Iran’s nuclear programme: legal debate stirs over basis for U.S. or Israeli attack

Chris McGreal reports: Amid the sabre-rattling and bluster over Iran, a furious if little-noticed debate is boiling over the legal basis for a US or Israeli attack on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The threat of a military strike hangs over this weekend’s talks in Istanbul between the major powers and Iran.

The Israeli leadership says an attack will come within months, not years, if the present diplomatic push fails. The US Congress is not far behind, with the Republican leadership pledging to pass an authorisation for the use of “overwhelming military force” if there are signs Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.

Barack Obama is more cautious, but says the “military option” remains on the table if sanctions fail to persuade Tehran to give up its enriched uranium.

But while intelligence agencies grapple to assess whether Tehran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon and militaries on both sides of the Atlantic consider the logistics of bombing Iran, legal authorities are confronting the challenge of constructing a legal case for attack, if it comes.

And already there is considerable dispute over the issue.

Alan Dershowitz, the renowned jurist and supporter of Israel, has argued that the US and the Jewish state can invoke a long-standing right under customary international law of “pro-active self-defence” as well as article 51 of the United Nations charter.

Sceptics counter that international law only permits military action in response to an imminent attack, or if one is under way. They say there is no immediate threat because, as the White House has said, there is no evidence Tehran is building a nuclear weapon. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Iran’s nuclear programme: legal debate stirs over basis for U.S. or Israeli attack

  1. Norman

    From reading this brief, it does seem that Iran could make a case against both the U.S. & Israel as to threatening to bomb the infrastructure unless Israel is allowed to maintain their being the only nuclear power in the M.E. Indeed, Israel is being the aggressor in this mater, with U.S. backing. One has to wonder if Israel intends to swallow both Jordan and Syria, with perhaps eyes also on Iraq? On the other hand, the U.S. is putting the Navy in a rather peculiar position having 2 air craft carriers as targets. One has to ask if the thousands of military personnel are collateral, as in expendable, in the event that Iran targets and succeeds in destroying said air craft carriers, due to Israel bombing the infrastructure in Iran?

  2. Yonatan

    Obama will do anything to get a second term. Even Bush rejected Israels requests (in 2008) for support for an attack on Iran

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