Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyon
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]