More than two decades ago, as Israel sought peace with Palestinians and Arab states, it also sought to thaw its relationship with North Korea — an effort that diplomats claim might have succeeded had the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, not intervened.
According to the Times of Israel, five Israeli diplomats traveled to Pyongyang in 1992 in a bid to convince the North Koreans to stop sharing nuclear technology and know-how with Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East. They saw possible business and economic development deals between the two countries as a way to sweeten the arrangement for the totalitarian regime.
“We were flown around by the helicopter of the leader [Kim Il-sung] and met with his deputy. We were accompanied by a high-ranking general from the North Korean army all throughout our visit, and they entertained us with a huge spectacle,” recalled Eytan Bentsur, then the deputy director general of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry.
But Bentsur and his colleagues said that their outreach was scuttled by the Mossad’s machinations, allegedly on the orders of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who may himself have been pressured by the United States.
Those diplomats think that stopping negotiations was a grave mistake. “At that particular moment in time it was possible to change an aggressive and dangerous regime into one that focused on developing its own economy,” Bentsur told the Times of Israel. “There’s no doubt that it would have been a different North Korea.”
Daniel J. Solomon is the former Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.
Israel Once Tried To Turn North Korea Into A Friend