying a satellite, is believed to have been done for the same purpose - to test-fire a missile that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead. This time though, it was not Israeli officials who were warning of the threat North Korea's missiles pose to the world, but world figures - including US President Barack Obama. This does not mean Israel is not concerned about the test - it most certainly is. First, if the world fails to stop North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program, it is also likely to fail to stop Iran's nuclear program. Second, Israel is concerned about the transfer of technology between North Korea and Iran. Iran is believed to have a number of BM-25 intercontinental missiles that it purchased from North Korea years ago. The Syrian nuclear reactor Israel destroyed in September 2007 was reported to have been modeled after the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon. "It has already been proven that North Korean technology makes its way to Iran and Syria," one defense official said Sunday. While Iran, unlike North Korea, does not yet have a nuclear weapon, it is on its way. According to the latest assessments, Iran has enough fissionable material from which it can extract a SQ (significant quantity) of high-enriched uranium needed for a nuclear device. The current Israeli timeline assesses that Iran will likely have a nuclear weapon within the next 18 months. The question on the minds of some defense officials on Sunday, though, was, why the strong rhetoric from world leaders in response to the North Korea launch? Why did Obama say Sunday that North Korea "broke the rule," but remain mum on Iran's similar launch earlier this year? The answer, one of these officials explained, has to do with America's credibility and standing in the world, since North Korea, under United Nations Security Council resolutions, is not supposed to fire ground-to-ground missiles, and the US has invested energy and resources in the Six-Nation talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear facilities. Iran has yet to reach this advanced stage. While it continues to enrich uranium and, according to Israel, advance in its weapons program, it has not yet tested a weapon, something North Korea has already done. For this reason, the US believes there is still plenty of time for talks with Iran to bear fruit. Israel, as usual, begs to differ. Based on events in northeast Asia on Sunday, it has reason to.