EXCLUSIVE: N. Korean satellite launch pretext for Iran missile test

EXCLUSIVE: Western defense officials say upcoming launch is a continuation of Iran and North Korea’s nuclear and missile cooperation • Seoul warns it might shoot down North Korean rocket if it violates South Korean territory.

The satellite that North Korea intends to launch into space next month is apparently merely a front, with the real reason behind the planned launch being to test a long-range ballistic missile for another country – apparently Iran. This, at least, is what defense officials in the West have come to believe. The launch is also intended to possibly test a new launcher.

North Korea has moved a long-range rocket to a launching site, apparently determined to press ahead with its plan to launch a satellite in defiance of international condemnation, the South Korean military said Sunday, The New York Times reported. The Times article said that the North Koreans moved the main body of the Unha-3 rocket to the newly built launching station in Dongchang-ri, a village in northwest North Korea.

The satellite launch is expected to take place between April 12 and 16. North Korea has claimed that the launch is for “peaceful purposes only,” and to celebrate the April 15 centenary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il Sung. Kim’s grandson, Kim Jong Un, has led the nation of 24 million since his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December. North Korea has also claimed that the launch will not affect its neighbors and that it wasn’t violating an agreement with the West under which North Korea has agreed to suspend its nuclear program in exchange for food shipments. Within the agreement, North Korea has agreed to halt the testing of ballistic missiles and to stop enriching uranium at its nuclear facility in Yongbyon.

Pyongyan’s neighbor and nemesis, Seoul, warned Monday that it might shoot down parts of the North Korean rocket if they violate South Korean territory, as worries about what Washington calls a long-range missile test overshadowed an international nuclear security summit, AP reported on Monday.

Western security officials now believe that sending the satellite into space is only a pretext for the primary goal of the launch, and that the actual purpose is to test a long-range ballistic missile belonging to another country. Suspicions, as stated, have fallen on Iran.

The Islamic Republic has close ties to North Korea, depending on it during different stages of its nuclear and long-range missile program. Based on this assessment, Iran is concerned that testing its long-range missiles from its own territory will be interpreted by the West as another sign that it is advancing its nuclear weapons program, including an accelerated effort to develop its arsenal of long-range missiles.

Iran’s arsenal presently consists of a few hundred “Shihab” long-range missiles, which have a range of 1,500 kilometers (932 miles). In recent years Iran has developed its “Sejil” missiles, which according to estimates by military experts have a range of 2,500 kilometers (approximately 1,553 miles).

Last November an explosion that occurred at a missile base outside of Tehran killed 17 people, including a senior commander described as the architect of the Islamic Republic’s missile program. At the recent Herzliya Conference Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon revealed that the explosion took place at the same time the Iranians were conducting tests on a missile with a range of 10,000 kilometers (approximately 6,214 miles). That missile, Ya’alon said, was designed to reach the U.S.

Three years ago Iran launched its first “homemade” satellite into space, carried on the “Safir” long-range missile. According to analyses conducted in the West, the Safir is predicated on technology used to build the Shihab, which itself is predicated on technology from the North Korean “Nodong” long-range missile.

Western defense officials believe that the upcoming launch is a continuation of Iran and North Korea’s cooperation. According to this assessment, North Korea’s new president, Kim Jong Un, is seeking to demonstrate to his people that he is no less hawkish or determined than his father, but wouldn’t risk suspending the nuclear-freeze-for-food agreement with the West unless a significant economic interest convinced him otherwise.

According to the assessment, the launch is part of an existing comprehensive agreement that North Korea has obligated itself to, and that its concern about losing income from the deal with Iran has forced it to announce the satellite launch, despite unease over open confrontation with the West.

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Yoav Limor, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff