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Hither and Yon

War Without End

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
Rocketing, bombing and bloodshed in the Middle East from Gaza to Syria and Iraq provide a bonanza for the world’s arms-manufacturers, none more than the North Koreans and the Americans.
For North Korea, the more rockets and missiles that are fired, the more they get to sell to their clients including Hamas in Gaza, the Hizbullah in southern Lebanon and, of course, ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant).
North Korean denials of any deals with Hamas have about as much credibility as their denials of human rights violations, much less the existence of a gulag in which tens of thousands of prisoners are held until they die of disease, overwork, torture — or simple execution.
If Pyongyang hasn’t actually reached a deal with representatives of Hamas, North Korean agents are surely likely to do so. As long as Hamas keeps stashing away rockets for firing into Israel, the more excited the North Koreans should be about selling more advanced models, short-and-mid-range Scud and Rodong missiles, in place of the home-made numbers the Hamas people persist in firing off.
And if exports to Hamas or Hizbullah and ISIS are a little difficult, North Korea has a steady partner in Tehran, with which it’s been exchanging nuclear material and know-how for years.
The Tehran-Pyongyang connection — George W. Bush in his state-of-the-union address in 2002 linked them along with Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad as an ”axis of evil” — has persisted throughout North Korea’s emergence as a nuclear power and Iran’s obvious desire to go nuclear as well.
North Korea occasionally faces obstacles, and a pinch of embarrassment, when arms shipments of military materiel are stopped on the way. Remember when authorities in Panama a year ago seized a North Korean ship packed with military gear hidden beneath sacks of sugar? And nearly two years ago Japanese agents found pipes and bars used for the centrifuges needed for uranium enrichment in a ship on its way to Myanmar.
Not all the North Korean weapons for sale in the Middle East have to be high-end stuff. Thai authorities in 2009 found rocket-propelled grenades on a cargo plane on its way to Iran. The point is, North Korea has a lucrative arms trade counting on clients with the cash to plunge into the North’s hard-hit economy.
Oh yes, and no doubt North Korean experts have been advising people in the Hamas on how to build tunnels. The North Koreans are masters of the art. They’re believed to have dug out more than a score of tunnels from North to South Korea, beneath the demilitarized zone. So far four have been discovered. Whether the others are really big and sophisticated enough to carry troops and vehicles to war in the South is not clear. What should be obvious, though, is the North Koreans can tell Hamas and a few others a thing or two about tunnels — how to make them and how to avoid detection.
Considering that Hamas operatives don’t seem to have ever stopped building an amazing network of tunnels into Israel, you can hardly blame the Israelis for wanting above all else to wipe them out. But with what? The answer is a spectacular array of American-made weaponry, ranging from planes and bombs to cannons and shells to high-powered computerized equipment and programs.
”Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II,” writes Jeremy Sharp at the Congressional Research Service in Washington. The U.S. since World War II has showered Israel with military aid totaling $121 billion in current, non-inflation-adjusted, dollars, according to Sharp in a CRS report issued in April. President Bush in 2007 committed the U.S. to a 10-year $30-billion military aid package, and President Obama, in Israel in March, renewed the commitment.
Critics can say U.S. aid to Israel is out of all proportion to the significance of a small country on the eastern end of the Mediterranean that’s in perpetual conflict with its neighbors. Hamas leaders say they have nothing against Jews, just against the imposition of the Jewish state of Israel in the late 1940s in an area that properly belongs to Palestine. The trouble with that argument, however, is that Israel exists, is a member of the United Nations and other organizations and is not going to disappear under a barrage of rockets, most of which are deflected by Israel’s incredible dome defense system.
Hamas terrorists, wasting rockets and other arms on a war they are sure to lose, don’t mind seeing hundreds die in Israeli counterattacks. At the same time, constant war guarantees markets for North Korean munitions. What could make North Korea’s arms-makers, and the leaders who direct them, happier than war without end in all corners of the Middle East?
Columnist Donald Kirk, journalist and author, has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at kirkdon@yahoo.com.
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