From Israel's perspective, North Korea's nuclear test is primarily important because of its ramifications on the behavior of Pyongyang's ally Iran, and because of its impact on international efforts to curb Iranian nuclear plans. A special cabinet meeting will discuss these on Thursday, and a senior member of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission discussed them with senior Washington officials yesterday.
North Korea tops the list of collaborators with Israel's enemies. It gave Syria and Iran Scud technology that allowed them to develop a strategic threat against Israel. Israeli officials say there is no evidence North Korea has passed nuclear technology to Iran, but they are concerned and quote the North Korean announcement last week that Pyongyang would have "no hesitation" to transfer technology, material and even nuclear weapons to other countries. If that happens, Iran can substantially shorten its path toward a nuclear bomb.
Even if that threat doesn't materialize, the North Korean trial has important strategic implications for Iran. Kim Jong-Il ignored all warnings and pressure from the U.S. government, and pushed the button. The "international community" was exposed in all its weakness and ineffectiveness. This could convince Iranian rulers Ali Khamenei and Mahmud Ahmadinejad that they better hurry to the point of no return, because those who hold the bomb are immune and can no longer be threatened militarily.
The test will heighten the argument in the U.S. about whether to talk to Iran or worsen the diplomatic conflict. Former secretary of state James Baker this week joined the call to "talk to enemies" in Tehran and Damascus. His position is strengthened by the criticism of the Bush administration, which missed the diplomatic option with North Korea and failed to curb its nuclear project.
Israeli ambassador to Washington, Danny Ayalon, believes the North Korean test will strengthen the other side, and push the administration into harsh sanctions against Iran. Until now, only "soft sanctions" were discussed, which means symbolic acts. Other Israeli officials estimate that after the North Korean nuclear explosion, it will be easier to garner international support against Iran. Japan for instance, which once opposed sanctions on Iran, changed its mind after a North Korean missile test in July.
But the key to imposing sanctions on Iran lies in Russia, which has avoided effective handling of Iran's nuclear ambitions until now. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will visit President Vladimir Putin next week in Moscow and again try to change his mind.
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