The curious tale of Israel’s short-lived courtship of North Korea

By Raphael Ahren

n November 3, 1992, three Israeli diplomats boarded a plane from Pyongyang to Tokyo. Having participated in the Jewish state’s first-ever diplomatic mission to North Korea, they were heading home hopeful that the two nations could reverse their bitter decades-old enmity and embark on a new era of fruitful cooperation. They dreamed of setting up an Israeli mission in Pyongyang, and of persuading the reclusive regime to stop selling arms to Israel’s enemies in the Middle East.

“I said ‘Shalom, shalom,’ but that’s it. I didn’t talk to him,” recalled Abraham Setton, who was the assistant of the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general at the time. “As soon as I saw him there, I understood what was going on. I knew their tricks.