For more than 10 years, Israel has been anxiously following North Korea's growing military cooperation with Iran. In the name of a common ideology -- to fight the West and all that it stands for -- these two outcast, radical states have joined forces to obtain a nuclear bomb and the means to deliver it: long-range ballistic missiles that can carry a warhead from North Korea to Osaka, Japan, or from Tehran to Tel Aviv.
Intelligence surveillance has revealed that up till 1989, North Korea sold Iran mostly Scud-B and -C missiles with ranges up to several hundred km. But late that year, Korean experts began to design the Nodong-1 (also known as the Scud- D) for intermediate range use. The Iranians immediately signed a future deal for buying hundreds of such missiles as well as acquiring the information needed for producing these missiles in Iran.
Israel became more worried when American satellites detected yet another side to Korean-Iranian cooperation in developing an advanced missile. Overflight photographs discovered utterly identical test bases for the missile in both countries. It will not be long before the ayatollahs have weapons of mass destruction. According to intelligence reports, Teheran was to take delivery of the first shipment of the new missile late in 1993.
Israel and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. Only two possible course were open to Jerusalem in its effort to stop the North Korean missile's entry into the Middle East. First, to seek the help of the United States, which was then locked in a deadly confrontation with North Korea over Pyongyang's drive to build a bomb. Second, to try to talk directly with the Koreans.
This investigation tells the full story of the secret contacts between Israel and North Korea. It is the sad tale of a clash of interests between a superpower such as the United States, which understandably is giving top priority to blocking North Korea's nuclear program, and Israel, a small Middle Eastern state that sees the North Korean missile as a more immediate and dangerous threat to its existence.
This clash, in which the United States has prevailed over Israel, takes place against the background of a typical Israeli reality: struggles for power and prestige within the Israeli establishment, jealousy, hatred, scheming, concealment of information, stinginess, rivalry between parties and short-cuts in making critical decisions.
The bottom line: on the eve of Passover '95, no one inside or outside Israel can sleep soundly at night and definitely say that the Nodong-1 has been kept from the launch sites in Iran.
In September, 1992, Eytan Bentzur, deputy director- general of the Foreign Minister, went to Shim'on Peres to report on an unexpected meeting in New York. A Hungarian Jew he knew there had introduced him to a South Korean businessman with close ties to the North. The North Koreans, the businessman said, want to make contact with us. There is something to discuss.
"It sounds fishy to me," Bentzur told him. "The North Koreans are supplying missiles and nuclear knowhow to our worst enemies, Iran, Syria and Libya. What do they want from us?"
"They have an inactive gold mine near the town of Unsan," said the South Korean. "They are looking for someone to buy it and start it up. They need the money. Their economy is on the ropes."
Bentzur hesitated. The go-between asked for a fax number. "Try me." Bentzur gave him a fax number. Several days later, on September 29, the Israeli delegation in Beijing received the first invitation from the North Koreans for Israelis to visit the mine.
Bentzur, who knew of the military cooperation between North Korea and Iran, thought it might be worthwhile to find out whether this was a golden opportunity to use the gold mine to stop Pyongyang's sales of weapons to the Middle East. He told Peres; the Foreign Minister was enthusiastic. Peres is a man of vision who knows how to see beyond the horizon. Bentzur received permission to go to Pyongyang but recommended that the Foreign Minister also get Yitzhaq Rabin's approval. The Prime Minister gave the green light.
Without suspecting anything, Bentzur then went to report to the chief of the Mosad. Since the Oslo agreement, the world had begun to open up to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and secret relations, which in the past had been the exclusive preserve of the Mosad, were suddenly open and exposed to the light of day. The Mosad seemed somewhat miffed and Bentzur did not want to step on anyone's toes. He informed the chief of the Mosad that his team would arrive in Pyongyang on November 1. The chief listened and made a notation.
Bentzur's delegation set out in the last week of October for Korea by way of Beijing. The veteran diplomat never imagined that another Israeli group had left a day earlier, headed for the same place but by a different route.
