North Korea photo misrepresented as Iran preparing to attack Israel

Social media users are claiming a picture captures Iranian military forces preparing to attack Israel, which it has blamed for a deadly April 1, 2024 strike on its consulate in Syria. This is false; the aerial shot shows a North Korean drill in 2017 marking 85 years since the founding of its army.

"IRAN has placed its military on HIGH ALERT," says an April 5, 2024 post sharing the photo on X.

Screenshot from X taken April 8, 2024

Similar posts spotlighting the same image, which shows rows of armored vehicles and artillery lined up along a coast, have ricocheted across X.

"Iran is ready to retaliate. #WWIII," one post says.

Another adds: "Iran and Israel will hit each other."

Screenshot from X taken April 8, 2024
Screenshot from X taken April 8, 2024

The claims come days after an April 1 blast destroyed the consular section of Iran's embassy in Syria's capital Damascus, killing seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members -- including two generals.

Tehran has blamed Israel for the bombing, but the country -- now more than six months into its war on the Palestinian militant group Hamas -- had not commented as of April 8. The United States, meanwhile, has denied Washington was connected to the attack.

While Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said Israel will "be slapped" for the strike, the photo circulating online does not show the Middle Eastern nation readying its military to retaliate.

A reverse image search surfaced the same picture in an April 25, 2017 CNN report about North Korea staging a massive military drill to celebrate the founding of its army (archived here and here).

"Live fire drills took place in Wonsan, North Korea, to mark the 85th anniversary of the Korean People's Army founding, according to North Korean State Media," the US broadcaster says in its caption, which credits the North Korean government and the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

Rodong Sinmun published the photo, along with more than 30 others showing the drill in detail, on April 26, 2017 (archived here).

Screenshot from Rodong Sinmun taken April 8, 2024

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the exercise in the eastern port city of Wonsan amid high tensions in the region, with speculation mounting ahead of the spectacle that the country might carry out a nuclear test.

AFP previously debunked posts claiming the picture showed Chinese forces preparing to attack Taiwan in 2022.

AFP has fact-checked other misinformation about the fighting between Israel and Hamas here.

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