South Asia and Beyond

Attack on Iranian Mission: Why Israel May Get Away

 Attack on Iranian Mission: Why Israel May Get Away

Iran has sworn revenge for the Israeli air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria two days ago that killed seven officials including two members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah armed group in Lebanon was quoted by AFP as saying that “This crime will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge”, adding that Brig. Gen. Reza Zahedi, who died in the air strike “Was one of the first to support, sacrifice and persevere for many years to advance the work of the resistance (meaning Hezbollah) in Lebanon”.

The revenge theme aside, there is the larger question of the sanctity of diplomatic premises that includes embassies and consulates. The Israeli air strike seems a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic & Consular Relations of 1961.

Article 22 of the Vienna Convention says: “The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving state may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of mission. The receiving state is under special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage.”

These protections, as an NYT report notes, apply even if the embassy is used for criminal or military purposes. It applies also to consulates. Recall the horrific murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey in 2018 and the local authorities had to wait for days for permission to enter.

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The gray area here is the Vienna Convention, which devolves all responsibilities on the country hosting the embassy or the consulate. The NYT report notes that the Vienna Convention says nothing about attacks by a third state on foreign territory, and it quotes Prof Aurel Sari of the Department of International Law at Exeter University as saying that “Israel is a third state and is not bound by the law of diplomatic relations with regard to Iran’s embassy in Syria.”

NYT quotes Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, Israeli military spokesman as telling CNN that it had targeted “a military building of Quds Force disguised as a civilian building in Damascus”.

But by attacking Syria, Israel is in violation of a UN Charter which expressly prohibits using force to undermine the territorial integrity or political independence of another state. It could perhaps be justified that Israel was acting in self-defence, but international law is not clear as to what extent a war can be extended to third countries.

Iran has no doubt Israel has gone a step up the escalation ladder with this strike. One presumes the degree of response or retaliation will be carefully calibrated by Tehran to ensure the fires of war don’t spread. But respond it has to if only to reassure its allies in the region that include Hezbollah and Hamas.

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Surya Gangadharan

Thirty eight years in journalism, widely travelled, history buff with a preference for Old Monk Rum. Current interest/focus spans China, Technology and Trade. Recent reads: Steven Colls Directorate S and Alexander Frater's Chasing the Monsoon. Netflix/Prime video junkie. Loves animal videos on Facebook. Reluctant tweeter.

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