The Israeli delegation waited in Beijing for a special North Korean Ilyushin aircraft. On November 1, after a 90 minute flight, the Israelis landed on another planet. Aside from some planes of North Korea's national airline and a large number of military aircraft -- helicopters, bombers and warplanes -- no other foreign planes were visible on the runway of Pyongyang's immense airport. It looked like a nation under siege.
Similarly, very few vehicles were traveling on the broad highways leading from the airport. In North Korea, the last bastion of communism, there are no private automobiles. Everything belongs to the government. At 4 o'clock each morning, a shrill siren calls all the people to work. For an hour, they wait at road intersections for truck convoys to take them to their jobs. A small minibus with loudspeakers on the roof, incessantly playing patriotic songs, leads each convoy. The convoy retraces its course in the evening.
The state television begins broadcasting at 3 p.m.. It is television on the cheap side. No big screen and not even a choice of channels -- as there are no channels. There is only one channel. Just turn it on and the announcer appears reading from the writings of Kim Il Sung. He speaks for three hours of the leader's glories, then the television stops broadcasting at 8 p.m. and everyone goes to bed. There are no people on the streets and this beautiful city looks like a ghost town. It has a huge hotel, the highest in the world, built in the shape of a pyramid with 6,500 rooms. The problem is that there are no tourists. The day the Israeli delegation arrived in Pyongyang, Kim Il Sung issued a dramatic call to the citizens of his country to make do with two meals a day instead of three. The nation is in trouble.
The North Koreans gave Bentzur's company royal treatment. An old Russian helicopter flew them on a tour of the country, including the gold mine in Unsan. They were taken that evening to a night club, where they quickly realized that they were the only guests. From there they went to a vast hall at party headquarters twice the size of the Ramat Gan stadium. At one end there was a stage on which North Korean girls danced. The Israelis were amazed by how rapidly the girls changed dresses during the dance. One half of a turn they were in a red dress, then in a blue dress for the other. And so on and so on. A rainbow of colors.
The official talks were conducted over three straight days in two locations, at the party's official guest house during the day and at the party offices at night. Across from the Israeli delegation sat a stiff, dour North Korean team that frequently asked for breaks in order to "report to higherups." Iron discipline prevailed, and only one person spoke. All the others kept silent unless they were asked to comment.
For two of the three days, a dialogue of the deaf was held in Pyongyang. The Israelis explained to the Koreans why they had to stop supplying weapons of mass destruction and technology to Iran, Syria and Libya, and the advantages they would enjoy from joining the family of nations and coming out of the bunker. For their part, the Koreans, in broken English that was difficult to understand, spoke about the gold mine and the terrible injustices that the Israelis had inflicted on the Palestinians.
For two days, the Israelis met unyielding denial: "We have never supplied arms to the Arab states." Missiles? Have you provided technical data? There were eight hours of talks each day until the Israelis gave up and decided to go home. The Koreans rushed after them, pleading, "Come back to the talks."
A turnaround occurred on the third and final day of the delegation's talks in Pyongyang. Their hosts still persisted in denying that they had ever sold arms to the Middle East but let it be understood that they could be dissuaded from selling such arms in the future. An important fact became clear to the Israelis during these talks: the gold mine in Unsan served primarily as a pretext or a convenient cover for North Korea's desire to obtain economic aid. Israel had been brought in not only as an economic power but as a bridge to the United States. On November 3, at the end of three days of talks, the Israelis were about to leave for the airport. Their hosts begged them to hold one more, last-minute meeting. Because there was only one weekly flight between Pyongyang and Beijing, the Israelis were afraid they would miss their plane. "Don't worry," said the North Koreans. "We will hold up the plane for you."
The airplane waited for them for nearly three hours on the takeoff runway in Pyongyang. Three luxurious Mercedes brought Bentzur and his colleagues to the boarding ramp. They climbed briskly into first class. Ordinary passengers never like it when their plane is held up for VIP's. How much more so was it for Efraim Halevy and his Mosad companions, who were seated in tourist class. It was an unplanned and very embarrassing meeting.
