Exclusive: Israeli Strike Highlights Rogue-State Axis: What We Know about North Korea-Syria Military Ties
Author: Joel Himelfarb
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: October 1, 2007
While we can’t describe with any certainty what happened with Israel’s reported bombing of the Syrian nuclear facility, FSM Contributing Editor Joel Himelfarb observes what we do know about the North Korean regime…and what we should do about it.
While the details of Israel's Sept. 6 airstrike inside Syria remain a closely guarded secret, this much is clear: The Israeli raid has focused plenty of attention on the longstanding military relationship between Syria and North Korea, and the connections between rogue regimes in Damascus, Pyongyang and Tehran.
North Korea has long been involved in helping Syria develop and improve its Scud missile force. For example, Syria is believed to have purchased more than 100 Scud-C missiles from the DPRK regime which may be capable of carrying chemical or biological warheads. Another missile that North Korea may have helped the Syrians develop is the Scud-D; that missile, with a range of well over 400 miles, has the capability to reach pretty much anywhere in Israel and Jordan and Lebanon, in addition to U.S. forces based in Iraq and Turkey, a NATO ally. Syrian strongman Bashar Assad's regime is widely believed to have chemical and biological weapons, including mustard gas, sarin, and anthrax. And it maintains this arsenal in part through the acquisition of dual-use equipment (items with both military and civilian uses) from North Korea.
Now, the Israelis are hinting that the target struck in the Israeli raid last month is connected to North Korean efforts to help Syria develop its nuclear capability. Andrew Semmel, acting U.S. deputy assistant Secretary of State overseeing nuclear nonproliferation policies, said Sept. 14 that he could not eliminate the possibility that the nuclear proliferation network headed by Dr. A.Q. Khan (the Pakistani nuclear scientist whose network supplied Iran, North Korea and Libya with nuclear material, technology and know-how dating back several decades) was involved in transferring the material that Israel destroyed in the raid.
Subsequently the Washington Post reported that Washington had been gathering evidence (mainly produced by Israel) showing that North Korea and Syria had been collaborating on a nuclear facility that could be used to make material for nuclear weapons. John Bolton, former undersecretary of State for nonproliferation affairs under the current President Bush, has also raised the issue of Pyongyang-Damascus nuclear cooperation.
But even the thought that North Korea might be helping Syria produce a nuclear weapon was enough to trigger a hit job on Bolton, which ran on the BBC Sept. 18. Joseph Cirincione of the Center for American Progress (the think tank headed by former Clinton White House Chief of Steve John Podesta) delivered a mini-harangue, saying that the report was put together by unnamed Bush administration officials and leaked to the press in order to "promote a pre-existing political agenda. If this sounds like the run-up to the war in Iraq, then it should."
Gary Samore of the Council on Foreign Relations (a former Clinton Administration National Security Council official) also expressed skepticism about the notion that North Korea was aiding Syria's nuclear program -- but did so in a much more careful way than Cirincione, pointing out that Israel has been worried for some time about Syria attempting to get nuclear technology from North Korea. "Just because John Bolton is using this for political purposes doesn't mean that it is not true," Samore said.
In fact, there is plenty of history to suggest that Bolton's concerns about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il's role in nuclear proliferation will be borne out -- and this raises serious questions about the Feb. 13 U.S.-North Korean agreement in which Pyongyang agreed to eliminate its nuclear capabilities. We should fully expect North Korea to try to make concessions in order to win a propaganda victory, while covertly continuing its hostile behavior. For example, Bolton points out that shortly after North Korea conducted a successful 1998 test of its Taepo-Dong missile, it declared a moratorium on launch testing from its territory, winning a huge P.R. victory. But the DPRK did not stop its missile development efforts; on the contrary, it benefited from its collaborative work with Iran, which uses essentially the same technology in its ballistic missile programs.
And of course in 1994 it signed a nuclear agreement with the Clinton Administration that was brokered by former President Jimmy Carter. Eight years later, it announced it would no longer abide by the agreement, and we have since learned that Kim has as many as 12 nuclear weapons. Could the same thing be repeating itself today?
North Korea has disabled its Yongbyon nuclear facility as required under the agreement -- qualifying it for international economic assistance and paving the way for an end to Pyongyang's isolation. The Israeli raid, however, suggests that the DPRK may simultaneously be engaged in proliferation-related behavior that: 1) violates the spirit, if not the letter of the Feb. 13 accord with the United States, and 2) is very harmful to U.S. national interests.
All of the above constitutes a huge political problem for Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice and for Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy who negotiated the agreement. They can try to ignore or downplay the issue of continued North Korean involvement in proliferation in order not to jeopardize the Feb. 13 deal, or they can raise the issue vigorously -- angering Kim and inviting the collapse of U.S.-North Korean negotiations.
They should do the latter, but judging from the way foreign policy has been conducted during President Bush's second term, they probably won't. They are heavily invested in the North Korea deal, and standing up to Pyongyang threatens to unravel what they consider to be one of their greatest diplomatic "successes." Just to be sure the American negotiators know their place, we should expect the North Koreans to do what one of their representatives did when a March 2003 negotiating session in Beijing reached an impasse: he pulled aside an American counterpart and threatened to transfer nuclear material to other countries.
While the true nature of the Syrian nuclear facility remains shrouded in mystery, the true nature of the North Korean regime is not.