North Korea and Hezbollah: A Nexus Worth Fearing?

Photo Credit: The Telegraph;[1]The Guardian[2]

 By: Natalie Schreffler

The relationship between Hezbollah and North Korea is not only dangerous, but it holds the potential to be deeply problematic for the United States. Hezbollah is an Islamic militant group based in Lebanon and fully supported by Syria and Iran; specifically, the military, logistic, and financial resources provided to Hezbollah come mainly from these two states.[3] Hezbollah acts as a political party in Lebanon, as well as a social and religious movement which prioritizes the Lebanese Shiite community. The group is also Lebanon’s largest militia.[4]

North Korea also has a history of supplying arms and training to Hezbollah, which were instrumental in helping Hezbollah compete with Israel during the 2006 conflict between Lebanon and Israel. But North Korea has been training Hezbollah leaders since at least the 1980s.[5] Hezbollah members visited North Korea for extensive training, which involved separating Hezbollah Special Forces into autonomous groups of 20 or so fighters operating in their own villages.[6] North Korea provided further assistance to Lebanon in the early 2000s by dispatching some of its military to train Hezbollah members in building underground bunkers designed to store arms, food, and medical facilities. It was this North Korean assistance that directly bolstered Hezbollah’s ability to compete with Israeli forces during the 2006 war.[7] The war, although deemed inconclusive, was also described as a “serious failure” for Israel by an Israeli government-appointed panel.[8] Israeli reporter Lenny Ben-David stated in 2007 that the military bases, armories, bunkers and communication networks of Hezbollah proved to be far more extensive than were estimated by Israel’s intelligence services prior to the war.[9]

Another instance of clandestine cooperation between Hezbollah and North Korea occurred in 2010, when North Korea reportedly attempted to supply both Hamas and Hezbollah with more than 35 tons of arms (which included rockets and rocket-propelled grenades). The shipment was intercepted in Thailand, when the cargo plane carrying the equipment made an emergency landing in Bangkok. The Thai government reported to the UN Security Council that the weapons were headed for Iran; the Israeli foreign minister at the time, Moshe Yaalon, also reported that the intended recipients of these weapons were Hamas and Hezbollah.[10] Representatives from North Korea, Hamas and Hezbollah apparently refrained from commenting on the situation.

So, why is the relationship between Hezbollah and North Korea significant? North Korea works hard to maintain a powerful persona on the world stage and will engage in any activity that supports its objectives, especially if it involves financial backing (during Kim Jong Il’s regime, arms sales provided about a billion dollars per year to the North Korean regime).[11] For this reason, Iran and North Korea have a mutually beneficial relationship which in turn benefits

Hezbollah—Iran finances North Korean efforts that strengthen Hezbollah, which Iran could not directly endow to Hezbollah. Given North Korea’s recent announcement of its plan to restart a plutonium-producing reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear site,[12] should the global community prepare for nuclear war with Hezbollah and North Korea on the offensive? Many experts would say no, based on Pyongyang’s penchant for hollow bellicosity. But with a North Korean military that the U.S. Department of Defense has deemed “a very credible conventional force,”[13] (1.1 million men and women are under arms, which is larger than the US military, and it boasts chemical, biological and nuclear weapons),[14] it may be wise to give some credence to Kim Jong-un’s threats. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and sees the United States (along with Israel) as one of its principal enemies, which does not bode well for positive relations between the US and Hezbollah in the near future. With North Korea also maintaining its anti-American posture, the possible threat to US national security is obviously worth noting, even if Hezbollah admittedly prefers not to confront the US directly outside the Middle East.[15]

Is there a strategic way to control the bombastic threats of Kim Jong-un’s administration and keep Hezbollah at bay, or should the global community just accept a nuclear-armed North Korea with the backing of a prominent terrorist group? Evans J.R. Revere, a former Foreign Service officer who served as a top Asia expert for the U.S. Department of State, predicts that within four to five years, North Korea will have the ability to strike the US with ballistic missiles. But he also predicts that if North Korea did use its missiles to start even a regional war, the response from the United States would be devastating.[16] At any rate, United States military engagement and sanctions, taken together, may be the most realistic, immediate option for dealing with the situation.


Natalie Schreffler is a M.I.A. candidate at The Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs. Her work with NGOs in Benin and Malawi, as well as her experience in refugee resettlement in the Seattle area, has prepared her for studying international conflict resolution and development. Natalie’s interests include women’s empowerment, grassroots development efforts, refugee and migration issues, and general culture studies.  



[3] “Hezbollah a North Korea-Type Guerilla Force,” Intelligence Online, (25 August – 7 September 2006).

[4] Matthew Levitt, interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, “The Hezbollah Connection in Syria and Iran,” Council on Foreign Relations, (February 2013).

[5]Arshad Mohammed, “North Korea may have aided Hezbollah, LTTE – U.S. report,” Reuters, (December 2007).

[6] “Hezbollah a North Korea-Type Guerilla Force,” Intelligence Online, (25 August – 7 September 2006).

[7] Arshad Mohammed, “North Korea may have aided Hezbollah, LTTE – U.S. report,” Reuters, (December 2007).

[8] Ellen Knickmeyer, “2006 War Called a ‘Failure’ for Israel,” The Washington Post, (January 2008).

[9] Bruce E. Bechtol, Jr., “North Korea and Support to Terrorism: An Evolving History,” Journal of Strategic Security 3, (Summer 2010) 49.

[10] Yoko Kubota, “Israel says seized North Korean arms were for Hamas, Hezbollah,” Reuters, (May 2010).

[11] Carl Anthony Wage, “The Hizballah-North Korea Nexus,” Small Wars Journal, (2011).

[12] “Korean roulette,” The Economist,, (April 2013).

[13] Kathleen T. Rhem, “North Korean Military ‘Very Credible Conventional Force,’” U.S. Department of Defense, (November 2003).

[14] Evans J.R. Revere, “North Korea” (Colloquium, The Pennsylvania State University, April 4, 2013).

[15] James R. Clapper, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, (March 2013).

[16] Evans J.R. Revere, “North Korea” (Colloquium, The Pennsylvania State University, April 4, 2013).

One Response to “North Korea and Hezbollah: A Nexus Worth Fearing?”
  1. Karen says:

    wow, great article, Natalie, about a troubling relationship between two hotbeds of the extremist world. A young brash leader wanting to strut his stuff, and the ever-unhappy Shiite factions of Iran and Lebanon now well-armed…what a combination. Like you said in your article, US military presence along with sanctions might be the best deterrent to keep a ‘situation’ from developing. You write a provocative article about a troubling emerging partnership.

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