This week the world took a step towards nuclear confrontation.
The crisis was fomented not by Iran but by its ally North Korea as Pyongyang made loud preparations ahead of a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Unlike previous test launches, the Taepodong-2 missile at issue has a 15,000 km range capable of hitting the West Coast of the continental United States.
North Korea's latest strategic gambit is highly significant to Israel. Its import stems from its relevance for Israeli strategists tasked with crafting
a policy to contend with Iran's nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs. If Israel draws the proper lessons from the current crisis with
North Korea it will take the necessary steps to better position itself against Iran's developing threat. By so repositioning itself, while enhancing
its national security, Israel would strengthen the forces in the US and Europe that call for the jihadist, genocidal Iranian regime to be
confronted rather than appeased.
An international storm broke out as soon as North Korea's preparations to launch its Taepodong-2 missile and so directly threaten America
became known. For the first time, the US activated its ground based missile defense shield. The US Navy conducted the largest naval carrier
group exercise since the Vietnam War off the coast of Guam. Three carrier groups participated. US Ambassador to Japan Thomas Scheiffer said
that from America's perspective, "all options are on the table" if North Korea launches the missile. On Thursday, two former senior defense
officials from the Clinton administration published an op-ed in The Washington Post urging the Bush Administration to launch a cruise missile
attack against the missile on its launch pad.
On Wednesday Japan which has been operating under North Korean missile threat since Pyongyang tested a Taepodong-1 missile over
Japan in 1998 deployed ships and planes towards North Korea to closely monitor developments. For their part, the South Koreans who
have lived under threat of destruction at the hands of North Korean artillery pointed at Seoul for the past several decades announced the
cancellation of former president Kim Dae Jung's planned visit to the north and Unification Minister Lee Jong Seok said that a missile launch
would force Seoul to curtail food aid to North Korea.
North Korea Wednesday demanded that the US agree to conduct direct negotiations with it in order to defuse the crisis it fomented. As Han
Song Ryol, North Korea's UN deputy chief of mission put it to a South Korean reporter, "We know that the US is concerned about our missile
test launch. So our position is why don't we try to resolve this problem through negotiations?"
US President George W. Bush rejected North Korea's demand for direct talks. The US position is that if Pyongyang wishes to speak with the
US it should return to the six-party talks with the US, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea which it abandoned last November.
By Thursday afternoon it appeared the North Koreans had softened their stand and their manufactured crisis was ending with a whisper. Yet,
even if this is the case, when the events of the week are analyzed it is not clear that North Korea lost this round.
To appreciate why it is difficult to know who is emerging as the winner of the latest confrontation, the uniqueness of the current crisis must be
fully grasped. Until this week, North Korea's threat to the US was indirect. It threatened America by threatening its allies, forces and interests
in Asia. Now it is directly threatening the US mainland. Whereas until now the US focused its efforts on defending its allies and interests, now
it must also defend its own territory that from what now on should be considered to be under direct threat from Pyongyang.
There are three clear and complimentary goals that North Korea seeks to achieve by directly threatening the US. First it seeks to capitalize on
Bush's political weakness. One can almost hear the conversation in Kim Jong Il's bunker, "Why should the Iranians be the only ones to cash
in on Bush's decision to make the Europeans love him?" If Bush now seeks to be relevant by appeasing axis of evil members, that thinking
goes, then far be it from North Korea to let Teheran be the only beneficiary of the policy shift.
Undoubtedly Pyongyang is also trying to exploit the weaknesses in the US alliance with South Korea. For the past several years, Seoul has
adopted anti-US positions in the hopes of appeasing Pyongyang and strengthening its ties with China. This week the US placed great pressure
on Seoul for it to cancel Kim Dae Jung's visit to Pyongyang. It is not unreasonable to assume that Pyongyang took Jung's visit into account
when it timed the launch of its latest provocation. If Seoul had not bowed to US pressure and cancelled the visit, North Korea could have
exploited it to announce in Jung's presence that it was canceling its planned launch. By doing so it would have weakened the position of US
officials who insist on refusing North Korea's demand for direct talks.
