The Calm Before the Storm :: By Matt Ward

North Korea is being manipulated masterfully by Iran. Odd bedfellows though they are, Iran and North Korea are well established allies, and current events in East Asia cannot be separated from events occurring in Syria and the Middle East at the same time.

It is an open secret that Iran and North Korea have more than merely a diplomatically cordial relationship. They actively share common strategic goals, and these shared goals have brought them increasingly close together. As recently as last month, a delegation from Pyongyang, led by parliamentary speaker Kim Yong Nam, who ranks as the second most important person in the North Korean hierarchical system, spent ten days in Tehran as guests of the government. While there, the North Koreans met with the heads of the Iranian army and intelligence agencies, as well as Iranian leaders in industry. The discussions across the board, from military to industrial talks, were identical as to how they could deepen mutual cooperation across all spheres to enable both parties to meet their wider strategic goals.

On the surface, the relationship they share seems to be an odd one; Iran is a Shiite theocracy who views themselves as the only true defenders of Islam, while North Korea is a virulently atheistic regime. Neither Iran nor North Korea share commonalities ethnically; neither do they share any borders. What they do share, most importantly, is commonality in their geopolitical objectives.

In allying itself with North Korea, even though they are so diametrically opposed in all other spheres, Iran has been able to continue to develop its own regional hegemonic and nuclear ambitions. Iran is using North Korea because the relationship allows them to progress more rapidly towards fulfilling their own nuclear ambitions, and because it furthers their own dominance in the Middle East, especially in Syria. Being in a relationship with North Korea has allowed them to manipulate events in East Asia, so as to take the pressure off themselves at home.

What makes this alliance particularly robust and functional is that both Iran and North Korea are also bonded by a mutual loathing for America and Americanism. Hating America actively binds them both together.

In real terms Iranian – North Korean cooperation focuses primarily in two areas: nuclear weapons development and ballistic missile technology. This cooperation is longstanding. Michael Green, former senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, relates that during nuclear talks held with the United States as long ago as March 2003, the head of the North Korean delegation confirmed that Pyongyang had a “nuclear deterrent” and threatened to “expand,” “demonstrate,” and “transfer” the deterrent unless the United States ended its hostile policy [1]. Many at the time believed this reference of “transferring” this “nuclear deterrent” was in reference to Iran.

Iran seeks North Korean cooperation in the development of its nuclear weapons program, and North Korea seeks Iranian help in developing its Intercontinental Ballistic Missile systems. North Korea has the bomb, and Iran has the reliable means to deliver it; so they are helping each other by swapping their “know how [2].

This is where the Presidency of Barack Obama will come back to haunt this world, sooner rather than later. Obama, towards the end of his second term, released significant funds to the Iranian regime, and loosened what had previously been a tight system of sanctions against Iran, hailing it at the time as a mark of the success of the Iranian Nuclear Accord. It was a fallacy.

Suddenly Iran, flush with cash, used the money to buy considerable amounts of weaponry from North Korea, thereby providing Pyongyang with the financial resources it so desperately needed to ignore the international sanctions that were being arrayed against it. More importantly, loosening sanctions and releasing funds to Iran indirectly allowed North Korea to continue funding its own nuclear weapons program, a program now reaching fulfillment in our own day [3,4].

Relaxing sanctions has also meant that it is exceptionally difficult for the United Nations, or other leading international agencies like the IAEA, to detect the subtle cooperation and financial transactions that have been taking place between Iran and North Korea, all which might indicate breaches of international accords or giveaway tell-tale signals indicating their own nuclear threshold status. All thanks to Barack Obama.

Iran has not been standing idly by while the world has been captivated by North Korea. Last week, on September 22nd, Iran released a film in which it claimed to have test-fired a new, highly advanced ballistic missile system. This new weapon, the Khoramshahr, is estimated to have a range that exceeds 2,000km, finally putting all of Israel well within range.

The Khoramshahr can, according to the Iranian release, carry multiple warheads, and is also – unlike other crude variations – exceptionally accurate, because it has advanced live-video guidance systems contained within its nose cone. This means that the missile could be manually guided onto a target remotely. The Khoramshahr, if the release is true, would constitute an entirely different level of threat to Israel than any that has come before.

Yet despite this obvious breach of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, sidetracked by the burgeoning crisis occurring in East Asia, it has barely even been covered by the main news media in the West. Indeed, the US military has even asserted that this launch did not take place and has immediately dropped the matter, dismissing it out of hand. But this is not the view the Israeli intelligence services and the Israeli military take; they could not disagree more with the US assessment. They believe the test was a legitimate one, and that a threshold is about to be crossed by Iran, a threshold that may force them to soon take action.

Israel is fast approaching the point where strong speeches voicing condemnation against Iranian encroachments into Syria, or about their weapons programs, are not enough. The danger to Israel is becoming too great. Very soon Iran is going to reach the point, as will North Korea, where they actually will have a reliable and deliverable nuclear weapons system. When that point is reached, Iran will become the biggest existential threat to the continued existence of Israel as a nation state since its founding in 1948.

At this point the only silver lining is Donald Trump. Unlike Obama’s misguided, and some might say negligent approach to the Iranian threat, the indications are that President Trump is about to embark upon a different approach. There is increasing speculation, fueled by the President himself, that he is about to take some form of definitive action; either by challenging the North Korean nuclear program directly or in decertifying the Iranian nuclear deal.

The world is bracing itself for what is about to come; and much of what may shortly follow is entirely unpredictable. But about one thing we can be certain: If Trump does end the Iranian Nuclear Accord or takes any direct form of action against North Korea, this really could be the calm before the storm. A real Pandora’s box may be about to be opened.