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Opinion

Obama help with Israeli preemptive strike on Iran would violate international, US law

For all the talk in Washington of solidarity with Israel on Iran, jumping to Israel’s aid in a preemptive strike would clearly violate international and US law. Obama must tell Israel that only self-defense against an armed attack would trigger American participation.

By L. Michael Hager / March 15, 2012

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answers questions in an open session in parliament in Tehran March 14. Iran's parliament questioned Mr. Ahmadinejad over a long list of accusations. Op-ed contributor L. Michael Hager argues that US assistance to Israel with a preemptive strike on Iran, or the US acting alone, risks sweeping America into another conflict that would violate both international and domestic law.

Vahid Salemi/AP

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If Israel should launch a unilateral attack on Iran in response to a mere threat to weaponize its nuclear program, should the United States come to Israel’s aid?

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Before responding affirmatively, American policymakers should consider a word that has rarely appeared in the public debates on Iran or in the media. That word is 'law': international law and US law.

During the meeting of the pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, earlier this month, Republican senators and presidential candidates fell over themselves in calling for US solidarity with Israel should it launch a preemptive strike on Iran.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to introduce authorization for the use of “overwhelming military force” against Iran if American intelligence shows that Tehran has decided to build a nuclear weapon or it has started to enrich uranium to weapons-grade level. In a March 5 Washington Post op-ed, Mitt Romney hinted that as president he would use military force if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon.

In his remarks to the pro-Israel gathering, President Obama observed that “there is too much loose talk of war” and stated his preference for diplomacy. Yet he felt compelled to declare “I will take no options off the table,” including “a military effort.” Absent from his speech was a clear statement of what it would take to trigger such an effort. What “red line” would have to be crossed?

In his address to AIPAC, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his impatience with diplomacy and asserted Israel’s right “to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

For all the talk in Washington of solidarity with Israel and for all the saber rattling on Iran, jumping to Israel’s aid in a preemptive strike would be a clear violation of international and US law.

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