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A statement of war

The recent UN Security Council pronouncement about the attacks targeting Israeli diplomats abroad introduces important legal elements to the Iranian issue

The UN Security Council statement to the press condemning the bombing attacks against Israeli targets abroad elevates the Israeli-Iranian animosity to an institutional level. True, Israel and the US would prefer it to be a presidential statement or even a resolution. Yet even in its current form, the statement introduces important legal elements to the Iranian issue.

True, Iran is not explicitly mentioned. Neither is the foiled attempt against Israeli targets in Thailand, where Iranian nationals were arrested. Yet, in essence, it is evident that the statement’s addressee is Iran. The New Delhi bombing attack came only one day after the fourth anniversary of the assassination of a top Hezbollah military commander. Hezbollah’s leader has admitted in the past the militant group’s close financial and military ties with Iran.

The statement describes the attacks as “terrorist” and condemns them as “threats to international peace and security.” In that sense, it establishes a clear link with previous UN Security Council resolutions on the issue of terrorism, most notably with these following the 9/11 attacks that gave also rise to the US right to self defense.

Technically, Israel and Iran are not at war. In the mounting behind-the-scenes animosity between Israel and Iran, the mapping of any targets should not be based on the victim’s professional or military affiliation, but on the real threat he or she poses to the enemy’s national security. This is true regarding members of the armed forces in political roles, like military attachés or nuclear scientists, who can be targeted only if they are directly involved in the nuclear arsenal building endeavors. At the same time, by implying that Israel could exercise its right to self defense, the statement makes clear that an armed conflict could be asserted in the future under certain conditions.

Israel will not rush to change this normative framework and assert a war status with Iran. At the same time, a military option is always on the table. This does not mean that it is also inevitable or that Iran should be perceived as a strictly Israeli issue.

President Shimon Peres will tell US President Obama in their White House meeting next week that Iran should be a matter of international concern. Indeed, states like the US or Germany have not ruled out a military strike, but at the same time constantly reiterate that this is not currently the case. In fact, it may never be.

Traumatized by its Libya intervention, and with the situation in Syria a bleeding wound, it is logical for the West to appear reluctant regarding a military scenario. Highly classified US documents reveal that US intelligence services do not even believe that Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear bomb.

This leaves Israel on its own. The latest Security Council statement authorizes the pursuance of such a solitary road.

Yet, it would be erroneous for the conflict to be waged on bilateral grounds.

With the UN Security Council paralyzed by the Russian and Chinese veto, the international community should portray a courageous and creative legal stance. Similar to the Second Gulf War, forming a coalition in which states authorize Israel to act as its operational branch is a possible and desirable scenario.

About the Author
The writer, currently in King's College London Dickson Poon School of Law, is former member of the Knesset Legal Department in charge of international and constitutional issues