10/12/2023, 17.48
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South Korea condemns Hamas, worries about North Korean rockets

by Alessandra Tamponi

South Korean President Yoon slams the "indiscriminate attack” from Gaza on Israeli territory, which has reawakened fears about his own country’s national security. Similar to Israel’s flawed Iron Dome, South Korea’s own US$ 2.6 billion interceptor system could become operational as early as 2026. South Korea might suspend the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed in 2018 with North Korea; Seoul accuses Pyongyang of violating it 17 times.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and a visiting delegation of US senators on Wednesday condemned the "indiscriminate attack" by the terrorist group Hamas against Israel.

The statement was the East Asian country’s first official condemnation of the attack and the war that has ensued, which has so far killed 1,300 Israelis and 1,200 Palestinians, as well as displaced 330,000 Palestinians.

For South Korea, the flare-up of violence in the Middle East has also awakened fears related to its own national security.

Israel's mobile air defence system, known as the Iron Dome has shown its limits despite an estimated 95 per cent effectiveness. Hamas' firing of more than 5,000 rockets showed that the system can be vulnerable to multiple attacks.

It was thought hitherto to be almost infallible and South Korea was influenced by it in developing its own defence system in the event of an attack by North Korea.

In 2021, the South Korean government, then under President Moon Jae-In of the Democratic Party, approved a plan to build a Low Altitude Missile Defence system (LAMD) to stop possible North Korean attacks, for an estimated US$ 2.6 billion.

Very similar to the Iron Dome, the system relies on guided missile launchers installed at various locations to protect the country, especially the densely populated Seoul region, from North Korean artillery - especially long-range launchers - deployed along the border.

LAMD was tested successfully for the first time in early 2022. After he took office last year, President Yoon suggested speeding up its development so that it can be in place by 2026, ahead of its scheduled deployment in 2030.

The system, especially following the 2022 test, boosted South Korea’s sense of security; however, the failure of Israel’s Iron Dome has shown that, however strong such a shield can be, North Korean attacks cannot be stopped 100 per cent.

Given the high cost of both systems, the defending side could quickly run out of extremely expensive interception missiles, while the attacking side can launch a barrage of cheap rockets in a single blow.

Following the attack on Israel, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kim Young-ho, a hardliner vis-à-vis North Korea, said that the security situation should be taken into account in deciding whether to suspend the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) signed in 2018.

That year was historic for inter-Korean relations, with the creation of some zones - maritime, land and air - between the two Koreas to limit accidental clashes and build mutual trust.

The CMA remains one of the few tangible examples of Moon Jae-In's northern policy; however, sources in Seoul argue that North Korea violated the agreement 17 times.

At the beginning of this year, the Yoon administration hinted at its possible suspension because it places South Korea in a position of vulnerability and limits its readiness to respond to threats.

The Unification minister’s latest statement shows how the Hamas attack underscores South Korea’s need to upgrade and diversify its strategies towards possible attacks from North Korea.

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