On Iran-US Crisis (Part I)

Co-Written by Ashish Kumar Singh & Abhijit Anand

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Excellent vivid images of flags for you. With the texture of fabric at 100 percent view.

Iran and USA reached on the brink of a war due to the series of events that took place in the beginning of 2020. We are going to give a time-line of the recent events, and then present main points of two academic articles relevant to understand these events in totality. We believe that USA must have avoided assassinating Iranian army commander Soleimani, and despite the visible peace at present, such acts have future repercussions. We have used published newspaper/website views and news in this write up.

Dec. 27: Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia backed by Iran, launched rockets at the K1 military base near Kirkuk, which housed U.S. military service members and Iraqi personnel. The attack killed a U.S. civilian contractor and wounded four U.S. service members and two Iraqis.

Dec. 29: The United States responded with airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah positions in western Iraq and eastern Syria. The strikes, which reportedly killed at least 25 militants, targeted weapons depots and command centers that the group had used to attack U.S. forces and allies.

Dec. 31: Supporters of Kataib Hezbollah stormed the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad to protest the U.S. airstrikes. The gunmen and demonstrators broke into a reception area inside the front gate but did not reach the main embassy buildings. They chanted “Death to America” and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the compound. In a series of tweets, Trump accused Tehran of orchestrating the attack.

Jan. 2: Secretary Esper warned that the United States “will not accept continued attacks against our personnel & forces in the region.” He said that the United States would take “preemptive action” to defend U.S. interests against Iranian plots. “The game has changed,” Esper told reporters during a briefing.

Jan. 3: President Trump ordered an airstrike on a convey of Iranian and Iraqi military leaders leaving Baghdad airport. The drone attack, launched on January 3 (January 2 US. time), killed seven people including General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s elite Qods Force, and Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a Kataib Hezbollah leader. Muhandis was also the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of militias formed to fight ISIS. Many PMF militias have received arms, training and funding from Iran.

Jan. 4: Iranian General Gholamali Abuhamzeh said that the IRGC had identified at least 35 U.S. targets that could be hit in retaliatory strikes. He specifically named U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and the city of Tel Aviv.

Trump warned that the United States had identified 52 targets, including cultural sites, and that Washington would strike if Iran attempted retaliatory attacks on U.S. interests. Trump said that the 52 sites represented the 52 American hostages held by Iranian protestors in the 1979 attack of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Jan 6: Hundreds of thousands of Iranians turned out for Soleimani’s funeral in Tehran. Many shouted “Death to America.” Supreme Leader Khamenei wept over the coffin. Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Gha’ani, warned that Iran would take revenge.

Jan. 8: Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Soleimani. No U.S. or Iraqi personnel were harmed. Iran was quick to claim responsibility for the attack on U.S. forces. But its foreign minister, Javed Zariff, also emphasized that Tehran did not seek war.

January 9: The U.S. House of Representatives delivered a sharp rebuke to Mr. Trump over his use of U.S. military power in the Middle East. The House approved a measure, relating to the War Powers Resolution of 1973, to restrict his authority to strike Iran without congressional approval.

January 11: Iran admitted it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called it an “unforgivable mistake.”

In a series of Tweets American President has defended his actions on a regular basis. Many see these events as a diversion from the impeachment hearings, some also argue that it is a tactic of Trump to ensure his second term in the Oval Office.

Below we present the key points two relevant research articles to contextualize our argument.

  1. Thomas, W. (2000). Norms and Security: The Case of International Assassination. International Security,25(1), 105-133. Retrieved from jstor.org/stable/2626775

Page no. 105: The issue of international assassination has emerged in recent years. For instances Britain’s Her Majesty Service plotted to kill Muammar Qaddhafi in 1996, Israel’s bungled 1997 attempt to assassinate an official of the Palestinian opposition group Hamas, the United States, the dual conundrums of an intransigent Saddam Hussein and terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

Page no. 106: There is a long-standing consensus in the international community that the murder of foreign leaders is a grossly inappropriate means of conducting foreign policy because apart from murder we have options like use of large-scale use of force or crippling economic sanctions.

