Two Rogue Rivals: North Korea and Israel

25 May 2010
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The foreign relations of North Korea, namely Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have been usually tense. The general foreign policy of the state is an isolationist one and North Korean government continues to be world’s one of the most authoritarian administrations. North Korea is perpetuating its war against South Korea and the West. In this respect almost the only country that North Korea is in relation with is China. North Korea has limited international dialogues with other states.

In regard to Israel, North Korea does not recognize this state. But it recognizes the sovereignty of the Palestinian National Authority.  This administrative branch was established in 1994 and its aim is to govern the parts of West Bank and Gaza.  While the Palestinians and most of the states call it as Palestinian National Authority, Israel insists on to call it as Palestinian Authority (1).

On the top of these, it is claimed that North Korea is providing arm supplies to Israel’s rivals, namely Iran, Syria, Libya, and Egypt. Among these states, especially Syria became the subject of hot disputes between North Korea and Israel. The relationship between Syria and North Korea is based on the nuclear agreements and cooperation against Israel. 

On 6th September 2007 Israel made an air attack to the Deir ez-Zor region in Syria. This area was one of the border points between Syria and Turkey and it was abolished by the Israeli jets. The media and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) announced that ten North Korean nuclear scientists were killed in this airstrike. The strongest theory about the air attack underlined the North Korean – Syrian nuclear connection which was continuously denied by the DPRK government. These claims were put forward by the American sources and supported by John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations: “North Korea - under international pressure to scale down its own nuclear weapons program - has recently transferred equipment or technology to Syria” (2).

As a result North Korea banned Israeli citizens from entering into the country. Generally Israel is targeted by North Korea because of the reason that invading Syrian airspace and its violent attitudes against Palestine.

On 11th May 2010 in Tokyo, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman told Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama that “cooperation between Syria and North Korea does not centre on economic development, but focuses on WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) and arms smuggling.” Lieberman also asserted that “the affair of the North Korean airplane that was seized in Bangkok several months ago found to be carrying weapons destined for Hezbollah and Hamas” (3).

Moreover in the meeting with the Japanese PM, Lieberman mentioned that the government of Israel is ready to start direct peace talks with Palestinians without preconditions. In this respect, if Israeli administration plays its Palestine card well, this will take one of the walnuts from DPRK’s hands.


The assertions of Israeli side were harsh and North Korean answer to that would not be late. For return, on 16th May 2010 the government of North Korea gave an answer which was greatly furious. Pyongyang, Northern capital declared that Lieberman is “an imbecile in diplomacy”, “right wing extremist” and they will never “forgive” him. And according to Lieberman this “imbecile” remark of North Korea is a “compliment.” 

With these “compliments” North Korea tried to deny the Israeli position that Pyongyang is distributing weapons of mass destruction. The Minister of Foreign Affairs in North Korea announced that his country has nothing to do with the distribution of nuclear weapons.

What Israel claim is that North Korea, Syria and Iran are formed the axis of evil. Actually this is a term was first used by President George W. Bush in the first State of the Union in 2002. There, he named North Korea, Syria and Iran as the biggest threat to the USA’s security. During his visit to Japan, Lieberman also underlined that North Korea, Syria and Iran are in collaboration and these pose the biggest threat to world security. According to this view these states are producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction (4). 

The Connection between the Crises in North Korea and the Middle East
In the year 2003 two crises in Korean peninsula and the Middle East came to be connected with each other. Both crises were rooted from World War 2 and they remained unsolved for almost 60 years (5).

The base of the crisis in the Middle East lies on the Palestine problem and the crisis in Korea was caused from the country’s position as a divided nation. To categorize there are 6 agents in the Middle East: Israel, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), the UN, the USA, and the EU. In North-East Asia there are Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the USA. These states also lead the sixth-party talk.

In the Middle East, Israel is one of the oldest enemies of Syria which is an ally of the DPRK. Israel accuses Syria of providing help to Israel’s most important enemies namely Hamas and Hezbollah. It is known that Syria protects not just the exiled leader of Hamas but also other Palestine groups that are fighting against the Jewish state. Israeli administration also asserts that Syria dispatches Iranian weapons to Hezbollah, another group that fights against Israel. Few weeks before, Israeli president Shimon Peres has explicitly accused Syria of funnelling Scud missiles to Hezbollah. He emphasized that; this act of Syria would distort the balance of power in the region. Peres also told that North Korea is a “duty free shop” for weapons that were sent out to Iran, Lebanon and Syria (6).

