May 11th, 2023, a random Thursday, an Iranian-funded missile strikes Rehovot, Israel, damaging property, with many injured and one death. I have close family who live in Rehovot. In fact, only a block away from this incident. I could not imagine my anger if this missile were to have hit my family’s building. As my uncle, aunt and cousins exited their safe room my uncle told me that they could see the black smog and smell the smoke from the rocket. My uncle was walking by the now damaged building only a half an hour before the missile hit. Pure luck. Imagine the devastation if that was an Iranian nuclear missile!
As a young Jewish Zionist, growing up in Toronto, Ontario, in my safe little bubble, I had no idea the terror the wide world held. I went to a Jewish preschool, where I was taught the foundations of my culture and religious beliefs as well as the alphabet, counting and the basic conjoining words. After that, I was off to my neighbourhood public school where I spent the next eight years of my life. This was my first time out of my bubble. As I grew older, I began to understand the many inequities of the world. Unfortunately, I experienced antisemitism first hand in the halls of what I thought was my safe middle school. A peer of mine yelled “all heil Hitler” and raised his hand in the Nazi salute towards my Jewish friends. The administration handled this with little urgency; I believe that if it was a hate crime against any other cultural or ethnic group they would have handled it differently and with more seriousness. In high school, I became interested in the effects of antisemitism on a global scale and in world politics. This is when my family dinner table conversations finally started to get interesting! My dad was happy about this.
Israel, a place that has great cultural and religious history, has constantly been tested on its ability to survive. This stellar little country has developed many creative innovations that have increased its military presence and strength. In the media, Israel is often perceived as the threat when in reality it is usually the victim; it many times has to take action before enemies strike due to its very small size, lack of strategic depth and fear of extinction. This strategy is well known as the act of preemptive war. Israel has been forced to strike first several times including against the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and against an Iraqi nuclear reactor before it went “live” in 1981.
Historically, the idea of preemptive war and its legitimacy of usage by Israel has been challenged under international law. Until now, lawyers have not been able to agree as to whether a preemptive strike to stop an imminent attack is covered by Article 51 of the UN Charter. The jury is out. Article 51 reads in part;
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations…”
Arguably the better, more realistic view consistent with historical customary law is that the right to take proportionate preemptive actions against real and imminent threats must be included in Article 51 or there is a gaping hole in the UN’s self defense doctrine. It makes no sense that a nation must first be attacked and take the initial blow before being able to protect itself; the first attack, especially if nuclear, could be so destructive that the country which has been attacked is unable to respond. If Israel’s intelligence service picks up signs of probable missile attacks – which they do – is the country supposed to wait until Iranian nuclear facilities send the first missile? I do not think so. Israel would be a smouldering ruin.
The Israeli-Iranian conflict is one of the most dangerous in the Middle East and has been simmering for years due to Israel and Iran’s long and complicated history. These two countries were good friends and then became mortal enemies when the Shah of Iran was overthrown by fanatic Ayatollahs in 1979. Iran’s leaders now regularly call for Israel’s destruction, and Iran has developed nuclear weapon technology that can make their threats a reality! The news is full of such threats, and as noted above, Israel has in the past successfully and with minimal civilian casualties used preemptive attacks against its enemies. This leaves Israel with a moral dilemma of if, when and how Israel should act on these direct existential Iranian threats. Israel justifiably has the right to preemptively strike Iranian military facilities in the current and foreseeable future heated circumstances, as it is legal under international law, and a moral requirement of its government to save Israel from extinction.
Preemptive attacks are what has saved Israel from great destruction and generally what prevents a much higher number of casualties on both sides as Israel only targets military sites, not people. Therefore, proportionate preemptive war is justifiable and Israel should be able to take this protective measure whenever circumstances make it necessary.
I consider Israel to be my second home. As someone who is an active member of the Jewish community in Toronto, I deeply value my connection to Israel. Hearing about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran makes me furious. I have visited Israel and have family that serve in their armed forces, which is why this topic hits so close to home. During the summer of 2022, I visited the concentration and death camps in Poland and saw first hand the destruction the Nazi’s left behind which was fuelled by pure hatred. From this experience, I now full heartedly believe that threats can become an ugly reality. The #neveragain slogan is still meaningful today and the Iranian calls to wipe Israel off the map, together with Iran’s continued development of the nuclear means to fulfill this threat is contradictory to the good intentions behind this slogan. This is not only a massive hate crime in itself but justification for Israel to act first and protect its people.