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Perfidy and terror in the slaying of Soleimani

  • 08 January 2020


As the drumbeat for another US invasion in the Middle East grows, which Australia will doubtless be asked to support, it might be time to briefly assess the situation on the ground.

We are told that, once again, we must curb the ambitions of (oil rich) Iran by destroying this evil state because it may have the temerity to react to the killing of a 'dangerous terrorist'. So, even assuming that a state has the right to unilaterally determine who foreign officials are and how they die, is this claim actually justified?

On the basis that one who alleges must prove, our starting point should be that we have little reason to believe what we have been told by US intelligence services in the past. Remember Saddam's secret 'Weapons of Mass Destruction', which served as the figleaf for Operation Iraqi Liberation (later changed by some US government spinmeister who realised the moniker was too obvious to Operation Iraqi Freedom)? Remember, too, the multiple doctored dossiers put out by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to justify the attacks on Syria? For that matter, and for those more sympathetic to the right wing of US politics, remember the 'collusion with the Russians' which was supposed to have seen Trump elected but which was proved a fantasy by the Mueller report?

The immediate context of the Iran case does not build confidence. After withdrawing from an agreement with Iran whereby it would limit its nuclear capacity in exchange for sanctions relief, the US government has now assassinated the head of that country's Quds Force, the unconventional warfare component of the Sepah or Revolutionary Guards.

Assassination of political and other leaders is, of course, prohibited at international law outside outright war (not only by general human rights treaties and even the Geneva Conventions on warfare but also by specific principles on targeted killings and disappearances adopted by the UN). While the allegation is that Soleimani was planning 'imminent' violence against Western targets and that the attack was therefore in self-defence, there is less to this claim than meets the eye.

Firstly, the definition of 'imminent' used by the United States is not the dictionary definition. Under the 'Bethlehem' doctrine (named for its originator, an advisor to Binyamin Netanyahu's government) anyone who has previously engaged in action against Western interests is deemed an 'imminent' threat. Under this expanded definition, not accepted by most international lawyers, anyone who