What Israel and Iran share: mistrust of international law
Israel's and Iran's go-it-alone ways are rooted in similar histories of being bullied.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The differences between the two are stark: Jewish state versus Islamic Republic; American ally versus American rival; small state versus large country. But beneath these contrasts lies a core commonality: Both Jerusalem and Tehran have a long track record of discounting and even disregarding international law and the consensus of the world community.
In the most recent examples, Israel shocked even her allies with an aggressive and legally disputed boarding of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May. And Iran ignored the latest round of UN sanctions in June, pledging to continue enriching nuclear fuel.
There is a reason, though, for their shared defiance: Both Israel and Iran see themselves as repeated victims of international law and global opinion. Until the international community can disabuse them of these notions, both nations will continue to act defensively and with high degrees of mistrust.
Most nations see international law not just as a set of limits on their behavior or a commonly accepted list of dos and don'ts that they must obey. In a globalized, interdependent world, they also see international law as a bargain, one that obliges them to maintain certain responsibilities yet also offers them certain rights they are entitled to enjoy.
While Israel and Iran are constantly reminded of their international responsibilities, they have seldom seen the practical application of their purported rights.
Consider Israel's perspective. For a modern state that has existed a mere 62 years, it has known seven wars, countless terrorist attacks against its civilian population, and two arduous Palestinian insurrections, all with scant global sympathy and virtually no legal protection.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel has yet to achieve any sense of normalcy or acceptance in the Middle East as an authentic member state. Having virtually no meaningful diplomatic relations with its immediate neighbors, save for two tenuous peace treaties that are linked to the survival of the Egyptian and Jordanian autocracies, it is now witnessing the disintegration of once-amicable ties with the Turkish Republic.
The heightened sense of insecurity due to strained relations with the Obama White House, the increasing rocket attacks from Gaza after Israel's unilateral disengagement in 2005, and failed peace efforts with the Palestinians (even as a new round of talks are set to start Sept. 2) have shifted an already beleaguered and paranoid Israeli body politic further to the right.