The West must act against Tehran aggression
Launch of missiles. Iran flag in background.

Written by

Mike Kelly and Anthony Bergin

The massive and direct aggression against Israel by Iran should wake up the democratic world to the true nature of the geopolitical and terror threat at the heart of the Israel-Hamas conflict.  We’re all facing the same rectangle of rogues: Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea. Matching the Axis of World War II, they share the characteristics of authoritarianism centred on narcissistic dictators, an expansionist ideology, and a focus on militarism.

Iran has supplied impact drones in the hundreds to Russia in its war against Ukraine. It’s contracted to establish a factory to produce them in Russia. Iran facilitates Russian operations in Syria which includes ownership of the port of Tartus, several airbases and the presence of Russian “Wagner” forces. Russia has launched cyber-attacks against Israel in support of the Iranian backed Hamas attack. It’s assisted Iran with nuclear technology and anti-aircraft weapons. 

In 2020 China entered a $400b 25-year contract with Iran, mainly focused on energy security. It has about 5,000 security personnel in Iran and, along with North Korea, assists them with ballistic missile technology. China has provided military related supplies and economic support to Russia in the war against Ukraine. North Korea provides material and weapons to Russia, Hamas, and Hezbollah. All four states of this malign alignment collaborate in and compare notes on grey zone information warfare and offensive cyber capabilities. And on it all goes.

We’ve heard the rote chants from the pro-Hamas band of camp followers that Israel is a Zionist, colonial and imperialist country. But it’s Iran that’s bent on regional hegemony and being the ascendant leader in the Muslim world. Lebanon and Syria are now effectively provinces and military command and staging bases for Iran. Iraq is a self-governing protectorate on the way to becoming a province. Houthi controlled Yemen is a fully owned Iranian military base that adds the Red Sea trade route to Iran’s threat to the Strait of Hormuz, as well as a flanking threat to the Sunni states, particularly Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Added to this is the Shiite fomentation operations it conducts within states such as Bahrain. The range of territorial controls it exercises is reminiscent of the administrative divisions of Ottoman Empire.

It tells you all you need to know, that the barrage against Israel was delivered not only from Iran but also from the territory of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq. The suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian “consulate” in Syria was a separate building to the Iranian Embassy (which was left untouched) and served as a military command centre loaded with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Al Quds commanders, including Brig Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi, his deputy, Gen Haji Rahimi and Brig Gen Hossein Amirollah, the chief of general staff for the al-Quds force in Syria and Lebanon. This command centre was directing operations against Israel through its Hamas, Hezbollah, Syrian and Houthi proxies and therefore forfeited any pretension to diplomatic protection.

 All this is well understood in the Sunni Arab countries of the region. Israel was assisted in repelling Iran’s assault by the US and UK. It had active operational help from Jordan and airspace cooperation from Saudi Arabia. The UAE and Saudi Arabia provided intelligence assistance. 

Instead of wasting time on the certain to fail genocide case against Israel, South Africa, and other members of the international community, would be better served initiating a case against Iran at the International Court of Justice. The UN Security Council can refer cases to the International Criminal Court, as it did in relation to Sudan and the Darfur situation in 2005. The ICC can deal with the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

This referral would be based on a solid legal case that Iran is in “effective control” of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis through training, arming, equipping, financing, supplying or otherwise encouraging, supporting, aiding, and directing their actions. The case can be made that, through its proxy agents Iran is responsible for crimes subject to ICC jurisdiction, if referred by the Security Council under their authority to determine that a situation “constitutes a threat to international peace and security”.

Iran, through the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas, should be held fully legally responsible for this current war. This includes the crime of initiating a war of aggression, the litany of atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel, the ongoing war crime of indiscriminate rocket fire against civilian populations in Israel and the attacks on international shipping.

Israel needs to leverage the outrage against Iran which could allow it to avoid the necessity of directly striking Iranian territory. This should include, but wouldn’t be limited to, heightened sanctions undermining Iranian military capability, establishing an international boycott of the Iranian oil industry, and ensuring it does not develop nuclear weapons. 

The West also needs to heavily invest in a major effort to develop and produce in volume the capabilities to completely neutralise the stand-off threat from Iran, it’s proxies and the other members of this new Axis. It should be noted that the US, EU and G7 are stepping forward now on revisiting sanctions on Iran. But this will need to be wider than currently flagged. The US and Canada have designated the Quds Force branch of the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. The US, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have also applied this designation to the IRGC.  Australia should now step forward on making this designation for both organisations. We need to collaborate on exposing and neutralising the fake businesses and institutions of the Quds Force that seek to circumvent international sanctions against Iran. Above all it means ensuring Israel is fully supported in finishing the mission of neutralising Hamas capabilities in Gaza.

Mike Kelly is co-convenor of Labor Friends of Israel. Anthony Bergin is a senior fellow at Strategic Analysis Australia. A version of this article appeared in The Australian on 18 April 2024.