South Korean military says North Korea may have links with Hamas

Hamas appears to have used North Korean weapons and tactics in attacks on Israel.
By Eugene Whong for RFA
2023.10.17
Washington
South Korean military says North Korea may have links with Hamas Palestinian militants carrying what appears to be a North Korean F-7 rocket propelled grenade launcher [with red band] drive back to the Gaza Strip, Oct. 7, 2023.
Ali Mahmud/AP

North Korea appears to have a military connection to Hamas, and weapons and tactics used in the Palestinian militant group’s attacks this month on Israel are likely North Korean in origin, the South Korean military said Tuesday.

“Hamas is believed to be directly or indirectly linked to North Korea in various areas, such as the weapons trade, tactical guidance and training,” a senior member of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, who did not want to be named, told reporters at a special press briefing in Seoul.

The official further suggested that North Korea could use similar tactics to Hamas in an attack on the South.

“There is a possibility that North Korea could use Hamas' attack methods [in the event of] a surprise invasion of South Korea," he said.

Radio Free Asia reported last week that a video shared on social media showed a Hamas fighter holding what appeared to be a North Korean F-7 rocket propelled grenade launcher or RPG.

 The military official confirmed that the F-7 is another name for the North Korean RPG-7 high-explosive fragmentation rocket, but did not elaborate on whether the weapon reached Hamas in direct trade with North Korea or via a third party.

The official said that spent 122-millimeter artillery shells discovered near Gaza’s border with Israel are likely North Korean exports, because they were marked in Korean letters “Bang-122,” and shells with this marking have been used in North Korean artillery attacks of the South.  

North Korean state media last week denied that Hamas was using North Korean weapons, calling the idea a ”groundless and false rumor” spread by “reptile press bodies and quasi-experts” in the United States.

Invasion tactics

Hamas’ attack on Israel used paragliders and drones, a tactic that has been employed by North Korea, leading to speculation that Pyongyang could have given tactical information to Hamas, he said.

In 2020, North Korea practiced an attack on a replica of the Blue House, South Korea’s former presidential office and residence. Commandos rode paragliders to a landing point near the replica and staged an assault. 

ENG_KOR_NKHamas_10172023.2.jpg
Israeli soldiers and journalists gather around a damaged powered paraglider allegedly used by Palestinian militants in Kfar Aza, south of Israel bordering Gaza Strip, on Oct. 10, 2023. Credit: Thomas Coex/AFP

Speaking at a different press briefing on Tuesday, Lee Sung Joon, the spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was not the official who spoke at the special press briefing, said that the military was analyzing and evaluating weapons and tactics used by Hamas.

“In addition, we are closely monitoring North Korea using joint ROK-US surveillance and reconnaissance assets and are maintaining a thorough readiness posture for North Korean provocations,” he said.

‘No surprise’

A military connection between North Korea and Hamas is very likely, Bruce Bennett, a Senior Fellow at the U.S.-based RAND Corporation think tank, told RFA Korean.

For many years, North Korea has sent its military personnel overseas to help train foreign military personnel in many countries, so it should be no surprise to find North Korean military trainers in Gaza supporting Hamas,” said Bennett. 

“North Korea almost always denies its involvement in other countries, so North Korean denial of its weapons being used by Hamas is exactly what we would expect,” he said.

Bennett said that North Korean trainers would be most comfortable with North Korean weapons.

“So why would anyone be surprised that North Korea has provided Hamas with some of the weapons that Hamas used to attack Israel, including everything from small arms to artillery munitions?” he said, adding that the weapons could have first been sold to parties in Iran and then transferred into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt.

Cooperation with North Korea by buying weapons or military training is a violation of U.S. and U.N. sanctions, Anthony Ruggiero of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told RFA.

“The Biden administration should increase its enforcement of North Korea sanctions to reduce Pyongyang’s revenue generation,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kim Soyoung for RFA Korean. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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