SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has struck a $43 million deal with an Israeli company to buy advanced rockets to protect a front-line area attacked by North Korea last year, officials said Tuesday.
South Korea will deploy 67 Spike NLOS rockets on Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong islands in the Yellow Sea as early as late this year, a South Korean government arms procurement official said. Four South Koreans were killed on Yeonpyeong when the North shelled it last November.
The official, who declined to be identified, citing policy, said the deal was made in July after the Israeli weapon received the best performance review from South Korean military officials. Another South Korean arms procurement official confirmed the information.
Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems says the rockets can fly up to 15 miles (25 kilometers) and hit hidden targets. South Korea has been struggling to find ways to take out North Korea’s hidden coastal artillery should it attack again.
South Korea’s efforts to boost weapons systems on the front-line islands follow intense criticism that defense officials failed to respond strongly and quickly enough after the North’s attack last year.
South Korea currently has self-propelled guns, vulcan cannons, multi-rocket launchers, radars and other advanced weapons deployed on the islands, as well as thousands of marines. In June, Seoul set up a separate defense command in charge of troops on the islands.
Violence often flares in the Yellow Sea, and three deadly naval clashes since 1999 have taken a few dozen lives. The maritime line separating North and South Korea was drawn by the U.S.-led U.N. Command without North Korea’s consent at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War. That fighting ended with a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula still technically in a state of war. North Korea routinely argues that the line should run farther south.
South Korea’s moves to bolster its defenses come as it seeks to revive dialogue with North Korea. Since July, diplomats from the two Koreas and the United States have met to explore ways to restart long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks. Progress, however, has been elusive.
On Saturday, a U.S. shipment of humanitarian aid arrived in North Korea to help the country recover from floods and heavy rain. The State Department has dismissed any link between the aid and diplomatic efforts to restart the six-nation nuclear talks.
The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia. During his trip to Russia and China last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reportedly suggested the North might consider a moratorium on nuclear testing and production if the talks resume.
North Korea is pushing for the negotiations to restart. The United States and South Korea have so far reacted coolly, saying the North must first show sincerity by abiding by past nuclear commitments before the aid-for-disarmament talks can resume.
Israel is one of the world’s largest defense exporters, having sold arms to Turkey, Britain, the United States and other Western nations. But it is looking for new defense partners to replace the likely short-term loss of Turkey.
Tensions between Turkey and Israel grew as Turkey’s Islamic-oriented government sought a rapprochement with Israel’s traditional foes in the Middle East. Ties deteriorated sharply after Israel’s three-week military offensive in Gaza in 2009. Last year’s Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound protest flotilla that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists sent relations to a new low.
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