Actually there are similarities between North Korea and Israel that cannot be ignored. For instance both states are exceptions in their own regions. Israel is the only Jewish state in Arab peninsula and North Korea is a dictatorship which has an old school authoritarian government in the Asian region.

More importantly, both states are paranoid about outsiders. Maybe because of these misgivings the foreign politics of both countries are instable and aggressive and tend to protect their boundaries. Israel’s attacks and invasions to other countries is a proof to this paranoid understanding. At the same time North Korea kidnapped foreign citizens and stroke military targets in the Southern part (7). 

Moreover both Israel and North Korea were vetoed from their closest counterparts. The interests of Israel and the USA started to fall apart. Namely, Israeli invasion of Gaza, its rejection to stop the invasion in the West Bank, and its constant desire to abolish Iran’s nuclear potentials are all causes of the marginalization of Israel by American government. Despite Israel’s aggressive acts, some American political still support the state’s policies, to see Hamas destroyed, Palestine and Iran powerless. But generally Israeli administration has become the target of the criticisms by the US president and vice president. From North Korean side, it is apparent that Pyongyang and Beijing are not as “close as lips and teeth” (8). The reason of this cooling of the relations is that Korea’s persuasion on nuclear weapons and rejection to Beijing-style economic reform. To make the situation clear, we can say that “North Korea has become like one of those embarrassing relatives who keeps getting thrown in jail and refuses to go into rehab” (9).

Apparently like China will not let North Korea down; the US will not just cut off its relations with Israel. Unruly and impracticable counterparts, North Korea and Israel are still the allies of China and the US. That is why these two super powers cannot ignore them easily.

North Korea Accuses the USA
North Korea also has problems with the US administrations. On 2007, it accused the US for actively providing nuclear weapons to Israel while preventing other countries from making peaceful nuclear programmes. According to the North Korean side, the USA provides assistance to Israeli nuclear development programme. Furthermore as to the assertions that are coming from the North Korean front, the US government sent nuclear experts to Israel. Also highly enriched uranium, which is the parent material for nuclear weapons, was delivered to Israel. 

These North Korean claims came after the attack of Israeli war planes to Northern Syria. This area was also known as an installation point. This point was assumed to be placed in “the joint North Korean - Syrian nuclear project or a shipment of arms for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.”

The North Korean government which called Israeli policy as an “imbecile diplomacy” this year, named the people who accused North Korea for making nuclear cooperation with Syria as “lunatics.” On 2007, North Korea’s top nuclear delegate told the reporters about his country’s nuclear programme that, “that matter is fabricated by lunatics, so you can ask those lunatics to explain it” (10).


To Conclude…
It seems like international meetings have almost reached their targets. North Korea was convinced to give up its nuclear programmes and also in July it will close its only operating nuclear reactor. Furthermore North Korea declared that it will put all of its nuclear facilities out of commission by the end of 2010.

Actually success for North Korea seems far away because of the restrictions of the USA’s policies. By simple terms the USA’s actual hope is the collapse of North Korea. As a result of these US policies North Korea would have to do something to rescue its economy. In this sense the worst outcome of the US policy would be DPRK’s selling plutonium to the highest bidder. 

Both North Korea and Israel are rogue states. But they are allies of China and the US first. According to Washington, Pyongyang is out of its authorization. And it is against the order of the world. On the other hand, Jerusalem is on the same boat with Washington. On the other hand, the USA sees Israel suitable to the membership of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). While Israel is seen as competent to be a part of Europe, its Judeo-Christian roots cause the USA and Israel getting even closer.

This mutual favouritism can be also seen in the relations between China and North Korea. Both states are following a nationalist foreign policy and as a result this understanding, they see themselves are the cradles of the world. Also communism brings them closer to each other and they insist on to maintain the dictatorship.

Both North Korea and Israel are needy for other states to support them. In this international system isolationism does not work and one day even the most isolationist states, like the DPRK, will require making cooperation with other nations. In this new world politics, every state needs its allies. But if North Korea and Israel continue to be exist as the most stubborn nations some day in the future when they look back for support and cooperation they might find nothing but a big space.


8- ibid.
9- ibid.

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