A vast intelligence effort by Israeli agents began in 2004 in what was determined to be the construction of nuclear reactor in Syria with assistance from the already nuclear armed North Korea. When the State of Israel determined that the reactor would be operational by the end of 2007, the Israeli Defense Forces created plans for a covert airstrike, “Operation Outside the Box.” On Sept. 5, 2007, Israeli jets took off from two bases in Southern Israel and flew towards the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour via the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian-Turkish border. Four hours later, the nuclear reactor was completely disabled due to irreversible damage caused by the airstrike. While the world jumped to condemn Israel’s violation of international law, in 2011 the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the site was very likely to have been a nuclear reactor.
To this day, Israel has assumed responsibility for the strike and has refused to put forward a legal justification for the attack; there simply is none. Under existing international law, there is no antecedent or justification for preemptive self-defense. In other words, the State of Israel would not seek to fight a legal battle that would inevitable end in defeat; still, the international community should be eternally indebted to the Jewish state.
In violation of its membership to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime is responsible for the use of nearly 336 chemical weapons since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. The Alewite regime has murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians and created millions of refugees at its commitment to stay in power. Moreover, Deir al-Zour would eventually fall to a three-year siege by ISIS in 2014—consider what an ISIS-held nuclear reactor would have meant for Syrians and for the rest of the international community.
Similar outrage against Israel was expressed over the last few days over the alleged assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist and high-ranking official of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. While the State of Israel has not assumed responsibility for the attack, evidence has indicated the years-long Mossad concern regarding his fundamental contributions to Iran’s nuclear program. The European Union, Turkey, Qatar and Syria have all condemned the attack as a violation of international law. They are right; the attack, until further legal justification can be brought forward, constitutes as a violation of international law. However, this should not be the primary concern with a global community that supposedly seeks to establish and maintain peace and security. More specifically, the concern should be whether contemporary international law is equipped to address the issue of preemptive strikes against terror-sponsoring states who make genocidal against other members of the community. (Note: It is not.)
Following the end of World War II, amid the drafting of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, there was considerable fear of not allowing states to engage in pre-emptive strikes. Such a move, was thought, could create a world where states—in a constant need to pursue or defend their national interests—would become hyper-aggressive. This fear should not be easily dismissed, as it is an appropriate and rational concern; more so, it can be argued that countless lives have been saved due to this particular Article of the U.N. Charter. Conversely, contemporary geopolitics differ from the rather stable system of international relations that followed World War II. Existing international law is ill-equipped to deal with terror-sponsoring states that have openly implemented genocide and ethnic cleansing from their foreign policies.
If the State of Israel is responsible for the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, the international community’s concern should be with revising the existing frameworks of international law that would grant Iran the ability to continue stockpiling uranium in violation with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), according to the United Nations.
As this year commemorated the 75th year of the Holocaust, the Jewish state has a moral and ethical mandate to prevent such a tragedy from ever repeating itself—this would involve the hypothetical violation of international law to prevent Iran from carrying out its goal of eradicating the “Zionist tumor from the map.”
Thirty-nine years ago, the State of Israel destroyed Saddam Hussein’s reactor at Osirak. Failing to consider what a nuclear armed Saddam Hussein would have been capable of doing to states in the region and the globe, the international community denounced Israel.
Thirteen years ago, the State of Israel destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor, and again, the international community cried out in condemnation and despair.
Looking back, the number of critics that Israel had to endure in the weeks and months following these operations would likely now be hesitant to reminisce on the violations of international law. Because of these operations, the world is now a safer place.
If Israel was involved in the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, a legal justification is not likely to see the light of day. Eventually, the international community will look back on this episode with gratitude, as any day that a fundamentalist and genocidal regime’s ambition to violate international law with the stockpiling of uranium is delayed, it is a good day.
Yoni Michanie is a Ph.D. student at Northeastern University. He is a Middle East Analyst, Israel advocate, and former IDF Paratrooper. He can be reached on Twitter, @YoniMichanie.