Italian observer lays out Israel’s attacks on Syria vis-a-vis the UN Charter

As Syria lodges complaints at the UN, Goivanni Sorbello sets out the relevant International Law

Damascus night sky July 1
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Giovanni Sorbello in Il Faro Sul Mundo

Over the past two years, the Israeli regime’s combat fighters have carried out over 200 attacks in Syria against Syrian army positions. The last air raid took place against a military base in the province of Homs.

For Israeli officials these raids represent a self-defense, while for the Syrian government they are a clear aggression, and a violation of Syria’s national sovereignty.

How does international law define these actions?

Definition of aggressiveness

Article 1 of the UN Charter suggests that preserving peace and adopting collective measures to stop threats to global peace are the main causes behind the establishment of the United Nations. Section 4 of Article 2 bluntly warns members against threats of the use force. It took 50 years for the concept of “aggression” in international law to be accepted as a defined international responsibility. There have been many debates on determining its exact aspects. Finally, in 1974, the countries of the world agreed on a certain definition of “act of aggression” in resolution 3314.

According to section one of the resolution, the act of aggression is the use of a country’s armed forces against the sovereignty of another country and territorial and political integrity. Therefore, if a non-member country acts against a member state, it will be recognized as an aggressor. The aggression can be an act against the political and territorial integrity of another country using armed force. To make some clarifications, section 2 of article 3 cites the attack of another country by the armed forces of another country by any type of weapon as an act of aggression. Thus, despite the fact that the Israeli regime has not launched a massive military campaign against Syria, its attacks with missiles and fighter planes are acts of aggression according to section 2 of article 3.
Section 2 of article 3 cites the bombing of another country by the armed forces of another country by any type of weapon as an act of aggression.

Legitimate defense

What could place the Israeli military actions against Syria outside the definition of aggression is the legitimate defense mentioned in Article 51 of the UN Charter. “Nothing in this Charter can compromise the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken the necessary measures to maintain international peace and security. Measures adopted by members in exercising this right to self-defense must be immediately reported to the Security Council and must in no way prejudice the authority and responsibility of the Security Council pursuant to this Charter to take at any time what it deems necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Preventive self-defense

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International law accepts preventive self-defense, however, according to article 33, the two opposing parties should bring their dispute into the international courts, or resolve it through compromises. Articles 33 to 38 are devoted to settlement methods. Therefore, the qualification for preventive self-defense is based on the innate right to self-defense, on the need to prevent or reduce the consequences of an imminent attack whose real threat is real.

Thus, there should be an armed attack to justify preventive self-defense as legitimate. Since 2011, Syria has been engaged in a fierce war against terrorism. After 50 years of occupation of its Golan Heights by the Israeli regime, Damascus has undertaken no military action against the Israelis. The presence of Iran and Russia in Syria is according to the request of the Syrian government and for the help of Damascus in its fight against terrorist groups supported from abroad, and is not directed against another country.

After the September 11 attacks, the United States tried to present a broad interpretation of Article 51. Washington’s actions against terrorism in international law were limited to terrorism and perpetuated terrorist attacks. Article 5 of the resolution suggests that no consideration, regardless of political, economic or military terms, can justify an act of aggression. Additionally, the seizure of the territory or any other advantage through an act of aggression is not legitimate and will not be legitimized.Regarding article 5, the preventive self-defense that Tel Aviv cites as a pretext for its anti-Syrian attacks does not give Israelis any right to take action military against Syria, even if the actions are temporary and short term.

International measures

Article 24 of the Charter assigns the duty to preserve world peace to the United Nations Security Council. Article 7 of the Charter in sections 39-52 gives the UN Security Council the authority to determine the aggression, the threat to peace or the violation of peace. The UN Security Council has not issued any resolution or recommendation on Israeli attacks on Syria, although in Damascus it has presented several complaints against the UNSC. Considering that the attacks come with American support, there is a great expectation that any pro-Syrian resolution will be blocked by Washington’s veto. In 2007, Israeli jets carried out raids in the Syrian city of Jormraya on the outskirts of Damascus. The US Department of Defense called the attacks a warning message for Damascus to stop helping the Lebanese Hezbollah. Also in that case the UN Security Council did not take any action to prevent further Israeli attacks.

As for the aforementioned cases, if a country rejects its responsibility for peace with aggression against another country, the law guarantees the right to take mutual action for the attacked country. These are the conditions for mutual action mentioned in Article 49 of an international conference in 2001:

1. The damaged country has the right to act only against the reactive country. The goal is to force the aggressive side to act in accordance with its international commitments.

2. Mutual action is limited to the moment in which the responsible country takes steps towards its international commitments.

3. Mutual action should be able to allow the resumption of commitment to international standards.

Apparently, the Israeli goal of the attacks is to support terrorists, perpetuate the crisis and slow down Syria’s  reconquest of Idlib, the last major terrorist stronghold. Damascus has so far focused on the defeat of terrorist groups and on the legal prosecution of the Golan Heights case.

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