In the night between 9 and 10 May 2018, a rocket barrage fired from Syrian territory targeted military outposts of the Israeli Defence Forces in the Golan Heights, a vast area belonging to Syria but occupied and annexed by Israel in 1981. After attributing the attack to Iran, Israel decided to retaliate with a massive air strike on Iranian forces and assets across Syria. Prime Minister Natanyahu, some days earlier, had argued that Israel has an obligation and right to defend itself against Iranian aggression from Syrian territory.
Alessandro Mario Amoroso, Junior Programme Officer in the Security and Law Programme at GCSP, published a legal analysis of the events for EJIL: Talk!, the blog of the European Journal of International Law. In his view, the military confrontations present an interesting legal issue: if a state is attacked exclusively on a territory that it annexed and decides to react, can it claim that its use of force is justified in self-defence, i.e. is in compliance with Article 51 of the UN Charter? According to him, the answer cannot overlook the situation of manifest illegality that a self-defence argument would purport to preserve and protract:
‘The purpose of Article 51 is to protect states’ territorial integrity or political independence from violent threats: neither the one nor the other are at risk when an annexed territory comes under attack, since it clearly belongs to another sovereign. This situation is substantially different from that of disputed territories, whose status cannot be established with sufficient clarity: in this latter case, there should be no doubt that the prohibition of threat or use of force in Article 2(4) forbids non-peaceful means of dispute resolution and warrants a protection of the status quo.’
Read the full post on EJIL: Talk!