April 8, 2009
Number 04/09 #03
Israeli commentators have watched with interest the reaction to North Korea’s illegal ballistic missile launch – under cover of a “civilian satellite” launch – on Sunday. They see the reaction of the US administration and international community as important signposts for their treatment of the Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation threat. This Update features some of their comments.
First up, Yaakov Katz of the Jerusalem Post looks at the comparisons being made in Israel between North Korea and Iran. Commentators and officials, he reports, look at the reaction to the North Korean launch as inciting more interest and condemnation than a similar Iranian launch in February, and are concerned with the reason. Also, Israel is concerned both that if the international community fails to stop North Korea it will similarly fail with Iran, and that North Korean technology will sooner or later find its way to Iran. For more on Israeli concerns, CLICK HERE.
Next, top Israeli security journalist Ron Ben Yishai explores the Israeli concerns about North Korea – both as a a precedent and a source of proliferation for Iran – in more depth. He clarifies that while both Iran and North Korea did do their tests with satellites, it’s clear that such tests are good preparation for nuclear-tipped missiles once these are developed. He also makes a strong argument that there are reasons to believe Iran is considerably more dangerous than North Korea. For his full argument, CLICK HERE. Also commenting on these North Korea/Iran concerns are other Israeli security experts led by former general turned academic Eytan Gilboa.
Finally, Danny Zamir, the former soldier who organised the discussion seminar by Israeli soldiers that led to international headlines (based on stories in Haaretz) alleging Israeli crimes and other misbehaviour in Gaza, speaks out. He denounces distortions by the international media of those discussions (much of which centred on concerns expressed by soldiers about rumoured killings of civilians which turned out to be false), saying, “It was as if the media were altogether so eager to find reason to criticise the IDF that they pounced on one discussion by nine soldiers… to draw conclusions that felt more like an indictment.”He offers a good explanation of Israel’s position vis-a-vis Hamas in Gaza, while also strongly supporting the need for the Israel Defence Force to maintain its traditional doctrine of “purity of arms”, the concept of the moral soldier. For this important statement by Zamir, a left-wing activist often highly critical of Israeli government policy, CLICK HERE. For the Israeli army’s response to one of the issues discussed by Zamir’s group which was factually based – tasteless t-shirts with brutal messages made privately by a few soldiers – see here.
Readers may also be interested in:
- The international response to North Korea so far gets negative reviews from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton and former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens.
- Top US military men – Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and Central Command Commander Gen. David Petraeus – say that unless Iran is stopped, an Israeli military action may occur somewhere down the track, and can succeed. Comment on Mullen’s statement comes from the Wall Street Journal. However, US Vice-President Joe Biden predicts no Israeli strike will occur.
- Amir Taheri on the increasingly bellicose language being used against Iran in the Arab world.
- Iran again caught trying to illegally smuggle in material for its nuclear and missile programs.
- Israel successfully tests its Arrow anti-missile system. It is also expecting “Iron Dome”, a defensive system against Katyusha and Qassam rockets, to be operational next year.
- Historian Ira Stoll on the danger of rising antisemitism in the context of the current economic crisis.
- Some interesting information on “white phosphorus” and why it is used in warfare, in the wake of the Gaza conflict controversy on the subject. Plus, a debunking of a recent poorly based Human Rights Watch report on the subject from NGO Monitor.
- Washington Institute scholar Magnus Norell challenges the bizarre legal claims made by UN Rapporteur and long-time virulent critic of Israel Richard Falk in his recently published argument that any attack on Gaza by Israel was by definition a war crime.
- A Pakistani government minister says the recently widely publicised flogging of a 17-year-old by the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat valley is a “Jewish conspiracy.”
- Hamas broadcasts that Jews “drink blood.”
- British academic Norman Geras has some interesting blog posts on why it is likely antisemitic to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, and the legal argument it should be off-limits to talk about antisemitism in the context of discussing Israel on the grounds that this “chills debate.”
THE JERUSALEM POST, Apr. 5, 2009
In February, Iran launched a satellite into space. Called Omid, the tiny satellite was launched in honor of the Islamic Revolution’s 30th anniversary.
