My Word: Doubly dangerous - Iran and North Korea

Iran is a global bully whose relationship with North Korea makes it doubly dangerous.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Kim Yong-Nam, the president of North Korean's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly  (photo credit: KCNA/ REUTERS)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Kim Yong-Nam, the president of North Korean's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly
(photo credit: KCNA/ REUTERS)
This is the story I wanted to write last week but couldn’t. At least now there is a happy ending, or as good as it gets under the circumstances.
No dead bodies, and that is no small mercy.
I spent several days last week worrying about Iranian writer and human rights activist Neda Amin, who writes for The Times of Israel’s Persian site. Lacking a country willing to offer her refuge, Amin was threatened with deportation from Turkey to Iran, where she faced a possible death sentence (or the not-so-proverbial fate worse than death in prison).
I decided not to write about Amin until she was out of danger, until she had reached the safety of the Promised Land.
Her plight was brought to the public’s attention via a petition by the UN Watch NGO among others. I followed her fate via the concerned WhatsApp messages sent out by my fellow board members of the Jerusalem Association of Journalists, which along with the Israel Federation of Journalists took up her cause and asked Interior Minister Arye Deri to grant her asylum.
Deri did not need much persuading. “This journalist faces real danger to her life only because she wrote columns for an Israeli news site,” he noted. “Under these clear humanitarian circumstances, I approved her entry without hesitation.”
When she finally landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on August 10, Deri tweeted, “Welcome to Israel!” A no-show at the airport the previous day, it later turned out, was due to a bureaucratic problem concerning a missing form and not, as most of us in Israel feared, because she had been arrested. Her rescue, however, was greater than I had thought.
Reading the first-person report by Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, who greeted Amin with much relief at the airport and hosted a press conference with her in Jerusalem, I learned that Amin came not only with emotional and physical baggage – she had also brought her beloved German shepherd, Chica, with her.
It makes me feel doubly proud: Perfect strangers had come together to save the life of the 32-year-old writer and her hound, a Zionist dog by default.
Iranian hard-liner clerics take a dim view of the increasing numbers of middle-class dog owners in the country, considering canines impure. Chica’s likely fate in Iran would have been no better than her owner’s.
This week, Amin, who speaks only a little English, began studying Hebrew in a Jewish Agency-run ulpan and settling in, although she is currently on a temporary visa.
IT HAS been the sort of week where good news was particularly welcome, a respite from the vile Nazi hatred and violence displayed in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the threats by North Korea’s leader Kim Jongun to knock Guam off the map.
It is easy to think of North Korea and Iran as being worlds apart. They are not. They both threaten the “Western” world. And although neither has a border with Israel, both pose a danger to it. The latest crisis between the US and North Korea is an ill wind that blows no good.
In a paper published by BESA (The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies) in February, Lt.-Col. (res.) Dr. Raphael Ofek and Lt.-Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham argued that “Iran is steadily making progress towards a nuclear weapon and is doing so via North Korea. Iran is unwilling to submit to a years-long freeze of its military nuclear program as stipulated by the July 2015 Vienna Nuclear Deal. North Korea is ready and able to provide a clandestine means of circumventing the deal, which would allow the Iranians to covertly advance that nuclear program. At the same time, Iran is likely assisting in the upgrading of certain North Korean strategic capacities.”
The two Israeli intelligence experts noted that Iran could contribute significantly to North Korea’s nuclear program, by, for example, upgrading gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment and through financial help. There is, as Ofek and Shoham pointed out, “an irony in this, as it is thanks to its VND [Vienna Nuclear Deal]-spurred economic recovery that Iran is able to afford it.”
There are those who believe that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US) in July 2015 was a good deal as it postponed Iran’s nuclear breakout by at least 10 years. I would ask them: How quickly did the first two years out of the 10 go for you? According to a report by Reuters and others, this week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the parliament in a session broadcast live on state television that the country could abandon its nuclear agreement “within hours” were the US to impose new sanctions. Earlier this month, Trump signed into law new sanctions passed by the US Congress on Iran, Russia and North Korea.
The precise nature of the Iran-North Korea nuclear-fueled relationship might be hidden from view but ties between the two countries are no secret. Just this month, North Korea established an embassy in Tehran and Pyongyang’s second most-senior leader, Kim Yong-nam, attended the inauguration ceremony for Rouhani, the man with a disarming smile that allows him to be mistakenly labeled “a moderate.”
You can be certain that both Iran and North Korea are drawing their own conclusions from the latest round of tension.
Iran, no less than North Korea, wants to see where the redlines are drawn and what happens when they are reached. As I have noted before, if Iran’s nuclear program was for as peaceful purposes as it claims, it would not be developing and testing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Tehran is spreading its tentacles. It threatens more than just an outspoken woman writer. Its reach spreads from Syria to Lebanon in the North to Yemen in the South.
Despite the global tensions, the Palestinians this week congratulated North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Liberation Day, which is marked in both North and South Korea on August 15 to commemorate the 1945 victory over Japan.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a telegram saying that the Korean people made “the greatest sacrifices for the sake of its freedom and dignity,” according to Wafa, the official PA news site, as picked up by The Jerusalem Post’s Adam Rasgon.
According to foreign press reports, Israel in September 2007 hit a facility for nonconventional weapons being established in Syria with North Korean help.
The world has been slow to wake up to the dangers lurking in the dark ties between Iran, North Korea and what remains of Syria. But unless a concentrated effort is made to tackle what has been called “the Iranization of terror,” nowhere will be safe.
Iran is a global bully whose relationship with North Korea makes it doubly dangerous.
There are brave people like Amin who risk their lives to publicize Iran’s human rights abuses. Israel can be proud of providing her with a place of refuge. It’s far better to accept a dissident and her dog than to let slip the dogs of war.
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