"They did not speak to one another the whole flight back to Beijing," an Israeli source says of the tension in the air. "But the Mosad clearly had declared war on the Foreign Ministry. It could not accept that the Foreign Ministry had undertaken a series of contacts with North Korea. It could not tolerate the fact that Bentzur's people had met with the Korean leadership. That simply drove them crazy." According to Israeli officials, the Mosad decided to jam a bar in the spokes of the new connection between Israel and North Korea, which threatened to eat into its traditional field of activity among countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel.
The source contends that from the moment it learned that Bentzur's delegation had left, the Mosad strove to place its own men there before the Israeli team arrived. The course it chose for them required two stops along the way. Needless to say, the Foreign Ministry was not told anything of Efrayim Halevi's departure.
But unfortunately for the Mosad men, the plan went awry. On their refueling stopover in Russia, the plane's landing gear broke and the Mosad group was stuck in Russia for three days while repairs were made. When they landed in Pyongyang, the Foreign Ministry delegation was already negotiating with its hosts. The North Koreans may have smiled to themselves but never let on, of course, that they were dealing with two Israeli groups at the same time. It was clear to Bentzur and Halevi that the mess would have to be sorted out when the two delegations arrived back in Israel. Who was responsible for the fiasco, why had the Mosad failed to inform the Foreign Ministry of the Halevi delegation's trip, had Israel's interests been harmed and, above all, what was to be done now? In the meantime, however, a more urgent problem had sprung up that required an immediate solution. The Americans learned of the high- level Israeli delegation's visit to North Korea and demanded an explanation. Just what were you looking for there while the North Koreans were threatening to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?
It turned out later that the idea that the delegation's visit could be concealed from the Americans, in order to avoid early pressure on Israel to cancel the trip, was somewhat childish. A price would have to be paid to the Americans in the end, and it made no difference whether that was done going in or coming out. The proof: a single phone call from the U.S. State Department to the Israeli embassy in Washington urgently requesting clarification was enough to convince Bentzur and Halevy that payment of the price could not wait until Israel carried out its own internal inquiry.
As early as December 7, 1992, Halevi and Bentzur were whisked to Washington. Arnold Cantor, Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs, was waiting for them with his staff at the State Department building. Michal Shilo, Israel's consul at the embassy, also took part in the meeting.
The pair sought to present a united front before the senior American offficial. North Korea's missile development program and its sales in the Middle East, they told him, were continuing unhindered and constituted a grave threat to Israel's security and the peace process. Israel had grounds for believing that if she helped North Korea renew its dialogue with the United States and, of course, to advance its economic interests, particularly in the field of offshore oil drilling, the Koreans would give a favorable answer to Israel's request that it stop selling weapons to Iran, Syria and Libya.
The American representative argued in reply that Pyongyang's signals to Israel were nothing more than North Korea's attempt to find refuge from the international pressure brought to bear on it over nuclear development. "Japan, South Korea and even Russia are hardening their positions against them," Cantor contended.
In an impressive presentation, Halevy explained that the United States felt much less of a sense of urgency than Israel did. Washington could allow itself to wait until it saw the results of international pressure on North Korea before taking action, but Israel faced an immediate threat because of the danger posed by the missiles.
Cantor nodded his head in understanding. He admitted that North Korea was in dire economic straits and was eagerly selling missiles to all comers. He also confirmed that the United States could not do much about that (He used the expression "I am emptyhanded"). For the time being, the Americans had no leverage to use against Korea's transfer of missiles. Perhaps only an international coalition, formed against it on the nuclear issue, could do something on the missile problem as well.
Even so, the high American official warned the Israelis that they could not rely on the North Koreans' to keep their word. Even if they agreed to sign a deal for economic aid in return for ceasing sales of missiles - it was impossible to be sure that they would observe it. He added later that the United States did not want any nation to undermine its efforts and those of its allies to force Pyongyang to reform. "It is important to us that Israel not break ranks." He did not demand that Israel end the negotiations but advised them that instead of making concessions to the North Koreans, she should emphasize the benefits that they would enjoy from Uncle Sam if they did the right thing on the nuclear issue.
On January 6, 1993, Bentzur and Halevi met in Israel with their assistants to analyze the situation in the wake of the embarrassing encounter in Pyongyang in November and their talk with the assistant American secretary of state in Washington in December.