It generated headlines around the world and spurred genuine concern in Israel, which warned that the satellite had been launched to cover up the country’s development and production of long-range ballistic missiles.
“You need specific and added energy when firing a satellite which weighs between 30 and 50 kilograms into space,” Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a former Kadima MK and current chairman of the Israeli Space Agency, explained at the time. “The equivalent within the atmosphere is firing a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead that weighs one ton all the way to Western Europe.”
North Korea’s launching of a ballistic missile on Sunday, reportedly carrying a satellite, is believed to have been done for the same purpose – to test-fire a missile that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.
This time though, it was not Israeli officials who were warning of the threat North Korea’s missiles pose to the world, but world figures – including US President Barack Obama.
This does not mean Israel is not concerned about the test – it most certainly is.
First, if the world fails to stop North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, it is also likely to fail to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Second, Israel is concerned about the transfer of technology between North Korea and Iran.
Iran is believed to have a number of BM-25 intercontinental missiles that it purchased from North Korea years ago. The Syrian nuclear reactor Israel destroyed in September 2007 was reported to have been modeled after the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon.
“It has already been proven that North Korean technology makes its way to Iran and Syria,” one defense official said Sunday.
While Iran, unlike North Korea, does not yet have a nuclear weapon, it is on its way. According to the latest assessments, Iran has enough fissionable material from which it can extract a SQ (significant quantity) of high-enriched uranium needed for a nuclear device. The current Israeli timeline assesses that Iran will likely have a nuclear weapon within the next 18 months.
The question on the minds of some defense officials on Sunday, though, was, why the strong rhetoric from world leaders in response to the North Korea launch? Why did Obama say Sunday that North Korea “broke the rule,” but remain mum on Iran’s similar launch earlier this year?
The answer, one of these officials explained, has to do with America’s credibility and standing in the world, since North Korea, under United Nations Security Council resolutions, is not supposed to fire ground-to-ground missiles, and the US has invested energy and resources in the Six-Nation talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities.
Iran has yet to reach this advanced stage. While it continues to enrich uranium and, according to Israel, advance in its weapons program, it has not yet tested a weapon, something North Korea has already done. For this reason, the US believes there is still plenty of time for talks with Iran to bear fruit.
Israel, as usual, begs to differ. Based on events in northeast Asia on Sunday, it has reason to.
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Latest North Korean missile test cause for concern for Israel as well
The North Koreans did not lie. All the data collected thus far shows that the missile they launched Sunday was indeed designated for a seemingly legitimate aim – bringing a small satellite into orbit. So why did the launching of the missile arouse such fury in South Korea, Japan and the United States, while also causing significant worries in China and Russia? The answer has to do with the technical details, says former Air Force Chief and Defense Ministry Director General David Ivry. “A state that can successfully launch a 100-kilo satellite to an altitude of 400 kilometers in space is also capable of launching, using the same missile, a nuclear warhead weighing half a ton to a range of 2,500 to 3,500 kilometers,” he said.
North Korea already possesses several nuclear bombs and missiles that can hit any point in South Korea as well as extensive areas in western Japan. If the latest test succeeded, North Korea would be able to hit, using a missile fitted with a nuclear warhead, all of Japan’s territory, southern China, and even Alaska. American intelligence officials say that North Korea has not yet been able to cut the size of its nuclear bombs in a manner that would enable it to fit them on a ballistic missile, yet this is only a matter of time. The moment North Korea would possess an intercontinental ballistic missile it will develop the nuclear warhead for it sooner or later.
These facts should worry us too. While Iran does not yet possess nuclear weapons like North Korea does, it is close to acquiring them and it has proven long-range missile capabilities. Last year, Iran successfully launched a small satellite into space. The missile used in the launching points to ballistic capabilities to hit ranges of roughly 2,000 kilometers. However, even though Iran seemingly trails behind North Korea, in the long term it is more dangerous. It has oil to fund its religious expansion aspirations and the development of missiles and nuclear weapons, and it is also more immune to international sanctions.
