On the Legality of Iran’s Attack

Iranian missiles passing over w:Al-Aqsa after IRGC hit Israel with multiple airstrikes. Photograph Source: Mehr News Agency – CC BY 4.0

Last week, Iran sent a barrage of rockets and drones to Israel. Listening to Western leaders, one would believe Iran’s actions were unreasonable and unnecessary. It was a “reckless and dangerous escalation” according to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. “I condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms” said President Joe Biden.

While decrying Iran, Western leaders fail to condemn Israel’s genocide in Gaza, which has killed over 34,000 people. Iran’s attack not only avoided the carnage Israel mets out to others, but also showed respect for international law.

Under international law, states have the right to defend themselves. Zionists use this right to justify Israel’s siege of Gaza. But what they willingly ignore is that self-defense must be proportional. Just as you cannot kill someone for a minor assault, states are not permitted to kill as many people as they want in response to a terrorist attack.

Hamas’ attack on October 7 resulted in the death of over 1,000 people, many of whom were killed in friendly fire by the Israeli army. Israel’s murder of 34,000 Palestinians and the starvation of everyone in Gaza is disproportionate to October 7 or any potential further attacks.

Listening to Western leaders, one would believe Israel is the victim, Iran the aggressor. “We support Israel’s right to defend itself” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Germany’s solidarity is with all Israelis tonight whom Iran is terrorising with this unprecedented and ruthless attack” said German Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert, following the German tradition of supporting genocidal regimes.

No mention was made on why Iran attacked Israel. On April 1, Israel bombed Iran’s embassy in Damascus, killing 16 people. This violated diplomatic immunity under international law. As one of the oldest principles of international law, diplomats and their facilities are protected to provide a space where warring countries can communicate, deescalate and negotiate peace. It is for this reason that attacks of diplomatic missions are met with outrage. One can remember the horror Americans expressed during the 1981 Iran hostage crisis or the 2012 Benghazi attack against an American diplomatic post in Libya, killing four Americans. But in Western media, Israel’s attack against the Iranian embassy hardly made the news.

Before Iran attacked Israel, Iran contacted countries in the region warning that an attack was imminent. This helped avoid any misunderstandings that could plunge the region into further chaos. On April 17, Iran along with its allies Hezbollah, Yemen, and Iraq, launched drones and missiles at Israel.

The death toll was zero.

Zionists argue it was only thanks to Israel’s air defense system that no one was killed. But there is no evidence Iran targeted civilians. What we do know is that two sites in Israel were struck: the Nevatim and Ramon Airbases. Iran claims these bases were used to carry out strikes against the Iranian embassy in Damascus.

Iran was entitled to attack Israel. Under international law, states can use force in response to an illegal attack from another state—what is often called a “reprisal”. Reprisals are permitted because they help deter states from violating international law. Reprisals are only legal under five conditions: in response to an illegal attack, as a measure of last resort, as a proportional response, decided by the highest level of government and ending once the other state complies with international law.

Iran fulfilled all these conditions. Iran’s attack was in response to the illegal bombing of their embassy. Diplomacy and sanctions were not available, since Iran does not have diplomatic or economic relations with Israel. Iran had no option but to use force. The attack was not only proportional, but resulted in no deaths. The only targets were military bases, which Israel used to bomb the Iranian embassy. The attack was ordered by the highest levels of the Iranian government. Soon after these bases were struck, Iran stopped its attack.

The West positions itself as the protector of the rules-based international order. International law is used to justify Israel’s genocide under “self-defense” and against Iranian “aggression”. Yet, it is Iran, not Israel, that is following international law on armed conflict. While Israel engages in genocide in response to Hamas’ October 7 attack, Iran demonstrates that self-denfense can be done without the unnecessary death of civilians. Iran is the example to follow.