The two agreed that the missiles that the Koreans planned to supply Iran posed a grave danger to Israel. They also were of one mind that North Korea had to be warned that Israel would be forced to act if this course of conduct continued.
But they sharply disagreed over whether to accept or reject the deal the North Koreans had offered Israel, which called for economic aid in return for ending the missile sales. They also differed in their interpretation of Cantor's remarks. The Mosad's deputy chief understood them as an unequivocal demand by the United States that Israel refrain from making any deals with North Korea. The Foreign Ministry official, by contrast, saw no such ultimatum in the American representative's words.
Bentzur became annoyed during the meeting. In matters bearing on Israel's existence, he said, they did not have to be so sensitive to every American request. The fact was, Israel was still maintaining contacts with China even though China was providing Iran assistance in nuclear technology. The Mosad dug in its heels: Israel could not act against Washington's interests. A line in the sand had been clearly drawn.
An Israeli source contends that despite the reservations he expressed at the meeting, Halevi announced at that time that he was willing to provide substantial economic aid to North Korea if it would pledge to stop selling arms to Israel's enemies. Later, at a meeting attended by Foreign Minister Peres, Halevi would vehemently deny that he had ever said such a thing. But the source claims that Halevi's remarks were recorded in an internal memorandum documenting the meeting.
In any case, throughout the first half of 1993, the North Koreans stepped up their pressure on Israel to continue the contacts "for the benefit of both sides." In January, they invited Foreign Minister Peres to make a secret visit to Pyongyang, but the tension between the United States and North Korea over the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty had heightened in the meantime, and Jerusalem decided to freeze the contacts for the time being.
The North Koreans did not let up. On April 2, they invited Bentzur to make a second trip to Pyongyang "to discuss all matters that can place us on an agreed footing," even if that did not include the gold mine. That same month, a North Korean representative visited Israel. He repeated the invitations made to the Israelis and the promises that his government would be willing to discuss ending its sales of missiles, on condition that he received a promise for steady supplies of oil and economic aid. On returning home, the representative cabled that his government "was prepared to sign an agreement by which all sales of missiles to the Middle East would be halted, provided that it received economic aid in return." He also confirmed that signing of the agreement would lead to "North Korea's immediate recognition of Israel and the establishment of close diplomatic relations." Aware of American sensitivities, Israel informed Washington of the message.
The Koreans proposed getting together in Pyongyang on June 10 to prepare for a meeting between the two states' foreign ministers. Washington, however, warned Israel: Do not make any contacts with North Korea before June 12. The reason was that this was when the 90 day period would expire, after which Korea's announcement of its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would go into effect.
Jerusalem seethed with anger. Many officials felt that America's increasing pressure on Israel to desist from contacts with Korea stemmed not only from the confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang over nuclear weapons but also from "preemptive" actions of the Mosad, which was not happy about the Foreign Ministry's separate ties. The claim was raised that Mosad officials had prodded their counterparts at the CIA to put pressure on the American State Department to instruct Israel to end its contacts with North Korea.
Suspicions over the role played in the affair by the Mosad grew when it was learned that Merhav, an Israeli company that had contacted North Korea concerning the gold mine, decided to freeze its feelers following a request from "certain Israeli officials."
Jerusalem informed the Koreans on May 23 that, at the request of the United States, Israel would give its answer regarding resumption of the talks only after June 12. Pyongyang was greatly disappointed by this postponement. "President Kim Il Sung wonders whether Israel is an independent state or a servile satellite of the United States," a secret dispatch stated.
On June 11, tensions eased slightly between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang announced that it was temporarily delaying its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty and agreed to continue its dialogue with the United States. It seemed that the way had been cleared for Israel and Pyongyang to renew their contacts. During the last week of June, Avi Siton, Bentzur's chief of staff, flew to Beijing for preparatory talks in anticipation of a meeting with the North Koreans set for June 24. As in a spy movie, Siton had been given a rendezvous point at a popular restaurant in one of the giant city's busy quarters. Siton knocked on the door, went inside and found that the eatery was completely empty. Below ground, someone suddenly popped up and, without saying a word, led him to a secret door. The door opened and he found himself alone with six North Koreans. He later recognized some of them as men who had sat across from him during the first meeting in Pyongyang. Their leader was Gen. Chou. Also present were some officials of the Korean company that represented North Korea's interests in China. The discussion in the secret room went approximately like this:
The Koreans: Our delegation will soon arrive in Beijing. We want to talk about four things: sales of missiles, operation of the gold mine, a $1 billion loan, the establishment of diplomatic relations with you and a permanent Israeli presence in Pyongyang.
