Even with Iraq safely in American hands, the other members of the Axis of Evil – Iran and North Korea – are still hard at work. And the threat they pose to the West may be greater than ever.
For all the concern about Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, the Islamic Republic’s past support of military proxies makes it clear that a direct attack on America or Israel is not necessarily the most likely threat posed by the regime. Along with North Korea, Iran is part of a thriving international arms smuggling network, one that seeks to destabilize America and her allies while minimizing the risk of direct retaliation.
For proof, look to Thailand. It was there last Tuesday that Thai officials detained a transport aircraft and its crew on suspicion of transporting weapons. (Thai officials have since confirmed that American intelligence played a part in the interception.) The weapons, once inspected, were found to be of military-grade and were brand new. They included rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons, rockets, and guided missile components. While many of the weapons were of Soviet-design, they had been recently manufactured in North Korea.
North Korea has a well-known history of exporting weapons. It played a major role in furthering Pakistan’s ballistic missile programs, in exchange for help developing a nuclear arsenal. It was also responsible for the construction of a secret military nuclear facility in Syria, destroyed by an Israeli surprise aerial assault in September of 2007. Thus, the capture of North Korean weapons in transit was not at all surprising. All that remained to be discovered was the weapons’ destination.
It is now being reported that the final destination of the aircraft and its 35 tons of weapons was Iran. The plane’s flight plan was clearly designed to confuse. After its refueling stop in Thailand, it was also scheduled to refuel in Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Ukraine, only then heading for Iran. The flight crew denies knowledge of their cargo, saying instead that they believed that they were hauling spare parts of oil drilling machinery (the cargo containers were indeed labeled as such).
What did Tehran intend to do with the weapons? While it is impossible to say with certainty, Iran is as notorious as the North Koreans for their export of weapons to groups hostile to Western interests. Israel has witnessed this again and again, in the form of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Many of the missiles, rockets and bombs used by the terrorist groups against Israel were provided by Iran.
Indeed, one of the main reasons that the Israeli Army encountered so much difficulty in their 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon was the extent of Iran’s secret assistance. Expecting to come up against poorly armed and ill-trained insurgents, Israel instead found itself in battle with an effectively trained and well equipped infantry force that fought in a far more conventional manner than was expected, using advanced tactics and powerful modern weaponry, even as it showed total disregard for the laws of war. Hezbollah’s anti-tank munitions proved particularly troublesome for Israel.
The sophistication of Hezbollah’s arsenal was shocking. While conducting operations off the Lebanese coast during the fighting, the Israeli warship Hanit was hit by an advanced guided missile, incurring heavy damage. Four sailors were lost and the ship was forced back to port. It quickly became clear that Iran had played a major role in the attack, at the very least by providing Hezbollah with the missile. Iranian officers may also have helped coordinate the technically complex attack sequence.
The incident was not the Israeli military’s finest hour — the Hanit was equipped with advanced defensive systems that were simply not turned on. That itself, however, shows to what extent Hezbollah’s arsenal caught Israel by surprise. They literally did not believe that Hezbollah would possess such advanced weapons.
That was three years ago. But as the interdiction in Thailand shows, Iran and North Korea are still busily distributing weapons around the globe. Once in Iran, where would the weapons have gone? Perhaps they’d have helped equip Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, busy crushing their own people, but they could just as easily be expected to fall into the hands of Hamas, Hezbollah, or any number of other terrorist groups. The rockets and missiles captured in Thailand are bad enough, but how long until it’s not merely high explosive being smuggled, but nuclear warheads?
Israel can cope with attacks by missiles and bombers. Likewise, America’s ability to retaliate is likely to deter even a regime that routinely pledges “death to America.” It’s by putting a nuclear bomb into the hands of Hezbollah or Hamas, or smuggling one into New York harbor, that Iran and North Korea will play the game. Alternatively, they could bring down North America’s power grid with an electromagnetic pulse. If it works, they’ve crippled the West. Even if it fails, they could escape retaliation, provided their tracks are well hidden.
It’s not an issue of “if” they can do it. We know that both Iran and North Korea can smuggle weapons. And for every plane captured in Thailand, one has to wonder how many more are never spotted.
Iran and North Korea never fail to capture the world’s attention whenever they test missiles and bluster about their illicit nuclear programs. The more urgent concern, however, may be what they are doing in the silence behind the scenes.
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