The former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence warned on Sunday that a military option for the United States against North Korea was improbable due to the potential risk to South Korea and Japan, Pyongyang’s two most likely targets.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, who also served as IDF attaché to Washington and who is currently the director of the Institute for National Security Studies think tank, told 103FM Radio that the potential for a preemptive strike by the US was complicated even further by the fact that American intelligence on the isolated, nuclear-armed country is likely insufficient.
However, should the US undertake such a strike, he cautioned, it would need to be completely debilitating to avoid dire consequences. “Those who will get the responding blow, in a very painful way, are South Korea and Japan,” Yadlin explained.
“If a nuclear warhead missile is fired at the island of Guam, we are not even talking about California, then a preemptive strike is not good enough. The real question is, does the US have the preemptive strike capability that would wipe out North Korea’s capabilities — that is a question that I don’t have an answer for, and I’m not sure the Americans have an answer,” said Yadlin.
Such a strike would require “excellent intelligence,” he said, adding that he was uncertain the US had that kind of information.
The concern of a devastating retaliation from North Korea makes the situation unlike that of Iran, he assessed, where Saudi Arabia and Israel have encouraged the US to strike, whereas Japan and South Korea are trying to avert a military response because they understand the “conventional price they will pay.”
North Korea on Sunday said it set off a hydrogen bomb in its sixth nuclear test, which judging by the earthquake it set off appeared to be its most powerful explosion yet.
However, Yadlin told the radio station he believed there were large gaps between the hype and the reality of North Korea’s military technology.
“There is the reality and there is the war of words,” he said. “The reality is that North Korea has nuclear weapons. This is not new.”
However, he cautiously said there was no immediate need to panic, as North Korea had yet to achieve its goals.
“The country wants to have significant operational capabilities that depend on three things,” he said. “The ability to launch a nuclear weapon on a missile, the ability to survive an attack, and converting an atomic bomb to a hydrogen bomb… The hydrogen bomb has much more power than the atomic.”
Yadlin, who would have been the Zionist Union faction’s choice for defense minister had the center-left won last year’s elections, said Pyongyang wanted the world to think it had achieved those goals.
He also compared Iran to North Korea, in terms of their nuclear ambitions. Tehran, he said, is still looking to develop an atomic weapon, while Pyongyang has already crossed that threshold. However, he said, the Islamic Regime remains a serious threat to Israel’s security.
“Iran is 20 years behind North Korea in nuclear development,” Yadlin said. The Iranians “signed an agreement with the P5+1 that they are keeping… The issue of Iranian weapons will become relevant toward the end of the agreement, which allows Iran to have nuclear capabilities within a short time.”
Yadlin said that the bigger danger from Iran was that it would step in to fill a vacuum in Syria after the US and Russia had destroyed the Islamic State group.
He added that it was slightly embarrassing that Israel was relying on the US and Russia to do its dirty work in Syria.
“We are not a country without capabilities,” he said. “Israel has excellent intelligence and ability to strike Syria.”
Taking a different approach, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon took to Twitter to warn that Israel should pay close attention to the US response to North Korea.
“The international response, led by the US, to the North Korean regime’s provocations, sheds light on how it will behave toward the Iranian regime on their nuclear efforts in the near future,” he tweeted. “Although the nuclear test is not our issue, the tension should concern us.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Yadlin advocated the United States launch a preemptive strike on North Korea.