Borders, Sovereignty, Provocation and Lawfare

In the wake of recent attempts to violate Israeli sovereignty through planned mass ‘protests’ intended to storm its borders, it is worthwhile to recall that border control is an essential aspect of sovereignty. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes, the core meaning of sovereignty is “supreme authority within a territory.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement that “Like every country in the world, Israel has the right and the duty to guard its borders and protect them” needs no more legal substantiation than U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s January statement delivered in Afghanistan that “Part of national sovereignty is the ability to protect one’s borders.” And this fundamental principle ties into the reason U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner noted on June 6 that “Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself” after condemning “what appears to be an effort by the Syrian Government to incite events and draw attention away from its own internal issues.”

In fact, Syria’s apparent role in sending waves of ‘protesters’ could be considered a breach of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, which requires that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” Even after hedging over the meaning of the term “force,” there remains the principle that, as the U.N. International Law Commission stated in its 1949 Draft Declaration on Rights and Duties of States, “Every State has the duty to refrain from fomenting civil strife in the territory of another State, and to prevent the organization within its territory of activities calculated to foment such civil strife.” It is difficult to imagine how Syria’s actions did not violate this principle at the very least.

In defending its borders against Syrian-orchestrated action designed to harm it, Israel was not only exercising its fundamental responsibility to protect its borders and territory as part of its essential sovereignty – which is a duty every nation owes to its citizens – Israel was effectively accounting for the deliberate failures of one of its neighbors to uphold its own obligations. By contrast, efforts to categorically delegitimize Israel’s basic exercise of sovereignty as somehow unlawful constitute a negative manipulation of legal principles in order to achieve a strategic goal – a politicized form of war by other means more simply defined as lawfare.