Rex Tillerson, the new U.S. secretary of state, referred to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program during to his visit to Seoul last week, saying that his country's "policy of strategic patience has ended.”
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All options are now on the table, including the military option of knocking out North Korea’s nuclear and missile capability. It looks like years of America putting up with North Korea’s adventurous provocative policy are coming to an end. The development of an intercontinental ballistic missile by North Korea that could reach the United States was the last straw. America will not allow itself to be threatened by a North Korean nuclear attack.
What does all this have to do with Israel? Pyongyang is almost 8,000 kilometers from Jerusalem, but nevertheless North Korea’s pernicious influence has been felt in Israel’s neighborhood over the years. It has marketed nuclear know-how to Iran, built a nuclear reactor in Syria, and supplied ballistic missile technology to enemies of Israel in the Middle East. Many of the threats that Israel faces today have their origins in North Korea.
North Korea is not the only country governed by a “crazy” regime, reaching out for nuclear-weapons capability in the expectation that that would provide it with immunity from any punitive measures, and that exports its deadly know-how to other countries. The Iranian theocracy is in the same category. Iran does not only export its technological know-how to its proxies in the Middle East, but foments terrorist activities throughout the region.
Although Barack Obama for a number of years let it be known that in putting an end to the vast Iranian nuclear project “all options are on the table,” he finally assented to a negotiated settlement with Iran, which essentially left the Iranian nuclear infrastructure in place.
Like his announcement that the use by Bashar Assad of chemical weapons would be crossing a red line that would bring about an American response, which ended being an empty threat, so here too he decided to leave well enough alone and reconciled himself to Iran retaining a nuclear infrastructure that could be activated on short notice.
But as far as Iran was concerned, that was not the end of the story. The lifting of sanctions and the unfreezing of Iranian assets has provided Iran with resources, many of which are now being utilized by Iran to strengthen Hezbollah, to engage in terrorism, and to try and establish itself as the dominant power in the Middle East. We have not heard the last from Tehran.
The new administration in Washington has evidently reassessed the policy of its predecessor regarding North Korea. It is likely that a reassessment of America’s policy toward Iran is going to follow.
There is another “crazy” actor in the Middle East. It is Hezbollah, a Shi'ite terrorist organization with headquarters in Lebanon that like Iran is pledged to the destruction of Israel. It is financed, equipped, and trained by Tehran. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah is convinced that with the over 100,000 rockets in his arsenal aimed at Israel, he has attained the kind of immunity that the North Koreans are seeking with their nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.
Hezbollah’s missiles do not as yet carry nuclear warheads, but even when equipped with conventional warheads they have the ability to cause immeasurable destruction among Israel’s civilian population. Nasrallah may feel that he has the equivalent of a nuclear bomb in his arsenal.
Here too, it must be said, the attitude of successive Israeli governments of allowing Hezbollah to build its arsenal of rockets, as their range and accuracy improved, in the hope that Hezbollah would be deterred from using them, leaves much to be desired. Actions to intercept the supply of rockets and other war materiel, provided by Iran on their way to Hezbollah in Lebanon, are useful but do not solve the problem.
It is important to call to Washington’s attention the danger that Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets poses to stability in the region. Here too it is time for a reassessment.