Lastly, by directly threatening the US North Korea is maneuvering to improve its international position. Specifically, Pyongyang wishes to
force the Americans to accept its status as a nuclear power. While the stalwart positions taken this week by Japan and South Korea indicate
that for the time being Pyongyang was unsuccessful in achieving its first two goals, it may well have made progress towards achieving this
In his statement in Vienna on Wednesday, Bush said, "It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes who have announced
they have nuclear warheads, fire missiles."
Although he took a clear stand against the planned missile launch, Bush did not threaten North Korea's nuclear arsenal, indeed he may have
given it de facto recognition. If the US does agree to discuss the ICBM issue with North Korea in the six-party talks rather than limit those talks
to Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal, Pyongyang could use this development to foment a breach in the US alliance with Japan and South Korea.
The two Asian allies could perceive the US move as tantamount to abandoning them to their fates.
There are many notable similarities between the ways North Korea and Iran engage the world. Both manufacture international crises in order to
squeeze concessions out of the US and its allies in exchange for neutralizing their manufactured crises. Both seek to exploit all differences of
opinion between Western nations to strengthen the voices of appeasement at the expense of the voices calling for Iran and North Korea to be
brought to account for their behavior.
Iran and North Korea both wage war against near and distant foes. Pyongyang threatens South Korea, Japan and the US. If it manages to
unravel their alliance, it will be able to threaten each far more effectively.
Iran campaigns against Israel, the US and the EU. From Teheran's perspective, if it can place the world's undivided attention on its war against
Israel, it will be able to deter the US and Europe from contending with the fact that it is also working to undermine their security. Teheran has to
this end worked assiduously to hide the fact that its Shihab ballistic missile program is directed mainly against Europe and the US and not
Iran does not need guided or ballistic missile systems in order to attack Israel. Today Iranian forces directly control Hizbullah's arsenal of
missiles, mortars and rockets along Israel's northern border with Lebanon. Last December when Iran took command of the Palestinian
campaign against Israel in Gaza, it gained a significant presence along Israel's southern border.
If Israel does nothing to prevent it, in all likelihood we will soon see Iranian forces deployed along Israel's eastern border with Syria. The
defense pact signed this week between Syria and Iran paves the way for the introduction of Iranian forces in Syria across from the Golan
Heights. MK Yuval Steinitz, the former chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee explains that such an Iranian
deployment "goes along with the trends we are now seeing regarding the beefing up of the Iranian presence along our border with Lebanon."
Moreover, if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert implements his plan to give Judea and Samaria to Hamas and Fatah, Iranian forces will be deployed on
the outskirts of the Dan Region, the Sharon Plain, the lower Galilee and Jerusalem. All in all, today Iran has no need for sophisticated ballistic
missiles to attack Israel.
This week the Northern Command brought reporters to the border with Lebanon to show them that Iranian forces now command Hizbullah
outposts located 20 meters from the border. The commanders stipulated that Israel will not be the first side to open fire along the border. It is
quite possible that such restraint is misguided.
Israel would do well to follow the example set this week by Japan and South Korea. While both countries let the US lead the international
response towards North Korea, they both also took reasonable, unilateral steps aimed at ensuring their own security from the unique threats
North Korea poses towards each of them. Israel must also take steps to secure itself from the unique threats Iran poses against it, while leaving
the US in charge of managing the international community's confrontation with Teheran.
If Israel were to seize the initiative against Iran and its terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon while preventing their deployment across from the
Golan Heights and in Judea and Samaria it would be accomplishing two goals at once. First it would be diminishing the most immediate Iranian
threat it faces today while enhancing US options for dealing with Teheran's ballistic missile arsenal and its nuclear program. Second, by
dealing with the Iranian threat that endangers Israel alone, Israel would be increasing international awareness of the fact that the Shihab missile
program is not first and foremost a threat to Israel in spite of Iran's attempts to portray it as such.
A poll published at the beginning of the month revealed that 63 percent of Dutch citizens believe that Islam is incompatible with modern
European life. More than anything else, this poll demonstrates that as the threat of global jihad becomes more tangible, citizens of the Free
World will have less of a tendency to try to appease jihadist forces. By weakening the immediate threat Iran now poses towards Israel,
Jerusalem will force Europe and the US to understand more clearly just how real Iran's threat towards them actually is.
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