On Monday, tens of thousands of US soldiers will simulate battles just south of the volatile border that separates North and South Korea, causing several world governments to worry that this huge multinational military exercise could inadvertently spark World War III. In a strange coincidence, the military maneuvers commence while a rare solar eclipse, prophesied as a bad omen for “kings of the east”, passes over America.
On Monday, the US will begin a large-scale ten-day multinational military exercise in South Korea named Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG). Approximately 25,000 American service members will participate in the exercise, with about 2,500 coming in from off-peninsula. Forces from South Korea (ROK) will participate, as well as militaries from nine other countries: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Italy, Philippines, United Kingdom and New Zealand.
The US holds two major exercises annually in Korea focused on defending South Korea from the north: Foal Eagle and Key Resolve in March or April, and the UFG in August. These joint exercises have been held since the Korean War ended in a ceasefire in 1953 and have always been a point of contention, but this year, as tensions rise between the US and North Korea, the exercise has become a major source of concern.
Every year, the exercises trigger threats from North Korea, which sees them as acts of aggression, but the threats coming out of North Korea recently took on a decidedly bellicose tone. The state-run Korean Central News Agency published a report Monday quoting their supreme leader:
“[Kim Jong Un] said that if the planned fire of power demonstration is carried out as the US is going more reckless, it will be the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks, underlining the need to be always ready for launching into action anytime our Party decides.”
The threat of escalation due to the military exercise is so serious that other nations have stepped in to encourage the US to cancel the exercise. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said in a statement to the media last Friday that Moscow was deeply worried and considered the risk of military conflict between the US and North Korea “very high”. He suggested a plan under which North Korea would halt missile tests if the US and South Korea would cancel the military exercises.
The Russian suggestion has an unfortunate precedent. In 1992, Washington and South Korea suspended an annual exercise called Team Spirit as part of diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. North Korea later reneged on its agreements and the US resumed military exercises.
Objections to the exercises have also come out from China. “The drill will definitely provoke Pyongyang more, and Pyongyang is expected to make a more radical response. If South Korea really wants no war on the Korean Peninsula, it should try to stop this military exercise,” read an editorial in China’s Global Times.
The already-tense international situation began to heat up in the beginning of August when the US and the United Nations enacted harsh economic sanctions against North Korea in response to illegal nuclear tests and test flights of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
North Korea responded by running more tests, leading to a US warning in the form of two US B-1 bombers overflying the Korean Peninsula two weeks ago. North Korea responded by threatening Guam, where the US bombers were stationed, with nuclear retaliation.
Undaunted, President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. He doubled down on Friday by saying that the US was “locked and loaded” to take on North Korea and that the rogue nation’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, would “regret it fast” if he attacked the US territory of Guam. Though the North Korean leader retracted his threat, spy satellite photos released four days ago revealed North Korean mobile missile launcher movement.
The fears that the upcoming military exercises may set off a real-world conflict are well-grounded. In March, in reaction to the Foal Eagle exercises, North Korea test-fired four ballistic missiles. This led to a Pentagon announcement that it was deploying a missile defense system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense on the Korean Peninsula with the approval of the government in Seoul.
The commencement of the military exercise coincides with a rare solar eclipse that will traverse the entire United States. An esoteric Jewish book written in Safed (Tsfat) over a century ago warned that a solar eclipse on the eve of the Hebrew month of Elul, beginning Monday night, signals that the “kings of the east will suffer great destruction”. Rabbi Yosef Berger, rabbi of King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, told Breaking Israel News that in light of current rising political and military tensions, he interprets this to mean Kim Jong Un is clearly the eastern leader referred to in this prophecy.