Siton: We see the talks beginning tomorrow as only a first step. We have no authority to sign binding agreements, arrange a loan and so forth. We have come here even though many people are against this action.
The General: I respect Israel's efforts. We, for our part, were subjected to Arab pressure meant to prevent any contact with you.
Siton: There is no need to worry about such pressure. We are in no rush to establish diplomatic relations with you. Israel also has no opposition to continuing your relations with Arab countries or Iran. But we cannot brook sales of weapons of mass destruction to nations that threaten Israel's existence.
The General: You should know that President Kim Il Sung himself made the decision to make contact with you. He wants to form diplomatic ties with Israel, and that says something.
The general stated during the discussion that North Korea was astonished that the existence of these secret contacts had leaked to the media. Siton explained to him that that was the price of free speech in democratic societies. The general's face remained utterly impassive. A full meeting of the North Korean and Israeli delegations was held at a Beijing hotel on June 25. The Koreans raised eyebrows when they returned to the subject of the mine and asked for an immediate answer. Was Israel willing or not?
The Israelis made clear that that was a business matter for private companies in which the Israeli government could not interfere. In any case, they added, there was no point in considering any business proposals before the Koreans had promised to change their policy of selling deadly weapons to Israel's enemies.
The Koreans: We have not sold, we are not selling and we will not sell. We are a peace-loving country. We are concerned only with self-defense.
The Israelis: We know that you have sold at least 250 Scud-B missiles to Iran and a certain number of Scud-C missiles to Iran and Syria. Israel is very worried by your plans to sell long-range Scud-D (Nodong-1) missiles to Iran.
The Koreans: Those are all false press reports. We suspect that you in Israel are making these leaks. You are leaking to the media.
The Koreans frequently asked for breaks in the talks to "report to higherups." Apparently, an even more senior North Korean official was staying at the hotel.
The second meeting wound up without an agreement or a binding decision. The Koreans, however, asked that Israel present them a concrete proposal regarding "future" sales of missiles to the Middle East. The Israelis were worried about the missiles while the Koreans, as the Foreign Ministry delegation came to realize, were most concerned about leaks to the media.
On June 30, five days after the meeting in Beijing, Washington asked for and received a detailed report. "We have an uneasy feeling about your negotiations with the Koreans," a high-level American official frankly stated. "What worries us is that they will start to believe that they have other options to evade the pressure that we are putting on them about this. We would appreciate it if you would continue to coordinate all your future actions with us." The Israelis promised to do so.
Early in July, Clinton warned the North Koreans that if they ever dared to develop nuclear weapons, "That would be the end of North Korea."
Throughout the month, the Koreans repeatedly sent messages to Israel with a proposal to begin secret negotiations in France in August. President Kim Il Sung, the Israelis were told, had authorized his daughter, Kim Kyong-hui, and her husband, Chang Song-taek, to conduct the talks on his behalf. If Israel would agree to arrange the meeting, they would also send to France military personnel specializing in ground-to-ground missiles.
In response to these messages, Israel asked the North Koreans to state their intentions regarding sales of missiles: If we reach an agreement, how can we be sure that you really have stopped sending weapons to the Middle East? You will have to rely on us, the North Koreans replied.
That is not good enough, the Israelis insisted. Then the North Koreans dropped a bombshell of an offer: If we come to an agreement, you can send inspectors here, 300 or 400 people, as many as you want. You can put them in our airports and they will be able to make sure that no shipments are going to the Middle East. It was an offer that was hard to refuse.
