EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The inter-Korean negotiations and upcoming summits between Pyongyang and Seoul and President Trump offer a window of opportunity for Israel to try to prevent the continuation of North Korean military exports to the Middle East. Israel should consider how and when to offer this initiative and how to overcome the regional constraints. An Israeli initiative of this kind could serve as a win-win situation for all parties.
In the early 1990s, Eitan Ben-Zur of the Israeli foreign office tried to explore the possibility of a deal with North Korea to halt its missile shipments to states in the Middle East that pose a threat to Israel. The deal would have included indirect Israeli economic assistance to Pyongyang to compensate it for the financial losses it would incur from the cessation of those sales. The Ben-Zur initiative was supported by Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister.
In the end, the deal was not concluded due to a disagreement between the Israeli foreign office and the Mossad about its feasibility. Another barrier to the initiative was Washington’s objection to Jerusalem’s involvement with Pyongyang at a time when the US was trying to reach its own agreement with North Korea on the nuclear issue. Washington was disturbed by the Jerusalem-Pyongyang contacts despite the fact that Israel’s sole focus – missile shipments to the Middle East – was not perceived by the Americans as a critical issue.