Tuesday, earlier this week, in Seoul: less than 24 hours after the missiles were launched from the Korean Peninsula into the sea separating between the two Korean states and Japan, no signs of anxiety could be seen on the bustling streets. Evidently, a substantial gap exists between the dramatic newspaper headlines and the special TV news broadcasts on the one hand, and the general apathy on the other hand.
Why? A member of the staff of the Israeli Embassy in South Korea explained that the South Koreans regard the leader of their northern neighbor, Kim Jong-un, as an eccentric lunatic – but do not really believe that a day will come when he will launch his arsenal into the territory of his southern neighbor. After all – it is the other state of his own people.
In Seoul, as in Israel, many servicemen are visible everywhere, as South Korea also has compulsory military service, but there are no shelters and gas masks are not a familiar item. In the absence of a true atmosphere of war, all we can do is refer to the facts and attempt to understand the context.
Well, the North Koreans announced on the night between last Monday and Tuesday that they had launched a missile capable of exiting the atmosphere and re-entering successfully, namely – a missile capable of covering the distance between continents.
In an official announcement of the North Korean regime, it was alleged that the Hwasong-14 type missile reached an altitude of 2,802 kilometers and "hit its target very accurately", having been airborne for 39 minutes. North Korean state TV claimed that the missile is capable of hitting "any point around the world".
Kim Jong-un claimed further that the missile is capable of carrying a particularly large bomb (he was referring, of course, to a nuclear warhead). The Pentagon announced in response that "This act demonstrates that North Korea poses a threat to the United States and our allies and we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal." It was not long before missiles were launched as a "test" by the other side as well.
And now, for the true significance of the latest developments in the Far East: first of all, we are witnessing a spectacular comeback of the days of the Cold War, which had created the two hostile Korean states in the first place, more than 25 years after the two German states had united.
The aggressive, arrogant statements by Kim Jong-un sound as if they came out of the mouth of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the 1960s. The missile launches are associated with numerous aspects, both regional and global, but Israeli observers, quite naturally, examine the significance as it applies to Israel.
Admittedly, the recent events in Korea cannot be dismissed as totally irrelevant international news, as according to foreign sources, the Communist state had cooperated with the Syrian nuclear project which, according to the same sources, was cut short by an Israeli attack, and probably continues to cooperate with the Iranian nuclear project (to the extent that according to some theories, Iranian nuclear arms are in safekeeping in North Korea). The technological achievements of North Korea will, sooner or later, end up in the hands of Israel's enemies, notably Iran, whose long-range missile infrastructure comes from the same place.
Additionally, the North Korean audacity can be interpreted by officials within the US Government as a direct outcome of the nuclear agreement signed with North Korea, which led it along the high road to the bomb. It is no secret that the present US President, Donald Trump, disapproved of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the North Korean precedent may, at some point, provide him with an excuse to renounce the agreements with Iran, even before the Iranians have reached the bomb.
The Real Modi Effect
And now, on a much more positive note: much has been written and spoken this week about the significance of the historic visit to Israel by the Prime Minister of India, at the head of a massive Indian delegation – but not all.
One less familiar aspect involves the fact that the Indians had asked that the visit be as 'civil' in nature as possible, despite the fact that the defense relations between the two countries are particularly profound. That was the reason why the Israeli defense establishment cancelled an exhibition of the capabilities of the Israeli defense industries, which had been planned originally for the guests from India.
But even without the exhibition, it is reasonable to assume that the visit will have a tremendous impact on defense sales to India, in line with Modi's policy of promoting cooperation that would lead to the manufacture of the products on Indian soil.
India, as everyone knows, is a huge sub-continent. Accordingly, its defense needs are inexhaustible. Sources in the Israeli defense industries estimate that the most significant contribution of Modi's visit, which was covered extensively by the Indian media, will be in conveying "the commander's spirit" to the effect that India's relations with Israel are most desirable.
Against the background of Modi's visit, Israeli industries are already overwhelmed by Indian inquiries regarding possible cooperative alliances, and the message will also help Indian decision makers when they are called upon to authorize joint projects with Israel.
One of the most substantial Israeli-Indian joint projects is the current development of the Barak-8 missile defense system, initially for the Indian ground forces and Air Force, and subsequently for the Indian Navy as well.
Another effect of the favorable wind blowing out of New Delhi: as recently as last May, IAI signed the US$ 630 million Barka-8 deal for the supply of missiles for four Indian Navy vessels, in cooperation with the EBL Company of India, and discussions are already under way regarding the supply of missiles for seven additional naval vessels and a follow-up deal with the Indian Air Force.
The Elbit Systems Group has been waiting tensely for the decision regarding the final stage of the competition for the manufacture of semi-automatic artillery guns for the Indian Army. In the final stage, Elbit Systems is competing against a French manufacturer, and the favorable pro-Israeli wind may be helpful in this case, too.
An "All Clear" Siren?
Historically, the summer days are regarded as trouble-prone times in Israel: suffice is to recall the last two major operations in which Israel was involved – the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and Operation Protective Edge of 2014 – to conclude that in the summer months, any local incident can flare up and escalate into an all-out war, even if none of the parties is actually interested in such escalation.
In an attempt to alleviate the seasonal tension that is present this year as well, Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman conveyed a reassuring message to Hezbollah and Hamas during a recent meeting with the press. "The State of Israel has no interest whatsoever in initiating a military move – neither in the north nor in the south," said Lieberman. "In the south it is quiet and new inhabitants are joining the existing settlements. In the north, the 'leakages' from Syria are not aimed at us, but we are not willing to accept them and will respond more forcefully to any such leakage."
Lieberman stated further: "Any arrangement in Syria that will include the continued rule of the Assad regime or accommodate the Iranians or Hezbollah will be unacceptable to us. We will act in line with our defense interests. I strongly suggest that no one test our patience or our operational competence.
"In Lebanon as well as in Syria they are aware of our profound intelligence knowledge. I strongly suggest that no one test us. I hope no one miscalculates (appraises the situation wrongly – A.R.). We are alert and aware and do everything that needs to be done. We have opened a gap over Hezbollah since 2006 and they have not managed to fill it. Their manufacturing plants will not rust and their missiles will not rust, but no one wants to mess with us."
Now all that remains to be seen is whether the messages exchanged between the parties through every possible channel – not just publicly – manage to help us pass this summer peacefully.