International law vs eternal recurrence: The US and 'Israel'

By Lawrence Davidson

Short-term memories

The 21st century may prove decisive for both the human race and the planet. The environment needs the enforcement of regulations reducing greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The human race needs the re-energising and enforcement of international law. 

Chances are good that the environment will get more attention now that the egocentric and nearsighted US deregulators (aka the Trump administrators) are bering kicked out of office. The Paris Climate Agreement signed by 195 countries is already in place, and the incoming Biden administration has pledged that the US will rejoin the pact. 

Things look much dimmer for the future of international law. The events that spurred on the present manifestations of such law were the wars and genocides of the first half of the 20th century, particularly the Nazi Holocaust, which was directed primarily against Europe’s Jews. That catastrophic event ended in 1945. What followed was a heightened concern for human rights reflected by treaty prohibitions on, among other things, crimes against humanity. 

Meaningful memories of these wars and genocides, and the progressive regulatory impulses they engendered, have lasted less than two generations. They are now ebbing, and in their place we have a resurgence of the aggressive nationalism, ethnic exclusivity and state-sponsored criminality – all of which promoted much of the 20th century’s horror in the first place. Is this the result of humanity’s chronic short-term memory leading, in the long-term, to a disregard for lessons of history? Or are we caught in what the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called “eternal recurrence”, repeating the same damn thing, over and over again? 

Recent disregard for international law

However you want to explain it, recent disregard for international law has once more shown just how precarious human decency is at the state level. Take the rise in state-sponsored terrorism in the form of assassination and sabotage. You might have thought this sort of criminal behaviour was the province of Al-Qaeda or the infamous Islamic State group (IS). Not so. Among others, the United States now behaves this way, and so does Israel.

For example, take the treatment rendered by Western countries and their Middle East surrogate, Israel, on the Shia nation of Iran. Whatever one might think of Iran’s present religious government (which certainly could improve its own human rights record), and despite endless allegations of Iranian aggression coming from Western and Zionist sources, contemporary Iran’s military policies have long reflected a basically defensive posture. Thus, its invited intercession in Syria and Iraq was aimed at the defeat of IS. Unlike the US and Israel, and some other countries like Russia, Iran has never attacked its neighbours, invaded another country or conspired to overthrow another legitimate government. Yet this has not stopped Zionists and Western conservatives from portraying Iran as an existential danger and from engineering punitive policies against Tehran. 

A recent instance of this occurred on 27 November 2020. On that day, Israeli agents, or those in the pay of the Zionist regime, assassinated Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Fakhrizadeh was a senior nuclear scientist retired from active research ever since Iran shut down its military nuclear programme in 2003. His death, one in a long line of such assassinations, will have no impact on the nation’s nuclear programme. Then why murder him? There are perhaps two reasons: (1) his violent death was a message to other Iranian researchers to avoid government nuclear programmes, lest they too be killed, and (2) it was also an attempt to bait Iran into an equally violent response that would, in turn, complicate any effort by the incoming Biden administration to resurrect the 2015 nuclear deal. 

Upon his election as president of the United States in 2016, Donald Trump, urged on by both Israel and Saudi Arabia, sabotaged that agreement. None of those involved in this subversion appeared to care for the fact that the nuclear deal was a model treaty that made the world a safer place.

The source of much suffering

At least in terms of recent history, the entire Middle East has suffered due to the strength of the Israeli lobby and the aggressive behaviour of the US in the region. Back in 2003, the George W. Bush administration decided to invade Iraq based on fabricated “evidence” that it sought nuclear weapons. Bush had initially been urged on by deceitful Iraqis in exile, but Israel also saw an opportunity to have Washington do damage to a regime it saw as hostile. 

The average American had no way of judging the “evidence” the Bush administration was touting, and most of them just accepted the president’s word – despite the fact that George W. Bush was someone who could not tell the difference between his own opinions and facts. Surrounded by sycophants and warmongers, Bush went ahead and killed or injured and, in some cases tortured, over a million Iraqis while simultaneously opening that country to civil war. Under international law, George W. Bush would certainly warrant criminal charges. This, of course, did not happen.