On October 10, 1993, the American government reacted to the latest feelers between Israel and North Korea on setting up a secret meeting in Paris. The reaction was couched in language much harsher that had been used in the past and did not try to blunt its tone. The opening lines included some reassuring passages: "The United States shares Israel's concerns regarding the sale of Nodong-1 missiles to Iran.... The United States will not stand in the way of Israel's efforts to prevent the introduction of this missile into the Middle East.... The ultimate decision whether to continue or stop the contacts with North Korea lies, in the final analysis, in the hands of the Israeli government."
But the next line of the American message left no room for doubt: "The United States believes that Israel's contacts with North Korea will bring negative, not favorable, results. The United States believes that the proposed meeting in Paris is not in the interests of the United States."
The zinger: "Since the Israeli Foreign Ministry has seen fit to request the views of the United States concerning the proposed meeting in Paris, if Israel expects to receive the United States' approval for holding that meeting -- such approval will not be given."
Ambassador Brown orally added during a conversation that the American State Department was afraid that Korea would take advantage of its contacts with Israel to dodge its obligations with respect to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Bentzur informed Peres that day of the American reaction. "In all my long years of involvement in U.S.- Israel relations," the veteran diplomat declared, "I cannot recall a single instance in which Israel sought prior approval from the United States to do something.... The mere act of seeking approval is a gross violation of the principle of sovereignty."
Bentzur contended that the United States had given clear priority to its interests at Israel's expense and added that if the meeting planned for August were put off, the deal between Korea and Iran might be completed by October and the first Nodong-1 missiles would be making their way to the Middle East. "The contacts with the Koreans could remove one of the gravest threats that has ever hung over Israel's existence. Whether they will succeed is not clear, but we cannot rule out this possibility before we even start."
The next day, August 11, 1993, Ruth Kahanov, Israel's charge d'affaires in Beijing, informed North Korea's representative that Israel "temporarily" might have to suspend her contacts with Pyongyang due to "unforeseen last-minute difficulties." For now, Kahanov went on, Peres' visit also would have to be called off.
Israeli officials were still trying on August 16 to convince Peres that the hardening in America's stance against Israel's contacts with North Korea "was inspired by certain Israeli actors who have opposed the Foreign Ministry's venture in this matter from the start."
Nothing helped. At 7:30 p.m. that Tuesday, August 16, Rabin and Peres decided after a short discussion to call it quits and end all contacts between Israel and North Korea. No one in Jerusalem can recall a formal discussion, attended by all officials participating in the negotiations, before the decision was made. The Foreign Ministry announcement released in Jerusalem stated that Israel had decided to suspend her contacts with North Korea "in order to enable the United States to take steps to block the delivery of missiles from North Korea to our region."
Officials in the U.S. State Department have hinted that the decision made by Rabin and Peres was the result of a direct request by Secretary of State [Warren] Christopher, who announced that the United States was interested in an end to the contacts with North Korea. Other Israeli officials have claimed to the contrary that the Mosad decided to buck the Foreign Ministry and torpedo the contacts by means of a three-pronged action. Mosad agents, the argument goes, worked first with the Americans in meetings with their counterparts at the CIA. An Israeli official quotes an American one (his name is being withheld) who, in a private conversation, expressed astonishment, even shame, that his country, in less than three weeks, had made a complete reversal in its approach toward the separate contacts between Israel and North Korea. "On June 30, we were still talking to you in very moderate terms and had not demanded that you stop the contacts, while we adopted a different tone on October 10. I do not understand, what is going on here?" The American offered his opinion that the CIA "entered the picture" on the instigation of the Israeli Mosad. "Someone in Israel is stabbing you in the back."
The Mosad, the argument has it, also sought to convince Rabin that he should not oppose the United States. "Rabin is well-known as an Americanophile. He does not like anything that smells anti-American."
It also worked on Shim'on Peres, who initially supported the contacts with the Koreans but then changed his mind. Why the change? Because the negotiations with the Palestinians in Oslo were reaching a peak at the same time. Oslo wavered between success and failure, and he thought it more important than anything else, much more than the missile issue.