North Korea, on the other hand, lacks resources and its population is hungry; therefore, it is easier to engage in dialogue with it and even “buy” a compromise via massive economic aid. The trouble is that North Korea’s empty coffers and failed economy also work in the opposite direction to what the West and Israel desire: North Korea assists Iran and Syria in exchange for a hefty payment in developing nuclear weapons and missiles. In the past, it helped Pakistan as well. According to foreign intelligence sources, Iranian scientists were present at North Korea’s latest launch, as well as in the nuclear experiment undertaken by the North Koreans about a year and a half ago. Therefore, any kind of knowledge and possibly any weapons system developed by North Korea will eventually be sold to these states, and possibly to other Muslim states that would join the radical Islamic camp.
How will US respond?
Yet the major threat to East Asian stability, and indirectly to us too, does not stem from North Korea’s technical launching ability or even from the fact it possesses nuclear weapons, but rather, from the character of the North Korean regime. The North Korean leadership has proven time and again that it is reckless, cruel, and unpredictable. In other words, we are dealing with a “crazy country” that does not take the welfare and safety of its own citizens into consideration and is willing to expose them to the danger of hunger and a conventional or nuclear war, as long as it can sow fear on its neighbors and boost the prestige of its leaders. The connection between such regime to launching abilities and military nuclear capabilities constitutes a substantive threat not only to regional peace, but also to world peace.
This is also the strategic meeting place between the Iranian nuclear threat against us, against Mideastern countries, and against Europe to the North Korean threat against Asian countries and the western US. In both cases we are dealing with a connection between fanatic, irresponsible and unpredictable regimes and weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the Ayatollah regime in Iran is still much more level-headed, responsible, democratic and transparent than the North Korean regime, yet this may change in the future as result of changes at the top and as result of intoxication with power. A fanatic religious regime that aspires for regional hegemony and a status of a global military power is no less dangerous than the mad Stalinist dictatorship in North Korea.
The regime in Tehran may be even more dangerous. Experience shows that North Korea develops nuclear weapons and ballistic capacities as a means for economic extortion and as a means for guaranteeing the regime’s survivability. Through this threat, it hopes to boost the quantities of food, fuel, and consumer products it receives from its wealthy neighbors Japan and South Korea. To the same end, it also challenges the US, China, and Russia. This is the only way Kim Jong-il and his leadership partners would be able to keep providing food to their citizens and take a central place in the international area, without ultimately admitting the failure of the Marxist-Leninist experiment and losing their grip on power.
Iran too faces economic woes, which are made worse by the sanctions. However, the Ayatollah’s dependency on direct outside aid is much smaller, and the oil it possesses along with the ability to torch the oil wells in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait serve as an effective counter pressure lever vis-à-vis the one used by the West. For this reason, it is important to see how the international community responds to North Korea’s provocation. It is no coincidence that American experts say that this is the first serious challenge on the foreign relations and national security front faced by the Obama regime. The manner in which the US and the UN Security Council respond will show us what the world and what we can expect as the confrontation vis-à-vis Iran continues.
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, THE JERUSALEM POST, Apr. 7, 2009
A number of articles published recently in The New York Times quoted or were based on words spoken by myself and by graduates of the pre-army leadership development program which I head (the “Rabin Mechina”) – graduates who participated as combat soldiers in Operation Cast Lead and who met recently to process personal experiences from the battlefield.
Both explicitly and by insinuation, the articles claim a decline in the IDF’s commitment to its moral code of conduct in combat, and moreover, that this decline stems from a specific increase in the prominence of religious soldiers and commanders in the IDF in general, and from the strengthening of the position of IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky in particular.
It was as if the media were altogether so eager to find reason to criticize the IDF that they pounced on one discussion by nine soldiers who met after returning from the battlefield to share their experiences and subjective feelings with each other, using that one episode to draw conclusions that felt more like an indictment. Dogma replaced balance and led to a dangerous misunderstanding of the depth and complexity of Israeli reality. The individual accounts were never intended to serve as a basis for broad generalizations and summary conclusions by the media; they were published internally, intended for program graduates and their parents as a tool to be used in the process of educating and guiding the next generation.
