Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Raphael Ofek

Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Raphael Ofek

Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Raphael Ofek

(Ph.D. Ben-Gurion University) Former senior analyst in IDF military intelligence and the Prime Minister’s Office. Specializes in WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) proliferation in the Middle East and North Korea. Email: [email protected]

The Puzzle of the North Korean ICBM

Uncertainty remains about North Korea’s technological maturity and ability to launch nuclear warheads that could hit the US homeland, even after its recent success at launching the Hwasong-14 missile and the conducting of its most powerful nuclear test yet. The first-stage engine of the Hwasong-14 is a critical component in its possible operation as an intercontinental ballistic missile, but there are questions about how Pyongyang came by this engine, how many it possesses, and whether or not it can produce them on its own. These uncertainties are troubling not only with regard to North Korea, but also with regard to Iran. They have sobering implications about the possibility of monitoring and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction worldwide.

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The Fragility of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement

Despite President Donald Trump’s disapproval of the JCPOA agreement with Iran, which he promised during his election campaign to “rip up,” he has been persuaded by his advisers to recertify it. He has also, however, gotten the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran as a penalty for developing nuclear missiles, supporting terror, and undermining international order. The Iranian leadership responded with a threat to quit the JCPOA and renew uranium enrichment at a high level. Though the IAEA has not yet determined that Iran has violated the agreement, Western experts view Iran’s behavior as problematic. They fear Iran could break the rules and renew its nuclear weapons program, and that it will be encouraged to do so by North Korea’s provocative stance toward the US.

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Is It Zero Hour? Pyongyang’s Nuclear Power Is Developing at a Dizzying Pace

Tensions between the US and North Korea, which greatly increased following North Korea’s two ICBM launches on July 4 and July 28, are now near the boiling point. North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, which it conducted on September 3, seemed to indicate that it has reached an advanced capability to develop nuclear weapons. Despite Kim’s provocations and concern that Pyongyang’s military power will reach a point of no return, one cannot confidently predict that President Trump will risk a ground offensive. Nor, however, does it appear that the war of words is having any effect on Kim. Trump may have to order an operation to destroy North Korean strategic targets from the air.

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North Korean Brinksmanship on Trump’s Nuclear “Red Line”

Pyongyang uses the buzz that accompanies its ballistic missile and nuclear tests, as well as the obscurity that conceals the extent of its infrastructure for weapons grade fissile materials production and nuclear weaponization, as tools with which to challenge Washington. Trump is not Obama, however. Kim Jong-un will need to tread carefully to avoid provoking an American preemptive strike.

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Iran Is Progressing Towards Nuclear Weapons Via North Korea

This analysis argues that Iran is steadily making progress towards a nuclear weapon and is doing so via North Korea. Iran is unwilling to submit to a years-long freeze of its military nuclear program as stipulated by the July 2015 Vienna Nuclear Deal. North Korea is ready and able to provide a clandestine means of circumventing the deal, which would allow the Iranians to covertly advance that nuclear program. At the same time, Iran is likely assisting in the upgrading of certain North Korean strategic capacities.

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Invisible Red Line: The Futility of Trying to Detect an Iranian Order to Build the Bomb

It is practically impossible and very unlikely that Western intelligence could detect an unambiguous order from Iranian leadership to build a nuclear bomb.

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