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…]