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Source: IranWire

Jan 17, 2024

The Implications of the IRGC's Attacks Abroad


In less than 24 hours, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) conducted missile attacks in three countries: Pakistan, Iraq and Syria

While the Damascus government, which has close relations with the Islamic Republic, did not condemn the attack on Syrian soil, both Iraq and Pakistan strongly denounced the strikes as violations of their sovereignty. 

Why did the Islamic Republic launch such attacks, and does its conduct align with international law?

The IRGC has stated through its affiliated media outlets that the missile attacks in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan were carried out in response to attacks and other actions attributed to Israel and the Sunni militant groups Islamic State and Jaish al Adl.

According to the IRGC statements, the force targeted Israeli “spy headquarters” in Irbil, the seat of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

The assault came in retaliation for the killing of three IRGC members in Syria last month, including a senior commander, in a strike that was widely blamed on Israel.

Iraq asserted that the missile hit the house of a Kurdish businessman, denied the presence of Israeli institutions in Irbil, and reported civilian casualties, including two children. 

Pakistan also confirmed civilian casualties.

After previous Iranian attacks, Iraq brought the issue to the United Nations Security Council, citing violations of its sovereignty and threats to international peace and security. 

Baghdad is expected to take similar action in response to the latest attack.

The IRGC missile attacks, which reached unprecedented proportions since they targeted the territories of three countries in less than 24 hours, were described as retaliation for the actions of Israel and two non-governmental groups – IS and Jaish al Adl.

However, international regulations generally do not consider "revenge" through military action as legally justifiable. 

The IRGC justifies its missile strikes by asserting that the governments of Syria, Iraq and Pakistan are unable to control the militant groups within their borders, posing a security risk to the Islamic Republic.

If this argument holds for Syria and Pakistan, the attack in Iraq is entirely unjustifiable as the target was a civilian facility.

Even if it is proven that the targeted individuals had connections with Israelis, this is not an acceptable reason for targeting another country.

If the government of the Islamic Republic fails to demonstrate that the attack in Iraq targeted an Israeli center linked to the assassination of an IRGC commander in Syria, it has committed an unjustifiable violation of Iraq's national sovereignty that resulted in civilian casualties. 

Authorities in Iraq’s Kurdistan have gone further, labeling the IRGC’s action a "terrorist attack."

The Iranian government's justification for such attacks is grounded in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which pertains to legitimate defense. 

In recent years, Tehran has broadly interpreted Article 51, expanding the right of self-defense to include missile, drone, and artillery attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan.

For instance, in response to limited attacks by Kurdish groups, the Islamic Republic has conducted artillery and missile strikes in Iraq. 

Fearing possible condemnation, they submitted letters to the UN Security Council describing its assaults as acts of legitimate defense.

Repeated missile, drone and artillery attacks on neighboring countries, accompanied by weak references to the principle of "legitimate defense" and Iraq's successive protests, may eventually garner Security Council support for Iraq's concerns and place the Islamic Republic in a precarious international position.

Furthermore, the Islamic Republic's repeated and extensive reliance on the principle of legitimate defense and Article 51 could potentially push other governments to take similar actions against the Islamic Republic.

If Israel were to undertake a similar military action against Iran for training Yemen's Houthis or supplying them with weapons to attack ships associated with Israel in the Red Sea, would the Islamic Republic find it acceptable under the principle of legitimate defense?

The Islamic Republic once vehemently denounced the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, labeling them as violations of international law and national sovereignty. 

Now, however, it appears to be endorsing such actions in the region.

The Iranian government's reckless military attacks, regardless of their consequences, may gradually reshape military dynamics in the region to the detriment of the Islamic Republic. 

All of this is happening at a time when Iran’s rulers are experiencing their lowest level of legitimacy, both domestically and internationally, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic more than 40 years ago.

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