There are two countries in the world that we are supposed to be very worried about because of their nuclear ambitions – Iran and North Korea.
In Israel Benjamin Netanyahu has been urging the west to take action against Iran for some time, he has spoken about the need for a line to be drawn when he believes Iran will be on its way to making a warhead “everyone should have a sense of urgency,” he said. “I believe that, faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down” and he has not ruled out bombing Iran. Despite his tough talk over half of Israelis believe Netanyahu’s and Defence Minister Ehud Baraks “statements about Israel attacking Iran by itself are a bluff intended to pressure the Americans to act against Iran with greater resolve” and only 18 per cent of Israelis believe that Iran will attack Israel with nuclear weapons. The Israeli publics cynicism of the leaders maybe because it is not certain if Iran is building a nuclear weapon or even wants one, the Iranians claim that their nuclear program is purely for peaceful energy needs. A document issued by the House of Commons in February 2012 said
“Most analyses concur that Iran has not decided to build a weapon, but that the regime wants to develop the capability to be able to move quickly to building a weapon should such a decision be made”.
Speaking in April 2012 Israeli army Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said that
“Iran is moving step-by-step towards a point where it will be able to decide if it wants to make a nuclear bomb. It has not decided yet whether to go the extra mile……..In my opinion, (Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) will be making a huge mistake if he does that and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile” he added that “I think the Iranian leadership is comprised of very rational people”.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad displayed some of this rational thought when he said in September 2012
“Let’s even imagine that we have an atomic weapon, a nuclear weapon. What would we do with it? What intelligent person would fight 5,000 American bombs with one bomb?”
In August 2005 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa (religious decree) against the acquisition and use of a nuclear bomb, In February 2012 he said
“Nuclear weapons are not at all beneficial to us, from an ideological and juridical perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin. We also believe that keeping such weapons is futile and dangerous, and we will never go after them.”
Writing in the Guardian Glenn Greenwald believes that the real reason the US does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons is that
“Iranian nuclear weapons would prevent the US from attacking Iran at will, and that is what is intolerable………The Iranians undoubtedly watched the US treatment of two dictators who gave up their quest for nuclear weapons – Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – and drew the only reasoned lesson: the only way a country can protect itself from US attack, other than full-scale obeisance, is to acquire nuclear weapons. That is precisely why the US and Israel are so eager to ensure they do not….No rational person takes seriously the claim that Iran, even if it did obtain a nuclear weapon, would commit instant and guaranteed national suicide by using it to attack a nation that has a huge nuclear stockpile, which happens to include both the US and Israel.”
Unlike Iran there is no doubt that North Koreas ambition is a nuclear armed state, on the 12th February North Korea announced that it had carried out an underground nuclear test, its third in seven years. Dr Leonid Petrov of the Australian National University has said “We have passed already the point of no return: North Korea is de facto a nuclear state” the only thing Pyongyang doesn’t appear to have is the ability to build a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile. However they may be working on this; the day before its recent test The Korea Herald reports that the north tested the engine for its long range “KN-08″ missiles, the report quotes an unnamed government source as saying
“It appears that North Korea conducted the engine test aimed at extending the range of the KN-08 missile to over 5,000 kilometres……if the North decides the test successful, it is expected to operationally deploy the new long-range rocket”.
Despite North Korea being much closer to developing nuclear weapons then Iran there is talk of strengthening sanctions against Pyongyang but little talk of bombing the Norths nuclear facilities, the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff General Jung Seung-jo did say that South Korea would launch a pre-emptive strike against the North but only if “there’s a clear sign of the enemy using a nuclear weapon“. After its most recent nuclear test The Korea Times merely reports that “hawkish forces [in South Korea are] calling for tougher sanctions.”
The outgoing South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak (who took office in 2008) is regarded as a hardliner when it comes to relations with the North but this just meant making aid to North Korea dependent on Pyongyang ending its Nuclear weapons Program. Even when South Korea accused the North of attacking and sinking the South’s submarine the Cheonan in March 2010 killing 46 crew members the reaction of South Korea was to
“cut nearly all trade with North Korea, deny North Korean merchant ships use of South Korean sea lanes and ask the United Nations Security Council to punish the North”
(would Israel have been so restrained if Iran had attacked and destroyed an Israeli submarine killing 46 sailors? I don’t think so). The New York Times adds that “most South Koreans condemned the North for the sinking and supported Mr. Lee’s handling of the crisis” but adds that “many also blamed his tough stance toward the North for fuelling a military provocation.”
South Korea did however attack North Korea when the North launched an attack against the South Korean island Yeonpyeong while the South was conducting military exercises in the area. The North fired shells at Yeonpyeong island killing two soldiers and two civilians and the south responded aiming missiles at the North Korean Island of Mudo, Pyonyang claimed it suffered no military casualties although the South Korean military claim to have inflicted “many casualties” on the North.
However there is one thing that South Korea and Israel do have in common – the indifference of their people a Korean government official said:
“It seems that only the government, media and some politicians are taking the [North Korean]nuclear test seriously, while the ordinary public is not that interested”.