I chose as well to submit the soldiers’ accounts to the highest levels of the IDF, directly to the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, out of my deep faith in the solid moral foundations of IDF policy and in complete confidence that the accounts would receive serious and thorough attention, including both investigation and corrective measures, if and when necessary. This faith was and is based on my personal experience of more than two decades – as a combat solider, a major in the IDF and as mentor for hundreds of the Rabin Mechina’s graduates who are soldiers serving in combat units (active and reserve).
There are, to be sure, important political differences between myself as a social-democratic Zionist and Zionists of other political opinions. But there exists among us a very broad consensus regarding the moral character of combat – a moral character to which the IDF is committed and educates its soldiers, a character positively influenced by religious mechinot and by the special personal qualities of my colleague Rabbi Ronsky.
THE GUIDING principle that directs IDF combat soldiers, both in their planning and conduct in combat, encompasses a balance between two needs: to defend soldiers’ lives and to minimize harm to the civilians behind whom terrorists try to hide. This is expressed in the tension between the necessity of opening fire when the soldiers’ security and battle conditions require, even when there’s a danger to civilians (providing advance warning to the extent possible), and the absolute obligation to hold fire and to act with due compassion toward civilians when it appears that they have no evil intent. In addition, basic respect toward civilians’ belongings and their religious and spiritual property is part of this moral code.
These guidelines and the obligation to uphold them are an inseparable part of the Jewish-Zionist world of IDF soldiers, and deeply anchored in generations of Jewish heritage, particularly in the doctrine of military conduct renewed by the early socialist-Zionists a century ago. They called this principle by a name that’s unlikely to have been given by any other nationalist movement fighting for its independence: “Purity of Arms” – that is, preventing harm to those not involved in or supporting the combat.
This moral commandment remains a central motto of the IDF; it is the complete opposite of the code of conduct of Islamist terror organizations such as Hamas, whose judgment on every Israeli and Jew is death. “Purity of arms” is not part of their world, not even in theory.
The outsider may not understand this, but we – the Jews of the State of Israel – live this every day, every hour.
In order to appreciate this moral code, one must note the context in which it operates. The State of Israel is under a prolonged attack by the Hamas movement – a fundamentalist Islamic terror movement, based on a racist and ultra-nationalist ideology that seeks the killing of Jews for being Jews and the actual elimination of the State of Israel as its declared aspiration, and formally part of its foundation platform. And bear in mind that Hamas is not a marginal extremist underground, but a movement freely chosen by the Palestinians to head their elected government.
Our war against an unrestrained terror organization that uses civilian populations as human shields in various ways, such as hospitals and masquerading as women and children, presents the IDF – an army obligated to an ethical code of combat based on humanism and international law – with almost impossible complexities. The nature of combat in complex conditions (such as in Gaza) brings with it difficulties and failures. The greatness of an army fighting under such conditions lies in its aspiring to “zero errors” and in its openness to examining its failures – finding them and fixing them.
IF IT’S possible to learn something from the real Israel – and not that which the media (including Israeli media) makes such efforts to portray – it would be from the uproar of emotions and the frank discussions that have taken place within Israeli society in the wake of the soldiers’ accounts. It is out of their commitment to the moral code that the soldiers spoke and their accounts were submitted; purity of arms requires continuous examination of our actions and intentions.
“May our camp be pure.” This is the watchword borne by my soldiers in the IDF, not only because this is how they’ve been educated by their commanders and their officers, but because this is the essence of their belief and their national heritage, a belief and heritage shared by and uniting us all: secular and religious, right and left, in the IDF and outside it. It is a source of pride and of confidence in our way, even in times of venomous attacks from every quarter – such as transforming a sensitive, personal discussion among combat soldiers back from the battlefield to mendacious claims of policies that involve so-called war crimes.
And so may it be.
Atty. Danny Zamir (Major, IDF reserves) Director, Yitzhak Rabin Pre-army Leadership Development Program