The real thing is so vivid that hints of it even turn up in an Inspector O novel. I trust readers know this excellent series, exploring North Korea's Kafkaesque and internecine labyrinths . If not, a treat awaits. Sometimes fiction is the best way to convey fact. The Israel connection appears in
Bamboo and Blood
, the third Inspector O novel . To say more would be to give the game away. (Author James Church is a former US spook; he knows whereof he speaks.)
But back to the facts. They aren't hard to find. A rival daily, Ha'aretz, summarized the story in 2006 . Start with this to get the gist, but don't miss a much fuller version also available online - translated from a long article in another Israeli newspaper, Maariv, back in 1995 .
No way can I do all this justice, but here goes. The Jerusalem Post's bland account implies that "Mossad and Foreign Ministry officials" undertook a joint mission to Pyongyang. Not a bit of it.
The Ha'aretz headline sums up the reality: "How the Mossad killed a deal with Kim Il-sung." Or as Maariv had earlier scathingly put it, this is
"a typical Israeli reality: struggles for power and prestige within the Israeli establishment, jealousy, hatred, scheming, concealment of information, stinginess, rivalry between parties and short-cuts in making critical decisions".
[Typical Israeli Reality - TJB? H/T to the Asia Times for naming the Jew. -ed.]
In brief, contra Palmor, in the mid 1990s his ministry was very much talking to North Korea - which initiated the contact. The agenda was missiles, and Pyongyang hinted it was prepared to be bought off; meaning it would stop selling them to Israel's foes, but at a price.
A senior foreign ministry official, Eitan Bentzur, reckoned this was worth pursuing. According to Ha'aretz, "Bentzur's idea was that Israeli businesspeople would invest in North Korea - especially in the fuel industry, would run a gold mine at Onsan [sic - in fact Unsan] and would help it obtain a $1 billion loan". It names three businessmen: Leslie Bond in the US, Shaul Eisenberg, and a former aide to Shimon Peres, Nimrod Novick.
Bentzur visited Pyongyang in 1992, to discuss not only the above but also diplomatic ties. So much for Palmor's unconsenting bride! Au contraire, the lady was evidently up for it.
Two further rounds of talks were held in Beijing in 1993. According to Ha'aretz, Kim Il-sung (no less) suggested that contacts continue in Paris - via his own daughter Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Song-thaek, who was running the missile program. Top-drawer stuff.
Enter Mossad. Israel's spy agency got wind of this plan, and rushed to Pyongyang to stop it. In a moment of high black farce, the two Israeli delegations each only learned that the other had been in town as well when they bumped into each other on the plane back to Beijing afterwards. (
The foreign ministry officials were seated in first class, while Mossad had to slum it in tourist class.