A surprise and large-scale attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas has intensified security concerns in South Korea, underscoring the pressing need for the country to fortify its military readiness in countering a potential blitz from North Korea including artillery attacks targeting densely populated metropolitan areas.
The newly appointed Defense Minister Shin Won-sik publicly underscored on Tuesday that Hamas’ surprise assault from the Gaza Strip has illuminated the necessity of promptly suspending the inter-Korean military agreement. Shin pointed out that the agreement hinders South Korea’s ability to monitor and conduct reconnaissance over North Korea.
Shin further emphasized that the inadequate aerial surveillance and monitoring by Israel over the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip enabled the militant group to keep its plans for the unprecedented onslaught shrouded under wraps, in addition to the failure of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
“If Israel had upheld continuous monitoring and surveillance of the region by deploying drones or other airborne assets, such an incident might have been averted. This is because rockets launched (by Hamas) require open outdoor spaces for firing, as they produce flames during launch,” Shin asserted during his first meeting with reporters at the Defense Ministry after his inauguration on Saturday.
“If Israel can conduct comprehensive aerial surveillance over the Gaza Strip, it would significantly improve the country’s early warning capabilities.”
Similarly, Shin pointed out that the current inter-Korean military agreement’s restrictions, such as the establishment of no-fly zones near the inter-Korean border, severely limit the South Korean military’s ability to monitor and promptly detect signs of provocation by North Korea in frontline areas in real time.
“In reality, the Republic of Korea is facing even more substantial threats (than Israel),” Shin claimed, referring to South Korea by its official name.
“We must maintain a vigilant stance through surveillance and monitoring to respond effectively because it allows us to discern whether a provocation is imminent or not.”
The Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement was signed during the 2018 inter-Korean summit, held during the tenure of the Moon Jae-in government. The primary objective of this agreement was to reduce military tensions between the two Koreas, who technically remain at war. As part of this effort, the agreement also included provisions for the establishment of buffer zones in the land, sea and air.
Shin expressed his commitment to expedite the suspension of the inter-Korea military agreement’s effectiveness “as soon as possible.” The new defense chief also indicated his intention to shift the existing policy of the Yoon Suk Yeol government, which re-evaluates the effectiveness of the military agreement should North Korea make provocations that invade South Korean territory.
The Hamas ambush at daybreak on Saturday, coinciding with the conclusion of the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, evoked fear in South Korea. This fear is deeply rooted in the country’s history, marked by the traumatic experience of the deadly 1950-53 Korean War sparked by a surprise invasion from North Korea.
The members of the ruling People Power Party on Tuesday called for reassessing the adverse ramifications of the Sept. 19 agreement at this juncture, while the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea remained silent on the matter.
Rep. Yun Jae-ok, the People Power Party’s floor leader, emphasized the need for South Korea to carefully assess the security implications of the Hamas attack. Yun said South Korea should learn a lesson from the militant group’s multi-front attack on Israel, initiated with intense rocket fire.
Hamas claimed responsibility for launching over 5,000 rockets during the 20-minute assault on Saturday from the blockaded enclave, with some of them evading Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
The Iron Dome, first deployed in 2011, has been safeguarding Israeli skies from Hamas rockets and has a success rate of around 90 percent, according to Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
“Military experts are emphasizing that Hamas’ rocket attack effectively neutralized the Iron Dome missile defense system, which Israel takes pride in. This underscores the significance of assessing our own air defense systems and preparedness,” Yun said during the party’s meeting.
The South Korean military’s assessment indicates that there are over 1,000 different types of artillery pieces deployed in the North Korean area near the Military Demarcation Line, or MDL, with the capacity to fire more than 16,000 artillery shells per hour. Among these, approximately 340 long-range artillery are believed to be specifically targeted at Seoul and the metropolitan area.
The forward-deployed artillery units are considered more potent and possess superior range and accuracy compared to Hamas rockets.
“This raises concerns that if North Korea were to engage in guerrilla-style attacks similar to Hamas, it would be challenging for us to defend not only the front-line areas, but also the metropolitan region,” Yun said.
South Korea is also working toward completing the development of the Low Altitude Missile Defense system — akin to Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor — by the year 2026. The objective is to counter the threats posed by North Korea’s artillery and multiple rocket launchers by deploying the system in Seoul and other densely populated metropolitan areas.
“Nevertheless, regardless of the advancement of our weaponry, if we remain constrained by the inherent limitations of the Sept. 19 military agreement, the effectiveness of our defense posture will be significantly compromised,” Yun said, underscoring the necessity of “thoroughly reevaluating” the military agreement.
Rep. Park Dae-chul, the People Power Party’s chief policymaker, said the fact that Israel’s advanced defense system was rendered ineffective against Hamas’ conventional weaponry barrage was “truly startling.”
“Considering North Korea’s asymmetric military capabilities and its ability to engage in localized warfare, it is imperative for us to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of our defense posture against North Korea,” Park said.
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