On October 17, the Foreign Minister was interviewed on Israeli television. Israel, Peres said, had informed the United States that the missile question with the North Koreans was of the utmost important to her. The Americans, he said, had advised Israel to let the United States, which understands the North Koreans' methods better, take care of the problem.
An Israeli official says, "We went to Korea at a very opportune time. A power struggle went on at the top over whether or not to deal with us, and the group that supported us won. In the beginning, the Americans were not against what we were doing and even asked us to deliver messages to the Koreans. We had a good chance of succeeding and getting something because the Koreans wanted to open a line to Washington through us. But the Americans interfered and put a stop to it, and because of internal opposition in Israel, Israeli security interests were harmed. The Koreans now have a direct channel to Washington and no longer need us." Rabin and Peres, however, made their decision, and from that moment there was nothing to do but wait and see if the United States would fulfill its promise in a concrete way. Would its agreement with North Korea ending the nuclear crisis also deal practically with the issue that most worried Israel: supplies of missiles from North Korea to the Middle East?
There was the odor of gunpowder in the air during 1994. North Korea continued to prevent inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency from visiting nuclear installations in Yongbyon suspected as a center for developing an atomic bomb.
U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry threatened the imposition of unilateral economic sanctions and would not rule out the possibility of a preemptive strike. The North Koreans announced that sanctions would lead to war and that South Korea would be exposed to the risk of annihilation if it joined in demanding an embargo.
On June 15, former President Jimmy Carter opened negotiations in Seoul in an attempt to resolve the crisis. On October 12, the two nations issued a joint statement implying Pyongyang's willingness to cease developing nuclear weapons and to allow international inspectors to enter its nuclear facilities. It return, it was to receive massive economic assistance worth $4 billion altogether, which will enable it to build new reactors for peaceful purposes.
Jerusalem was disappointed that the announcement of October 12 did not include any hint that North Korea had bound itself to stop selling long-range missiles to confrontation states in the Middle East. There was still no indication in October that Pyongyang was willing to accede to Washington's demands (which were raised during the discussions on a nuclear agreement) to cease arms sales to Israel's enemies in the Middle East.
A draft agreement was worked out in August and September between the United States and North Korea. Israeli officials diligently "reminded" the Americans of the missile issue. But U.S. representatives confessed at a background briefing that each time they raised the subject of missiles, the North Koreans forcefully insisted on "not injecting other matters into the agenda."
Israel's disappointment ripened into concern when it became clear that the agreement, which was signed by the United States and North Korea on Friday, October 21, thus ending the nuclear crisis between the two nations, did not include any obligation to stop missile sales. There was no prohibition on the North Koreans against transferring technology to Iran.
On October 22, Secretary of Defense Perry announced at a press conference in Tokyo that the new agreement would not be voided even if "Pyongyang continues to sell advanced weapons to Third World nations or takes certain other steps."
Did the United States sell out Israel's interests? An American intelligence official visited Israel early in December. He revealed, among other things, that the contacts between North Korea and Iran, which had been "frozen" during the months before signing of the agreement with the United States, had resumed.
Rabin confirmed this information during his visit to Seoul the same month. But instead of expressing regret that the United States had not included in its agreement with North Korea any restrictions on Pyongyang regarding the missile issue, he launched a frontal attack on "naive officials in Israel" who were deluding themselves that "We can succeed where the United States failed."
As an after-the-fact justification for the August 16 decision to cut off contacts with North Korea, the Prime Minister went on to assail "the fantasies of people in one ministry or another" who thought that Israel could do something for herself about North Korea's missile sales. "This foolishness has hurt us because the Americans have said to us, `What do you want of us? Do not play games with us.'"
Rabin concluded on a soothing note. "Israel will rely on the United States to work against North Korean ground missiles."
Israeli learned in January that she was not alone in her concerns that the agreement between Washington and Pyongyang did not oblige the North Koreans to desist from sales of missiles to the Middle East, especially to Iran. The Persian Gulf states, which had been asked by the Americans to supply oil to North Korea as part of the deal for ending the development of nuclear weapons, informed Washington that if it turned out that the Koreans were continuing to supply missiles to Iran, not one drop of oil would reach Pyongyang.
