North Korea Snarls at Israel After Defense Chief Calls Pyongyang 'Crazy'

After Israel's defense minister Lieberman says U.S.-North Korea tensions have implications for Israel, hermit kingdom lashes out at 'only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East'

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un watches a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this handout photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on April 26, 2017.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un watches a military drill in this handout photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on April 26, 2017. KCNA/REUTERS

North Korea lashed out at Israel on Saturday after Israel's defense minister called the hermit kingdom's regime a "crazy and radical group," blamed it of being an ally of Syria's Assad and the Lebanese group Hezbollah and said growing tensions between the U.S. and Pyongyang have "direct implications" for Israel.

A statement released by the North Korean Foreign Ministry called Avigdor Lieberman's statement "reckless" and a form of "sordid and wicked behavior" that posed a "grave challenge to the DPRK."

FILE PHOTO: Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a political event in 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

In the statement, North Korea blasted Israel as the "only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East under the patronage of the U.S." It said Lieberman's comments were part of a "cynical ploy" to escape criticism of the occupation "of the Arab territories" and "crimes against humanity."

North Korea said it is "fully supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people… [of] establishing of an independent state with Kuds as its capital," using the Arab name for Jerusalem.

After stating that it is North Korea's right to have nuclear weapons, the statement went on to say that "it is the steadfast will and spirit of the service personnel and people of the DPRK to give merciless, thousand-fold punishment to whoever dares hurt the dignity of its supreme leadership," 

"Israel would be well advised to think twice about the consequences [of] its smear campaign against the DPRK," the statement said.

In an interview last week to the news site Walla, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that tensions between the U.S. and North Korea "have direct implications for Israel."

"Kim Jong-un is an ally of Assad. From North Korea, through Iran, to Syria and Hezbollah," Lieberman said, adding that country's sole goal was "undermining global stability," and calling the country's leadership "a crazy and radical group."

Covert nuclear reactor in Syria - AP
AP

North Korea is considered one of the world's most hostile nations toward Israel. In the last decades, it has provided training, arms and various technologies to entities considered enemies of the Jewish state, including Iran, whose missile program benefitted greatly from North Korean assistance. 

According to foreign reports, North Korea was also involved in helping Syria build a nuclear reactor, which was destroyed in an attack attributed to Israel in 2007.  

Saturday's statement was not the first time criticism of North Korea by Israeli officials provoked a fierce response from Pyongyang. In January 2015, North Korea fumed at Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the so-called DPRK of "enforcing merciless and radical dictatorship," while on a visit to Japan. Calling Netanyahu's remarks "an unpardonable insult," North Korea charged at the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

North Korea has also criticized Israel on other occasions, charging at its settlements in the West Bank, its conduct during the 2014 war in Gaza and at alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

Internal criticism

Following the North Korean statement, Israeli politicians criticized Lieberman for provoking the East Asian country. "Mr. Defense Minister, we have enough enemies in the region let's focus on them," Labor lawmaker Shelly Yacimovich tweeted.

Lieberman's predecessor, Moshe Ya'alon, accused the defense minister of "prattling irresponsibly about North Korea." Referring to past hawkish remarks made by Lieberman, Ya'alon tweeted: "After bombing the Aswan Dam, ousting Hamas, and taking out Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours, the minister of talk is prattling irresponsibly about North Korea."

"And there's no prime minister to call his prattling and belligerent ministers to order!" he added.

Tensions in the peninsula

North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes could lead to "catastrophic consequences".

U.S. and South Korean officials said the test appeared to have failed, in what would be the North's fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for "trying very hard" on North Korea but warned a "major, major conflict" was possible.

The North has been conducting missile and nuclear weapons related activities at an unprecedented rate and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.