Last month, my PolicyMic colleague Gabriel Kohan argued that an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran is necessary to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East. This relies on the assumption that Iran is a dire threat to Middle Eastern peace. I disagree with this argument for a number of reasons.
First, the threat posed by Iran to Middle Eastern peace is exaggerated not just in Kohan’s piece but also in the mainstream media. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate stated that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has not restarted it as of mid-2007. While some say that Iran may have resumed “research” on how to build a nuclear bomb, it is not engaged in any actual development. In other words, Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and is not trying to build one at the moment. On the other hand, Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons and refuses to allow any inspections or sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It is true that Iran has exercised its regional ambitions through its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and arming of sectarian groups in Iraq. However, Iran never invaded Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq. Israel has invaded Lebanon numerous times throughout the past thirty years, most notably in 1982 and 2006. These invasions have resulted in numerous civilian casualties and bloody massacres, most of the deaths being Arab. Hezbollah (which means “party of God” in Arabic) is an Islamist political party that formed after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon to provide resistance against Israeli aggression. While Hezbollah has an armed militia wing that has engaged in terrorism against Israel, it is important to note that Hezbollah’s actions are a reaction to Israel’s aggressive behavior.
The same applies to Gaza. Like Hezbollah, Hamas, also an Islamist organization, has engaged in terrorist activities against Israeli civilians. But this is in response to Israel’s crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip, which continues to be a nightmare for Palestinians despite Israel’s “easing”. Before Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Hamas did honor a ceasefire. However, in November 4, 2008, Israel killed six Hamas fighters, which provoked Hamas to commit acts of violence against Israel. During the 2008-2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza, over 1,400 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis were killed. As in Lebanon, most of the deaths were Arab.
As for Iraq, while Iran’s meddling has perpetuated sectarian violence, it did not invade that country, destroy its infrastructure and create the conditions for sectarianism — the United States did that. While Iran is certainly not the biggest promoter of peace and human rights, the United States and Israel, through their actions, proved to be far bigger threats to peace in the Middle East than Iran. Therefore, claims about Iran’s threat to peace and stability in the region are over-exaggerated.
Secondly, Israel does not have the right, under international law, to pre-emptively strike Iran. Under international law, a state can use force in self-defense against an armed attack or when authorized by the United Nations Security Council to do so. Any use of force that does not meet any of these conditions is an illegal use of force or “war of aggression”. A pre-emptive strike does not satisfy these legal requirements and, thus, is illegal under international law.
If Israel wants peace, there are other ways to achieve this, such as eliminating its nuclear weapons, signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty and reaching a just peace agreement with the Palestinians. A pre-emptive strike against Iran is unnecessary, illegal and would do more harm than good.