FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Israeli Warships in the Red Sea

by NADIA HIJAB

Two Israeli missile class warships sailed through Egypt’s Suez Canal into the Red Sea this week, some days after one of their nuclear submarines. The news barely blipped the media surface of the United States.

It should have raised a few questions: Will Israel really attack Iran? What does the law have to say to Israel — and to Egypt? Will the world act to prevent war?

The idea of an Israeli attack on Iran is almost unthinkable. It could devastate Iran and have repercussions beyond a counter-attack on Israel. Nuclear fallout could affect neighboring countries. Americans in the region and elsewhere could be vulnerable. Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz through which about 20% of world oil flows, perhaps felling a global economy already on its knees. As French president Nicolas Sarkozy said at the G8 summit, such a unilateral act would be an “absolute catastrophe.”

Barack Obama wants a diplomatic resolution of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, so perhaps all we are seeing is Israeli sabre-rattling. If this is all, it is still useful to Israel. Israeli strategists have openly said they prefer Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power — his inflammatory rhetoric is more likely to keep Iran at loggerheads with the world — and an external threat strengthens Ahmadinejad against his reformist rivals. Israeli military maneuvers also reinforce Iran’s determination to seek a nuclear deterrent, thus keeping the country isolated. And it distracts attention from Israel’s relentless colonization program in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Yet an attack cannot be ruled out: Israel has been known to do the unthinkable. The world cannot afford to wait and see. The United States in particular needs to take more muscular action. The Obama administration does not have to expend political capital by taking Israel on by itself. It can make use of the protection provided by the United Nations and international law.

There’s plenty to work with: An Israel strike against Iran would be against the law. Any state’s use of force must be justified as self-defense; otherwise, it is a fundamental violation of the United Nations Charter. What’s more, International law expert Richard Falk says, even the threat to use force is unlawful.

Israel’s “threat diplomacy” is “explicitly prohibited by the Charter,” the American Jewish law professor explains, because the threat to use force can be as disruptive as the use of force itself. It constitutes a crime against peace, as it was defined at the Nuremburg Tribunal after World War II, becoming a principle of international law. It promotes an arms race and escalates tension.

Today, there are tensions indeed, and they evoke eerie echoes of the June 1967 war. The weeks before the war were full of military maneuvers and tough talk that culminated in the lightning Israeli attack on and victory over Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

Israel knew full well that the Arabs did not intend war. The late premier Menachem Begin told the Israel National Defense College in 1982: “We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack [Nasser].” The military swagger provided the cover for Israel’s strike.

If the world doesn’t want to spend the next 42 years trying to unravel the consequences of another Israeli attack — this time against Iran — it must act fast.

First, countries must be careful not to be complicit in Israel’s “threat diplomacy.” So while Egypt has no right to block the passage of Israeli vessels through the Suez Canal, Falk refers to the concept of “innocent passage” in international law. Whether Israel’s deployment of its warships and nuclear submarines can be seen as innocent — given the threats it has been making — is a tricky question under international law. Egypt may well have a duty to the international community not to allow such passage. And if so, the international community must support it in this position.

Second, countries must lay down the law. Obama was quick to deflect Joe Biden’s claim that Israel, as a “sovereign nation” was entitled to decide on a strike against Iran. Obama underscored that America had “absolutely not” given Israel a green light. He even appeared to slap his vice president on the wrist by saying it was very important that his administration be as clear and “as consistent as it can be.”

But Obama did not go far enough. Biden’s remark is not just another unguided missile: It is not consistent with international law. No state, however sovereign, has the right to threaten world peace unless it is acting in self-defense or has a mandate from the United Nations Security Council.

This is what Biden should have said, what Obama must say, and what all countries, Egypt included, must uphold. Otherwise we will all pay a heavy price.

NADIA HIJAB is an independent analyst and a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism:  Transcending the Masters tools
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Chuck Collins
Wall Street Hopes You’ve Forgotten the Crash Already
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Robert Koehler
Costa Rica’s Peace Journey
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
February 23, 2017
Dave Brotherton
Trump, Moral Panics and Resistance
Jonathan Cook
One State: Trump Has Reminded Palestinians What It Was Always About
Bill Quigley
Ten Examples of Direct Resistance to Stop Government Raids
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigot Boy Business: Trump Exposes His Ignorance and Intolerance, Again
John W. Whitehead
The Illusion of Freedom: the Police State Is Alive and Well
Ralph Nader
Restricting People’s Use of Their Courts
David Macaray
Women As Labor Union Organizers
Kathy Kelly
Friendship in Defiance of War
Doug Weir
Why Did the US Use Depleted Uranium Weapons in Syria?
Steve Horn
Former GOP Congressional Staffer Follows Revolving Door, Now Latest Keystone XL Lobbyist
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail