“Preemptive self-defense,” O’Connell writes, “is clearly unlawful under international law.” She explains, “The right of self-defense is limited to the right to use force to repel an attack in progress, to prevent future enemy attacks following an initial attack, or to reverse the consequences of an enemy attack, such as ending an occupation” and also points out that “the United States as a government has consistently supported the prohibition on such preemptive use of force.” O’Connell continues, “the reality is that the United States has no right to use force to prevent possible, as distinct from actual, armed attacks. The further reality is that the United States does not advance its security or its moral standing in the world by doing so.” Throughout her paper, O’Connell stresses that all nations are bound by these same rules.
Though O’Connell was writing in anticipation of an unprovoked US attack on Iraq, the parallels to the current American and Israeli bellicosity toward Iran are obvious and identically relevant. “There is no self-appointed right to attack another state because of fear that the state is making plans or developing weapons usable in a hypothetical campaign,” she states, elaborating that “a state may not take military action against another state when an attack is only a hypothetical possibility, and not yet in progress—even in the case of weapons of mass destruction” since even “possession of such weapons without more does not amount to an armed attack.”
In her eerily prescient analysis, published eight months before the US bombing, invasion, and occupation of Iraq, O’Connell suggests that “if an official argument is given at all for an invasion of Iraq, it is likely to be ‘preemptive self-defense'”, and continues:
The preemptive use of military force would establish a precedent that the United States has worked against since 1945. Preemptive self-defense would provide legal justification for Pakistan to attack India, for Iran to attack Iraq, for Russia to attack Georgia, for Azerbaijan to attack Armenia, for North Korea to attack South Korea, and so on. Any state that believes another regime poses a possible future threat— regardless of the evidence — could cite the United States invasion of Iraq.
O’Connell even uses the specific example of the Israeli destruction of Iraq’s Osirak facility to prove her point. “Many representatives were impressed by the testimony of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency who testified that the IAEA had found no evidence of unlawful weapons development by the Iraqi government,” she writes. “Not only did the IAEA find no diversion of nuclear material, but Israel put forward no evidence that an attack was imminent, let alone underway.” With regard to the legality of such an unprovoked assault, she determines, “Permitting preemptive self-defense at the sole discretion of a state is fundamentally at odds with the [United Nations] Charter’s design.”
In defending Israel’s “right” to commit what the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg described as “the supreme international crime” – namely, the willful initiation of a “war of aggression” – against Iran, Dershowitz also ignores the salient fact that the consequence of the Israeli bombing of Osirak was actually exactly the opposite of the stated goal of the operation. It was only after the Israeli attack that Iraq embarked on a nuclear weapons program.
The claims of Alan Dershowitz, in addition to being factually incorrect, legally unjustifiable and morally indefensible, are wholly unoriginal. Nuclear proliferation experts Leonard S. Spector and Avner Cohen, writing in the July/August 2008 edition of Arms Control Today, reveal that two days after the strike, “in a dramatic press conference in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin took full responsibility for the operation, praised its execution as extraordinary, and justified it both on moral and legal grounds. Begin referred to the strike as an act of “anticipatory self-defense at its best.”
Mary Ellen O’Connell defines “anticipatory self-defense” as “armed responses to attacks that are on the brink of launch, or where an enemy attack has already occurred and the victim learns more attacks are planned.” Clearly, as Israel was in no imminent danger of being attacked in 1981 by Iraqi nuclear weapons which didn’t exist, Begin’s triumphant boast was nothing more than a propagandistic lie. The neoconservative, AIPAC-driven rhetoric, echoed consistently by Dershowitz, warning of the existential threat now posed to Israel by Iran is an updated example of this very same falsehood.
Spector and Cohen continue:
The message that Begin conveyed was that the raid on Osiraq was not a one-time operation but rather a long-term national commitment. He ended his press conference with these dramatic words:
We chose this moment: now, not later, because later may be too late, perhaps forever. And if we stood by idly, two, three years, at the most four years, and Saddam Hussein would have produced his three, four, five bombs.… Then, this country and this people would have been lost, after the Holocaust. Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people. Never again, never again! Tell so your friends, tell anyone you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal. We shall not allow any enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction turned against us.
A few days later, in a CBS News television interview, Begin reiterated this doctrinal point: “This attack will be a precedent for every future government in Israel.… [E]very future Israeli prime minister will act, in similar circumstances, in the same way.” (emphasis added)
The countdown to an imaginary Iraqi and Iranian nuclear bomb is a three-decade-old staple of Israeli and American fear-mongering. Naturally, the exploitation of Holocaust analogies and endless Hitler comparisons is all part of the routine, along with ad nauseum repetitions of long-debunked mistranslations of cartographic proportions.
In April 2010, Dershowitz, after following the lead of George W. Bush by accusing Obama of “appeasement”, fulminated that, even if “the United States is prepared to accept a nuclear Iran…it has no right to require Israel to accept the risks posed by a nuclear armed country that has overtly threatened its destruction.” He continued, “Every country in the world has the inherent right to protect its citizens from a nuclear attack. Israel, a nation that Obama has himself acknowledged was built on the ashes of one Holocaust, certainly has the right to take military action to prevent a second Holocaust, especially at the hands of a country that has explicitly threatened to wipe it off the map.”
Still, Dershowitz wasn’t finished:
The world ignored the explicit threats of one tyrant who threatened to destroy the Jewish people in the 1930s, and he nearly succeeded in the 1940s. Israel cannot be expected to ignore Hitler’s successor, who while denying the first Holocaust, threatens a second one.
It is no wonder that Dershowitz treats the Osirak attack as a successful and necessary mission to be emulated, if not overtly duplicated, with regard to Iran. The reason is that Israel never pays a price for its constant contravention of international law, denial of human rights, and indifference to, if not outright contempt for, any human life that doesn’t fully support ethnic cleansing, apartheid, colonization, occupation, and institutionalized racism and discrimination against a displaced, dispossessed, devastated and demonized indigenous population.
Clearly, Israel has never followed through with its obligations as determined by the UN Security Council in 1981 and has continued to act aggressively and criminally ever since, with complete impunity and diplomatic protection from its superpower patron. The supposed “moral right” Dershowitz ascribes to an unprovoked and illegal Israeli attack on Iran – a sovereign nation of nearly 74 million people whose government consistently declares it has no intention of building a nuclear weapon or starting a war against the region’s strongest military – isn’t even worth discussing.
With his noxious comments in Tel Aviv, as with most everything else he says, writes, and does, Alan Dershowitz has once again revealed himself to be incapable of telling the truth or demonstrating even the most basic elements of reason or humanity in his obsessive determination to defend, and in this case encourage new, Israeli war crimes.