In the minds of the leaders of Israel, and perhaps those of Saudi Arabia as well, Iraq’s fate became a precedent for what they want done to Iran – and using the same methodology: starvation sanctions followed by US invasion. Here is how the Middle East scholar Juan Cole puts it:

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not believe that Iran has no military nuclear ambitions, and they see it as a geopolitical enemy whom they would like the US to crush for them and keep weak, as the Bush administration broke the legs of Iraq.

With the presidency of Donald Trump – someone who alsocannot discern opinion from fact – it looked like Iran would indeed suffer the same fate as Iraq. Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal and instituted those starvation sanctions. He did not invade Iran, but he certainly lent a hand to an unspoken policy of sabotage and assassination.

Thus, once more, the world was beset by a US leader who cared nothing for either international law or the long-established practice of diplomacy. Neither suited his flawed personality – that of a schoolyard bully.

Now it is December 2020, and we have a new president-elect, Joseph Biden. He says he wants to resurrect the nuclear deal, but he is also talking about pushing Iran to accept further weapons restrictions. This reflects the anxiety inherent in the Zionist worldview. Israel, as a “Western society”, must be protected from all enemies, real or imagined. This anxiety has long been communicated to American political leaders through the Zionist lobby. Yet Israel’s paranoid sense of vulnerability and the anxiety that it breeds do not reflect reality. In fact, it is an obstacle, if what we are interested in is national security through the upholding of international law. 

In truth, Iran is not the aggressor, it is the victim of aggression. If Biden wants to promote a safer, more humane world under the rule of law, he should turn his attention to the assassin and not the assassinated; to the saboteur and not those sabotaged; to Israel, and indeed in this case his own nation’s Middle East foreign policy, and not Iran. 

The Zionists cry foul

Israelis and their Zionist supporters elsewhere are very sensitive about such finger-pointing. I like to think this sensitivity comes from their collective guilty conscience, but there is no way of knowing for sure. What is for sure is that the Zionists, like many other people, are good at rationalising their behaviour.

They have a standard retort when critics lay blame, as I have just done, at their doorstep. The retort comes as a claim of double standards – that Israel is singled out for blame by its critics while other offenders are ignored. It is an odd defence, if only because it implies shared guilt. 

While it is true that Israel and its backers are not the only violators of international law out there, it is also true that for those in the West, and for Jews in particular, the Zionist state is distinctly culpable. How so? Zionist lobbies, acting as agents of the Israeli state, have worked for decades, and all too successfully, to arrange US and other Western support of racist and illegal expansionist Israeli policies and practices (the Israelis now have the dubious distinction of running the longest post-World War II occupation in the world). As Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times suggests, the result is the corruption of “fundamental American [and other Western] values.” That is particularly true of those cultivated since the end of World War II – values supporting international law and human rights. That being the case, Israel deserves “special scrutiny.”

Conclusion

It is remarkable how quickly the notion of international law has slipped out of the Western consciousness. Looking just at the US, the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was publicly described as a violation of international law by only two Americans of note: ex-CIA head John Brennan who, while not naming Israel as the perpetrator, pointed out that “such an act of state-sponsored terrorism violates international law and would encourage other governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials”; and Congressional Representative Ilhan Omar who noted that “Speaking out against violations of international law isn’t a partisan issue, it’s also not being on the side of Iran. It’s about balance and not plunging the world into a more chaotic state than we are already in.”

That chaotic state is indicative of the fact that destructive nationalism has not yet run its course. Against the backdrop of aggressive nationalism, international law and a universal view of human rights are often interpreted as alien interference in the interests of this or that sovereign state. Even those Jews now caught up in their own nationalist identity (Zionism) fail to see the worth of forms of international law originally inspired to prevent the murderous horrors of genocide.

It would appear that, as is the case with our environmental crisis, regulatory intervention is called for. In this case, it is regulation based on international law and a universal notion of human rights. Such a path is our only ultimate answer to a history full of repetitive horror. Unless, of course, we are willing to acquiesce in a system of eternal recurrence – accepting that we are doomed to habitually repeat the same events and the same mistakes. Is that our fate? For our own sakes, and certainly the sake of all Iranians, let’s hope not.

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