Gideon Israel
Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center

A Gift From North Korea

The most recent crisis between the US and North Korea could not have come at a more opportune time for Israel and the rest of the world.  It’s so timely, that one would be sure that providence had a hand in it.  The crisis is causing the US to weigh its response to serious threats from a nuclear power.  Though according to South Korean Defense Officials the North’s nuclear capabilities cannot reach the US homeland, Hawaii or Guam, a nuclear attack would still inflict considerable damage on US allies in the Pacific.  This crisis must serve as an important educational experience for the US in taking the necessary means to prevent further nuclear proliferation by irresponsible nations, and Israeli leaders would be wise in taking advantage of the public relations gift that has been provided by North Korea.

The North Korean crisis has emerged at a time when Iran is nearing its own nuclear breaking point.  The crisis with North Korea exemplifies the difficulty in dealing with a country threatening to use nuclear weapons.  The severity of the crisis – the possibility of a nuclear war – should be an eye opener for world leaders – forcing them to realize that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb will be much easier than containing a nuclear armed Iran.  However, there is one aspect of this current crisis which is significantly different from a potential one with a nuclear armed Iran:  the Koreans are aware of the destruction they would face should they choose act recklessly.  This is a potential deterrent to the inexperienced North Korean leader.

In contrast, the Iranian leadership cannot be expected to react the same way.  North Korea’s leaders are communists and fully believe that the only life is in this world.  They would, therefore, like to preserve that rather than face virtually certain death.  The Iranian leadership, on the other hand,  if they are true to their ideology, would revel in the idea that the US might expedite their journey to the afterlife.  Reward in the afterlife is a central part of their ideology, and an attack by the US on Iran would also fit perfectly with their view that the twelfth Imam will come at a time of great danger and crisis in the world.  Thus, the threat of a nuclear strike on Iran would not deter them as it might North Korea.

While there are those who claim that states are rational actors, the definition of rational behavior is a function of one’s ideology.  For Iranian leaders, rational behavior would be to implement the necessary steps to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam.

It is incumbent upon the US to internalize – via the current crisis in North Korea – how difficult a potential crisis would be with a nuclear Iran.  It is imperative for Israel to play this hand that they have been dealt to its fullest in discussions with the US and other countries regarding a potentially nuclear Iran.  Now is the time for the Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry to be warning of the dangers of a nuclear Iran.  Abstract ideas and statements regarding the danger of a nuclear Iran lack the persuasion that the real crisis with North Korea presents.  Nothing could be a more poignant sneak preview to a nuclear Iran than the current North Korean crisis. Providence has truly placed a gift in the hands of Israeli leaders, but it is their job to utilize that gift.

About the Author
Gideon Israel is the Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center which focuses on strengthening US-Israel relations through mutually beneficial policy projects.