No doubt about it, Donald Trump made a great speech at the United Nations. I particularly liked his criticism of the Iran deal and when he reminded his audience that “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
When people think of the North Korean threat, it understandable for people to concentrate their thinking on North Korea’s nuclear warheads and the intercontinental ballistic missiles attached to them. History has shown, however, that this regime might attack the United States in more subtle ways.
For example, in March 2007 Israel discovered that the North Koreans were helping the Syrians build a nuclear reactor in al-Kibar. They learned of this information by breaking into the computer of a Syrian official in Vienna.
In September 2007, the Israelis launched an airstrike and destroyed the facility. In 2008, U.S. intelligence officials briefed Congress with aerial photographs of the reactor before it was destroyed. The Syrians had constructed outer walls to conceal the fact that the reactor at al-Kibar was virtually identical to the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon.
The Syrian facility was built in 2001. It took six years before the American and Israeli intelligence community could confirm that it was a nuclear reactor. As early as 2004, the North Korean finger prints in Syria were evident.
The al-Kibar reactor was located in the Deir ez Zor area of Syria. In 2004, the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted transmissions from Deir ez Zor to North Korea. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency began photographing the facility in 2004, but could not identify it.
Although the Israelis destroyed the Syrian reactor, the fact is that Syria was able to keep this reactor secret for years. The North Koreans have a long history in Syria (and Iran) in providing weapons and technical expertise.
In 2017, at least two shipments bound for Syria have been intercepted. The Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), which is North Korea’s principal conventional arms dealer, was working with Syrian front companies. The shipments were destined for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC). Since the 1970s, the SSRC has been responsible for Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Beyond helping Syria with its nuclear program and helping Iran with its missile program, there’s also an unpredictable side to this regime. In February of this year, Jong Un’s estranged brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed by VX nerve agent in Malaysia.
While everyone should hope for a diplomatic solution, it is becoming increasingly clear that another war with North Korea may be unavoidable.