Robert Galucci, chief of the American delegation to the talks with the North Koreans, hurried to the Persian Gulf early in February; he found that the Kuwaitis, Saudis and Omanis were more hysterical than the Israelis about the danger posed by long-range missiles falling into Iranian hands.
The Americans tried to calm them as they had tried to calm Israel. American officials stated again and again that they had raised the subject of missiles in the talks with the North Koreans and had made clear to them, just before signing of the framework agreement of October, 1994, that the agreement could not be applied in full if it were revealed that North Korea was selling the Nodong-1 to states in the Middle East. The Koreans had promised to "discuss the subject in the future."
Nonetheless, the Americans admitted that the missile question was far from being solved.
New problems arose last month in the U.S.-Korea agreement. The North Koreans announced that they categorically would not agree that South Korea could supply the light water reactors promised them in return for closing the nuclear reactors suspected of producing bombs. At the same time, reports were received of new shipments of arms to Iran, including launchers for the Scud missiles in its arsenal. But the first shipment of the Nodong-1, which was supposed to arrive in Iran late in 1993, was held up. Three theories have been devised in the west:
The first is that the Koreans have stopped delivery in order to "soften up" the Americans for negotiations over the nuclear agreement and to blackmail them into greater concessions.
The second is that the Iranians are beset by monetary woes. And the Koreans, everyone knows, do not give anything away for free.
The third theory is that development of the Nodong has run into problems. Four missiles were successfully launched in 1993 from the secret launching pad near the city of Nodong -- but they did not land exactly where they were supposed to.
According to a South Korean source, the North Koreans are working strenuously in an attempt to overcome the setback. JANE'S INTERNATIONAL REVIEW claims that the Koreans flew a small number of Nodong-1 missiles to Iran some months ago for testing. "It is reasonable to assume that the Iranians will test at least one missile in 1995," wrote JANE'S, which is considered authoritative. "Iran is a very convenient location for testing of this sort."
One may suppose that the moment the missile's problem is solved, the Iranians -- who have already put down a deposit -- will seek to have the contract carried out in full.
Such a situation will allow the North Koreans to wring further economic concessions from the West in exchange for withholding weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East. At that point, it is not clear who will pay the price.
[Box, p. 10] "No answer"
"Israel's maneuvering room is minimal when you are talking about American interests," a highly-placed official in Jerusalem said of Israel's collapse in the face of American pressure to sever its contacts with North Korea. "We just cannot act against America's position."
Other political officials have argued that Israel never had a real chance to stop North Korean arms sales to the Middle East and that only Washington can do that.
'Oded Ben-'Ami, the Defense Minister's spokesman, states that Yitzhaq Rabin will not comment on the Mosad's activities in North Korea or on the following questions raised by MA'ARIV:
* Was the decision to cease the contacts with North Korea made after proper consultation with all those involved in the matter and was it influenced by the rivalry between the Mosad and the Foreign Ministry?
* Looking back, does the decision seem correct in light of the fact that the agreement between the United States and North Korea apparently does not forbid Pyongyang from continuing to sell arms and long-range missiles to Iran and other Arab nations?
* Did Israel receive concrete assurances from Washington that in exchange for stopping the contacts with Pyongyang, Washington would prevent future deliveries of North Korean missiles to the Middle East?
* Is there concern that Nodong-1 missiles will go to Iran after the Koreans iron out their production problems? Eytan Bentzur, deputy director-general of the Foreign Minister, and other officials involved in the negotiations with North Korea have refused to comment on or reply to the findings of the investigation.
Efrayim Halevi, deputy Mosad chief, has refused to answer MA'ARIV's questions concerning his involvement and that of the Mosad with respect to North Korea. Richard Scorza, U.S. embassy spokesman in Israel, reacted with "no comment" to the question whether a secret understanding had been reached between the United States and North Korea regarding an end to arms shipments from Pyongyang to the Middle East even though the agreement does not explicitly say so. The spokesman also refused to comment on any of the allegations of extensive CIA involvement in pressuring Israel to end its contacts with North Korea. Nimrod Novik, vice president of Merhav, refused to comment on reports that the Mosad asked his company to stop its contacts with North Korea.