Illicit military cooperation between North Korea and rogue states such as Iran and Syria is perhaps one of the major untold stories of our time. In the 1990s, before Iran’s nuclear program was common knowledge, dozens of Korean technicians were working in Iranian nuclear and ballistic facilities and both states benefited from the AQ Khan nuclear smuggling network based in Pakistan.
Iranian flagship ballistic missiles such as Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 are based on North Korea’s Hwasong-6 and Nodong-1, and Iranian modifications for incorporating a nuclear device were subsequently shared with Pyongyang. When North Korea stages nuclear tests, Iranian experts are VIP guests. Korean nuclear delegations visited Iran up to a month before the 2015 agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
This year Iran and North Korea were quick to solicit Donald Trump’s attention with provocative missile tests. The 3,000-4,000km range of new Iranian missiles, profiting from Korean technology, menaces the entire region. When Iran conducted a failed marine test in May, similarities between Tehran’s Ghadir-class and Korean Yono-class submarines were glaringly obvious to experts. Impoverished North Korea desperately needs hard currency and so readily sells military hardware on the international black market. Two recent shipments for outlawed Syrian weapons programs triggered a UN investigation into “prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation” between Damascus and Pyongyang. After 1,300 people were massacred in a Damascus suburb in 2013, the supposed dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons was hailed as one of Obama’s greatest successes. Yet subsequent chemical attacks prove that Syria’s capabilities remain potent, facilitated by North Korea and Iran.
Recent aerial images showed an Iranian site in Banias in eastern Syria used for manufacturing and storing Scud missiles. Several similar Iranian subterranean missile sites have been identified in Lebanon. This underscores the Revolutionary Guard’s role in regional arms proliferation, smuggling arms to Hezbollah and other proxies and using weapons smuggling to destabilize fragile African states, while profiteering from drugs and other contraband goods. The IRGC, North Korea and criminal networks thrive on instability in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere to pedal their lethal wares around the world.
These “axis of evil” pariah states have much in common, confronting international isolation and encirclement. Observers warn that when North Korea refines its ability to fire long-range nuclear weapons, Iran could have that capability the next day because of their long-standing bilateral defense contracts. One such 2012 agreement to share technology with Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was the “outcome of the fact that Iran and North Korea have common enemies because arrogant powers do not accept independent states,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. In 1994 North Korea signed an agreement with the US to halt its nuclear program. In hindsight we know it simply went underground. Pyongyang later threw out international inspectors, rushed toward breakout capacity and then tested its own nuclear weapon, having accused the US of not sticking to its side of the deal. This has terrifying parallels with Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal. Despite the agreement’s obvious shortcomings, rather than seeking to undermine it, the Trump administration must use all powers available to ensure that Iran fully complies, refrains from meddling elsewhere and is given no excuse to return to clandestine nuclear activity.
Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
Source: Arab News