Israel Has a Playbook for Dealing With North Korea

Israel Has a Playbook for Dealing With North Korea, by Zev Chafets.

Begin had no military expertise. But his family had been wiped out in the Holocaust. He looked at Saddam, who was openly threating Israel, and saw Hitler. To Begin, sitting around hoping for the best was not a strategy; it was an invitation to aggression. If there was going to be a cost — political, diplomatic, military — better to pay before, not after, the Iraqis had the bomb.

In the summer of 1981, Begin gave the order. The Israeli air force destroyed the Osirak reactor. The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack. The Europeans went bonkers. The New York Times called it “inexcusable.” But the Israeli prime minister wasn’t looking to be excused by the Times or the Europeans or even the usually friendly Ronald Reagan administration. He enunciated a simple rationale that would come to be known as the Begin Doctrine: Israel will not allow its avowed enemies to obtain the means of its destruction.

The wisdom of this doctrine became clear a decade later, during the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein made good on his threat to fire Russian-made SCUD missiles at Israeli cities. The SCUDs landed, and caused some damage and a fair amount of panic, but they were not armed with unconventional warheads. Israel had taken that option off the table.

Similarly, in 2007, Israel confirmed what it had suspected for five years: Syria, with North Korean help, was trying to build a nuclear reactor. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a Begin disciple, sent Mossad chief Meir Dagan to Washington, to ask for American intervention. The CIA chief, Michael Hayden, agreed with Israel’s contention that Damascus (with Iranian financing) was constructing the reactor. But Hayden convinced President George W. Bush that bombing the site would result in all-out war, and who wants that?

Acting on its own, Israel destroyed the Syrian site (reportedly killing a group of North Korean experts in the process). Hayden was wrong about how Syria would react, as he later admitted. If Israel had been reasonable and listened to the CIA, Bashar al-Assad would have nuclear weapons right now.

But then Obama came along, and the new Iranian threat:

A few years later, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak spent billions of dollars preparing and training to take out the Iranian nuclear program. Barak, not a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, explained: “There are instances where it appears it is not necessary to attack now, but you know that you won’t be able to attack later.” In such cases, he said, the “consequences of inaction are grave, and you have to act.”

Israel was prevented from kinetic action by the Barack Obama administration, which along with five other powers cut a deal with Iran in 2015 — over Israel’s vociferous objections. Netanyahu warned that the deal was full of loopholes; it would allow Iran to hide its nuclear program and continue building new means of delivery. This was confirmed in 2016 when Iran tested a new missile. “The reason we designed our missiles with a range of 2000 kilometers,” said Iranian Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, “is to be able to hit our enemy the Zionist regime from a safe distance.”

Since then, Iran has stepped up its aggressive enmity toward the Zionist Entity. It has not only continued its nuclear cooperation with North Korea, it has also copied Pyongyang’s tactic of creating a huge artillery threat against civilian populations (through its proxy force Hezbollah in Lebanon and now Syria). This conventional threat to Seoul is what has convinced a great many American commentators that any attack on North Korea would lead to an “unthinkable” number of casualties.

Ruling out harsh thoughts is a luxury Israel doesn’t have. It has installed an efficient missile defense system (something not beyond the means of the South Koreans and the U.S.). It is also training to neutralize the threat of a bombardment. The IDF is currently conducting its biggest military exercise in 19 years. The announced goal is to prepare for war with Hezbollah. Israel does not intend to allow itself to be held hostage by an Iranian threat to its civilian population, or to have its hands tied by the theory of unthinkability.