Page no.108-109: The norm against the assassination of foreign leaders is a relatively recent construction. Such methods of assassination at present seem to have been regarded with approval in ancient and medieval times. But the notable exception in the ancient world was Rome, where a norm emerged stigmatizing the assassination of foreign enemies.

Page no 110: Morgenthau The Republic of Venice, from 1415 to 1525, designed or tried about two hundred assassinations for purposes of its foreign policy that and have documented in its official records. During the 1570s and 1580s alone, Elizabeth was the subject of at least twenty assassination plots supported by foreign powers, and herself employed assassins in Ireland. In 1516 Thomas More praised the use of assassination both as a useful tool of statecraft and as a means of sparing ordinary citizens the hardships of wars for which their leaders were responsible.

Page 111: The attitudes toward assassination began to change dramatically in the early seventeenth century. The assassination of tyrants and religious enemies was also condemned by historians and philosophers. For example Both Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II and Philip IV of Spain, declined offers to assassinate Gustav Adolf of Sweden.

Page 112-113: The laws prohibiting the assassinations were also codified in the late 1800s. The first attempts at codification were manuals promulgated by governments to regulate the conduct of their own armies and the most influential was the U.S. Army’s Lieber Code of 1863. Later the customary prohibition on assassination as “treacherous killing” was adopted at the Hague Convention in 1907.  First half of 20th century y failed to overcome the aversion to assassination as a foreign policy too although various instances are there where a foreign government was involved in the assassination of a national leader appears such as 1934 murder of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was probably ordered by German Chancellor Adolf Hitler but the British government, however, rejected the idea on the grounds that it was “unsportsmanlike”.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in a 1789 letter to James Madison: “Assassination, poison, perjury….’All of these were legitimate principles in the dark ages which intervened between ancient and modern civilizations, but exploded and held in just horror in the eighteenth century.”

In 1806, when British Foreign Secretary Charles Fox was approached with a plan to assassinate Napoleon, Fox not only rejected the offer but arrested the would-be assassin and informed the French foreign minister of the plot.

Page 114-115: In contemporary times, Israel is one of the countries that has gained importance for its willingness to resort to assassination. It is also said that lawful targeting of leaders during wartime is not assassination. When US targeted both Qaddhafi and Saddam, one must wind up saying that the “spillover” stigma against targeting leaders by conventional means is not as strong as the assassination norm itself. It is to be noted that international ethical norms including norms governing the use of force is constituted by two strands i.e. priori moral principles and historically contingent cultural and geopolitical factor.

Page 116: In the early seventeenth century the first strand of a norm against assassination i.e. the principle that treacherous murder is morally wrong existed but was adequate to limit the foreign policy and second strand was added in 1600. Although the killing of French King Henry IV was not a result of international plot but his murder was one of the most important event in the origin of the norm against assassination.

Page 117: Sovereign statehood brought two inter-linked occurrences, one predominantly material and the other predominantly ideational and both these occurrences resulted to the norm against assassination. The material development was the rise of mass army whereas ideational phenomenon was followed by rise of sovereign states.

Page 118: The sovereigns ought not to sacrifice their personal safety and that is why war was the proper activity of the sovereigns as described by one of the commentators. The difference between private persons and their public functions was demarcated by the idea of state as an abstract organization. The prior remain untouched and latter mean legitimate targets and legitimate targets supposed to employ legitimate means. This idea of facet of the ideational structure of sovereign statehood work alongside in cooperation with mass armies and this fortified normative idea that clashes between large masses of men are the best way to settle conflicts. So by 1632, the legitimate means of dealing with foreign adversary was to send army rather than assassinating him.

Page no 119: Both Balthazar Ayala and after him Alberico Gentili denounced assassination as a part of foreign policy but Balthazar Ayala was first influential jurist to criticize assassination. Ayala criticized assassination on the grounds of moral considerations of honor, bravery and bona-fide should be preferred over self-interest and convenience. Gentili also criticized assassination on moral grounds and called assassination as “shameful” and “wicked” practice and said that objectives of war should be achieved by valor means. This consideration of self-interest has two aspects i.e. short-term consequences like revenge and vindication and unintended outcomes as long-term consequences.

