October 19, 2019

Report Details Proxy War Between Israel, North Korea

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A lengthy Sept. 9 report in Tablet details the ongoing “shadow war” between Israel and North Korea that receives little media coverage.

The report notes that both the United States and Israel intelligence discovered in 2007 that North Korea was involved in the construction of Syria’s Al Kibar nuclear reactor; the reactor even resembled North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor. Intelligence also uncovered the head of Syria’s Atomic Energy Organization photographed with North Korean scientist Chon Chibu at the Yongbyon reactor.

Israel destroyed the Al Kibar reactor that year, a move that North Korea condemned. The episode was illustrative of the proxy war between Israel-North Korea that has occurred since the 1960s. The Tablet report goes on to note various instances in which North Korea has provided aid to Israel’s enemies, including to Egypt and Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and Egypt again in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. During the latter, “Israeli military personnel described clashes with North Korean fighters over the Sinai,” according to the report. North Korea has also helped keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power amidst the civil war that has engulfed Syria since 2011.

Additionally, North Korea first allied with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, providing Tehran with military assistance during the war. The two have since engaged in “close cooperation in developing strategic missile systems,” as both U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials have noted striking similarities in Iran and North Korea’s missile programs. Whether or not the two countries are also working together on developing nuclear weapons remains “an open question,” according to the report. 

The report notes that North Korea is moving closer toward its goal of reaching “hydrogen bomb capability” with its nuclear program, sparking Israeli concerns that Pyongyang could funnel its weaponry “to Israel’s Mideast enemies, particularly for the right price.”

A 2017 report from the Tokyo-based Diplomat Magazine seemingly buttresses Tablet’s report, noting that North Korea provided weaponry to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the late 1980s and has sided with Hamas over Israel in the myriad conflicts between the two. 

The Diplomat report also highlights a 2010 Congressional Research Service report stating “that North Koreans have helped Hezbollah build underground tunnels in Lebanon.”

North Korea’s antagonism toward Israel stems from Pyongyang’s belief that Israel is hypocritical to be stridently against nations like Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons despite having such weaponry of their own; Pyongyang also views Israel as an “imperial satellite” of the U.S., according to The Diplomat.