OPINIONS

Mon 15 Apr 2024 5:29 pm - Jerusalem Time

Amid the Israel-Iran escalation, it’s time for a region-wide ceasefire

Daoud Kuttab

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel on April 14, 2024 [Reuters/Amir Cohen]

When the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, he knew what he was doing. Although any attack on a diplomatic mission is a clear violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Israeli leader proceeded, hoping to divert attention from his failures in the Israeli war on Gaza.

With Israel having previously carried out a series of assassinations against Iranian officials and scientists, this act was hard to deny. No other power in the region could conduct such a brazen violation of international law regarding the sanctity of diplomatic missions.

Coming on the heels of other Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria, this was a provocative act aimed at establishing military hegemony in the region.

For their part, the Iranians were caught in a bind. The international response to the brazen Israeli defiance of international law was muted, especially in the West, and Tehran could no longer tolerate the Israeli provocations. Iran also has its own considerations of military deterrence in the region.

The result was an attack from Iranian territory, which sent a clear message to Israel and its allies. It demonstrated the Iranian capabilities but also provided space for de-escalation. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian described the attack as “limited” and said Tehran had warned the United States ahead of launching it.

Thanks to a deployment of US forces to the region and Israel’s own air defence capabilities, nearly all of the drones and missiles Iran launched were intercepted.

This display of military power by Israel and Iran has left the rest of the Arab world terrified of what another regional war could do to an already devastated region. And if it is to take place, there will be not just regional, but global repercussions. Any regional Iranian-Israeli conflict will pull in the Gulf countries, but also the US, Russia and China, creating a potentially explosive global confrontation.

As Israel and Iran are establishing this new “balance of terror”, the international community has to act. The United Nations Security Council must pass a strong binding resolution imposing a full ceasefire in the region that includes the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel, Iran and all neighboring countries involved, as well as non-state actors.

Importantly, this resolution must recognise that at the core of much of the instability in the region is the unresolved Palestinian question.

Therefore, it needs to call for an end to Israel’s genocidal invasion of Gaza and the exchange of captives. It must provide a clear roadmap to Palestinian statehood and the end of the Israeli military control of all Arab territories occupied in 1967. It must create an international peacekeeping force that will ensure compliance by all parties, especially in Gaza but also in the West Bank, where settler violence has reached unprecedented levels.

A clear declaration in support of the Palestinian right to self-determination and a roadmap to its realisation is paramount now. Already most European countries have indicated their plans to join the list of 139 states that have recognised the state of Palestine.

This resolution should not repeat the mistakes of UNSC 2728 passed on March 25, which the US tried to undermine immediately by claiming that it was “nonbinding”. The resolution was binding but it lacked “teeth” – or clear measures to be undertaken in case of violation. That is why Israel ignored it.

A new resolution, therefore, will require the use of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Article 41 of this chapter reads: “The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.”

The possibility of imposing biting sanctions and a diplomatic boycott on those who do not abide by its provisions must be made clear in the resolution. Mention must also be made of the other provisions in Chapter VII which include the use of military force to ensure maintenance of international peace.

For decades, Israel has gotten away with perpetrating egregious violations of international law because it has faced no consequences. Now the International Court of Justice has declared that Israeli actions in Gaza “plausibly” amount to genocide in Gaza. Israel will not stop its aggression in Gaza or elsewhere in the region unless it is faced with a credible threat of sanctions. Iran, for its part, already faces sanctions pressure from the West, but if China and other non-Western powers were to join such measures, it would think twice before violating the resolution.

With Iran clearly demonstrating it is willing to de-escalate after the attack, a small window of opportunity now exists for action. The US and other countries have come to the rescue of Israel and this means that it will have to pay back its allies by complying with the ceasefire.

Unless the world wants to deal with the economic and humanitarian catastrophe of a region-wide war in the Middle East, it must move quickly and lay the foundations for a comprehensive lasting peace in the region. The key to that is resolving the Palestinian question once and for all.

The decision to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the toppling of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, the attempted toppling of Bashar al-Assad - all these foreign policy disasters are now topped by a fifth - the decision to back Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

It is, of course, slow to realise the scale of the misjudgement it made in backing Israel to the hilt after 7 October attack by Hamas. But it also took time to realise the scale of the blunder it made in invading Iraq. 

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has testified to Congress that the US had no evidence that Israel had committed genocide in Gaza was eerily reminiscent of Colin Powell’s UN speech in which he said he had evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Powell’s speech in 2003 was a seminal moment in the US’s loss of international credibility. It has been sinking faster each year since.

Powell later regretted what he said. Austin is destined in hindsight to do the same.

A hell hole

Israel has now led its backers into a hell hole in which there is no peace or even prospect of one, no defeat of Hamas, no prospect of a post-war government, dwindling deterrence to all the other armed groups in the region, and the prospect of a low-level regional war on all of Israel’s frontiers simultaneously.

Possibly the most stupid thing Israeli security sources did on Sunday was to crow publicly about the cooperation they got from the Jordanian air force which helped them shoot down the drones and the cruise missiles.

Israeli sources boasted that missiles headed for Jerusalem were intercepted on the Jordanian side of the Jordan Valley and others were intercepted near the Syrian border. 

The message Israel wanted to put out was that despite appearances, Israel has allies in the region who are prepared to defend it.

But this is a foolish game to play if Israel wants to preserve a critically weak Jordanian monarchy, fighting a tidal flow of public opinion wanting to storm the border.

Jordan may have been two-faced in the past and King Hussein did pass intelligence to his fellow cigar-smoking friend, the late former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

But this is the first time I can remember that the Jordanian army, which still bears its original name from the time of the liberation from the Ottoman Empire as the "Arab Army", actually joined in combat to protect Israel’s borders.

This is a huge mistake. 

While the population of Jordan, both Palestinians and the East Bankers, cheered those missiles onto their targets, the Jordanian army shot them down on Israel’s behalf. 

Israel only has relations with Arab leaders who defy their people’s will and impose their corrupt governance on them. Jordan’s action on Saturday may give short-term succour to Israel, but in the long term it spells trouble on Israel’s longest border.

Israel may be celebrating the fact they have real allies, but by doing so they are fatally undermining their friends’ legitimacy.

Iran has made its point and Israel is weaker as a result. 

This is the first time it was attacked directly by Iran who, like Hamas, gave it the impression it was not interested in war. It is also the first time that Israel was told by Biden not to strike back. After such an attack the visuals look bad: Israel needs others to defend it and is not free to choose how to strike back.

The attack leaves its protector the US casting around for policy options.

All, at the moment, look bad. 


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Amid the Israel-Iran escalation, it’s time for a region-wide ceasefire

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