N. Korea's nuclear defiance may embolden Iran, Israelis worry
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates promised Saturday that the US will not 'stand idly by,' but the communist nation's example could be a case study in how to side-step diplomacy.
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The chief concern is that Pyongyang's defiance of the international community will serve as a case-study for how Iran also might side-step diplomacy, acquire nuclear weapons, and fuel a regional arms race. If North Korea can get away with becoming a nuclear nation with little punishment and despite US diplomatic efforts, Israeli analysts say that may embolden Iran to flout international pressure, too.
"If the Americans can't show credibility on North Korea, then they won't be able to go far. It's a thermometer," says Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University. "The US has been threatening to take action against North Korea since the 1990s and the North Korea has been able to buy time. The Israeli concern is that's exactly what will happen with Iran."
Israeli experts believe that it should have been easier to apply a mix of diplomatic and military pressure on North Korea than Iran because of its comparative geographic, economic, and political isolation.
"This is open season for nukes," says Uzi Rubin, a former military Israeli intelligence officer who served as head of Israel's Missile Defense Organization from 1991-99. The North Korea test last week was a "watershed event. It means that even if you have minimal technology and are isolated, if you really concentrate on it, you can get nuclear technology."
Israel pushes for strong international response
Mr. Rubin adds that international diplomacy is useless if not backed up by a credible threat of force.
"Here we have a country [North Korea] that has reneged on all of its international commitements and gone nuclear against the advice of all the international community. Other countries considering to do the same will now be watching and drawing conclusions," says Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the foreign ministry.
In the wake of North Korea's test last week, a foreign ministry statement called on the international community to "respond decisively ... so as to transmit an unambiguous message," Haaretz reported.
Addressing an Asian security conference in Singapore this weekend, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the US would not tolerate a nuclear North Korea, and warned that if diplomacy failed, tougher measures would be considered.