Page no. 120: Hugo Grotius has also strictly proscribed assassination in his writings on law of war.  He also suggested that a rule against assassination would prevent persons of eminence from excessive dangers as well as contribute to order. He also asserted that killing was only proper in battlefield.

Page no 121:  A complex combination of material and ideational factors has played crucial role in the rise of the norm against assassinating foreign leaders. On the one hand, the norm reflected the institutional interests of powerful actors in the international system. On the other hand, the norm itself served a legitimizing function, reinforcing institutional changes by providing them with a normative foundation based on natural law principles of justice and honor.

Page no 122: The norm as a vestige of chivalry: The first mention that the norm is a reflection of the emphasis on chivalry found in the laws of war. The view point of censure of condemnation of “treachery” and “perfidy” in international conventions and military manuals as a proof of honor that resists the use of force including assassination. The chivalry had little impact on assassination and in later 1500, its impact had disappeared in other areas as well.

Page no 123: The norm as a reflection of international gentility: It is also argued that the end of religious wars provided some space for gentler era in international relations and norm against assassination was part of this larger change in the pattern of international politics, a product of less violent times and more decorous social customs. But this explanation has been criticized on the grounds of the Napoleonic era and the world wars of the twentieth century during which international system has been consumed by extremely destructive war.

Page no 123-124: The norm as a concession of reality:  The norm against assassination has arisen because states found it worthless to kill troublesome foreign leader. This view has become popular because two reasons. First, leader were so well protected and therefore, it required large expenditure of resources with less chances of success. Second, the death of a single individual has very less impact on state policies. Both reasoning have been criticized by scholars.

Page no 125: The norm as a manifestation of public opinion: The fourth explanation of development of norm against assassination was impact of public opinion. For example, that
the United States is exceptionally averse to assassination because it does not conform to American values of justice and fairness as mentioned by the Church Committee in 1976. This views has been criticized on the ground that norm restricts nondemocratic states, which have little concern for domestic public opinion, as well as democratic state.

Page no 127-128: The norm against assassination of foreign leader is diminishing. The first indication is that lawmakers contemplate assassination as foreign policy option. The second indication is the increasing number of assassinations and attempt to assassinate in international politics during second half of the 20th century. The assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Hazzah Majali in 1960, assassination of Jordan’s King Hussein, Britain’s conspiracy to kill Qaddhafi in 1996, and United States was willing, if not able, to resort to assassination several times during the Cold War are some examples. The two structural changes in the international system after World War II may be undermining the norm.

Terrorism and unconventional violence: The first and foremost structural change is the high prevalence of non-traditional ways of violence by non-state actors. The increase in terrorism reflects the rejection of rules of international politics because they are unable to follow because the means at their disposal are not receptive to resolving disputes by the large-scale clash of troops.   This refusal to play by the rules, along with the no territorial nature of many groups employing such tactics, places state actors in a difficult position in responding. When states feel threatened states may feel pressured to respond with similar tactics. For example, assassination plot sponsored by U.S. officials against Mexican bandit Pancho Villa during the 1916 Punitive Expedition and in Vietnam the United States responded to the use of terror by the Vietcong with the “Phoenix program,” a counterinsurgency effort that included the assassination of VC figures.

Page no 129-130: The above cited examples suggest that the assassination taboo may not apply as strongly to responses to terrorism. The actions taken by state actors against non-state terrorists undermine the norm as a whole and erode the barriers to the use of assassination in other circumstances.

Modern war and the personal responsibility of leaders: The second structural change that diminishes the norm against assassination is based on World War I and II which brought death, unimaginable hardships and threats of nuclear weapons. The material change were closely related with ideational change. This development struck the basic idea that leaders can and should not be personally held liable for war which was considered as legitimate activity for states.  The structural changes explain that the norm is less internalized by policymakers than it was in previous era and that is why assassination has re-appeared on international relations platforms after an absence of more than 300 years. The commitment to the norms can be inferred by decision of Bush decide against assassination when compared with assassination of Hitler in 1938.

Page no 131-132: If assassination as an instrument of policy is adopted by the government then it would not only be used by the aggrieved countries as an act of retaliation but it will speed up the de-stigmatization of the practice in the international system as a whole.

(Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia

Abhijit Anand teaches Law at the Glocal University, Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India)




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