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EU Foreign Affairs Chief nominee downplays Iranian threats to annihilate Israel
By Amb. Alan Baker
When asked in a February 2019 media interview regarding the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s involvement in terror attacks in Europe, and repeated calls by Iran’s leaders for Israel’s destruction, Spanish Foreign Minister and nominee for the post of EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Josep Borrell, replied, inter alia:
This astounding statement by Minister Josep Borrell is a sad reflection on the lack of credibility of the European Union, which intends to appoint him as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs in November 2019.
It indicates a serious lack of diplomacy and good sense and clearly does not augur well for the senior European foreign minister touted to become the EU’s number one diplomat.
In fact, Borrell seems to have perfected the art of expressing shocking, irrational, and irresponsible statements over the past years, trivializing and downplaying, in an excessively colloquial manner, some of the most serious, drastic, and threatening situations facing the international community.
Borrell’s irresponsible and ill-advised attitudes succeeded in raising the ire of the entire Native American community in November 2018 when he minimized the historic suffering and extermination of indigenous people in the United States, saying, “The United States was born to independence with practically no history; the only thing they had done was to kill four Indians.” Borrell later expressed regret at “having referred in an excessively colloquial manner to the near annihilation of Native Americans in the current United States by the settlers.”
In September 2018, he blatantly accused Hungary of xenophobia, adding that “there is no separation of powers and no freedom of the press,” and termed Hungary and other countries of the region “pseudo-democracies.” In response, the Hungarian state secretary asserted, “There may be differences of opinion between the two countries, and in this turbulent European political situation criticisms may also arise in the minds of certain countries, but the tone of these criticisms cannot overstep the framework of fairness and correct cooperation, particularly if the Hungarian party has no tangible way of responding.”
Similarly, in an interview in June 2019 with El Periodico, Borell, as Spain’s top diplomat, responding to a question about geopolitical challenges facing the EU, called Russia an “old enemy,” adding that Russia “is turning into a threat.” President Putin responded angrily at a meeting with the heads of news agencies asserting, “This is just another kind of nonsense – some kind of threat Russia poses to Spain, which is on the other side of the European continent. Let your foreign minister address it, think about how to build relations for the benefit of our countries and nations.”
The Spanish ambassador to Moscow was summoned to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and was told that Borrell’s words “are detrimental to the relations between Russia and Spain, contradict the mutual perception of bilateral relations as friendly, partner-like and mutually beneficial, which is fixed in all official documents signed between the two countries.”
Earlier, in 2006, in a debate regarding the location of the seat of the European parliament in Strasbourg, Borrell, then president of the European Parliament, angered Nordic MEPs by suggesting that “some Nordic country did not suffer enough during World War II to understand the true meaning of the parliament’s Strasbourg seat.” The president of the European Parliament’s demonstration of ignorance of the European continent’s history was condemned by Nordic diplomats.
However, by now trivializing the oft-repeated Iranian declared intention to “wipe Israel off the map,” and, as such, by giving license to a blatant call for genocide and destruction of a sovereign, member state of the international community, Borrell would appear to have crossed all accepted lines of diplomacy, logic, good sense, and basic decency.
While such Iranian calls may have been universally condemned, Borrell’s trivialization is tantamount to institutionalizing such calls and transmitting a message to Iran that the EU is prepared to live with such threats.
The Iranian Calls for the Destruction of Israel
The Zionist regime will be wiped out soon the same way the Soviet Union was, and humanity will achieve freedom, [and] elections should be held among Jews, Christians, and Muslims so the population of Palestine can select their government and destiny for themselves in a democratic manner.
President Rouhani’s remarks bringing into question Israel’s legitimacy are totally unacceptable….They are also incompatible with the need to address international disputes through dialogue and international law.
International Condemnation of Iranian Threats
Despite the current lackadaisical attitude displayed by European leaders to the Iranian threats, there were nevertheless some statements of condemnation by elements within Europe following the shock-wave of the initial spate of Iranian threats by Iranian president Ahmadinejad in 2005.
On November 16, 2005, the President of the European Parliament Jose Manuel Barroso, a Portuguese politician, condemned strongly the threats uttered by then Iranian president Ahmadinejad, stating: “Naturally, we must utterly condemn the totally unacceptable remarks about the State of Israel made by the Iranian Head of State, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
The European Council issued a similarly strong denunciation in 2005:
Even the EU condemned Ahmadinejad’s statements fourteen years ago, saying that they had “no place in civilized political debate.”
The leaders of France, Austria, the UK, and Germany similarly condemned Ahmadinejad’s threats. The foreign minister of Germany Walter Steinmeier criticized the Iranian leader’s remarks as: “shocking and unacceptable….I cannot hide the fact that this weighs on bilateral relations and on the chances for the negotiation process.”
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reacted to the Iranian President’s reported call for Israel to be wiped off the map, stressing In October 2005:
Outside Europe, the Iranian leadership’s threats were also condemned by then-Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, who stated on December 14, 2005:
International Obligations against Threatening Sovereign States
As stated by the UN Secretary-General and others, the threats by Iran to eradicate Israel from the map, constitute a distinct violation of several key international instruments, including:
The UN Charter 1945
Article 1 stresses the importance of “effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace.”
Article 2 requires all member states to “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.”
Article 39 requires the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 affirms in its third article that “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person,” and in its final provision (Article 30) affirms that “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948 (to which Iran is party since 1955), determines:
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (to which Iran is party since 1976) prohibits propaganda for war, as well as “hate speech that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence.”
The UN Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations
New York, October 24, 1970 repeats the essential principles set out in the UN Charter and views such threats as a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations. It also calls on states to refrain from organizing or encouraging the organization of irregular forces or armed bands including mercenaries, for incursion into the territory of another State.
The UN Definition of Aggression, General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) adopted in 1974 acknowledges in its preamble that “aggression is the most serious and dangerous form of the illegal use of force, being fraught, in the conditions created by the existence of all types of weapons of mass destruction, with the possible threat of a world conflict and all its catastrophic consequences.”
The 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) lists the Crime of Genocide as defined in the UN Genocide Convention (Article 6), Crimes against Humanity including acts of extermination (Article 7) and the Crime of Aggression (Article 8 bis) as “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”
Thus, such crimes are punishable by the Court.
The Crime of Aggression, added to the ICC Statute in 2010 and based on the UN 1974 Definition of Aggression, includes “planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The Statute defines as an act of aggression “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.”
Questions for Borrell
Mr. Borrell seems quite content with letting Israel “live with” the Iranian threats of extermination and genocide.
But how does he expect Israel to “live with” the practical realization of those threats in the form of the thousands of rockets and missiles being supplied by Iran to its terror proxies Hamas and Hizbullah?
How does the future EU foreign affairs chief “live” with the fact that, in stark violation of international counter-terror conventions and other instruments prohibiting financing of terror, Iran proudly and openly bankrolls those terror organizations, providing them with advanced technologies for producing weapons and supporting and encouraging their activities?
Would Mr. Borrell “live” so lackadaisically and glibly with similar existential and terror threats against his own country and his own people?
The current apathetic and lackadaisical attitude displayed by the future EU Foreign Affairs Chief and current Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell to the Iranian threats to destroy Israel, should not be taken lightly by anyone in the international community.
Nor should it be dismissed as a momentary and haphazard lapse by an irresponsible politician.
Closing a blind eye to Iranian threats to annihilate Israel and its population, as well as to the Iranian leadership’s consistent and institutional policies of denial of the Holocaust, is tantamount to giving Iran a green light to continue threatening Israel with extermination and annihilation, knowing that the international community remains apathetic.
To downplay and trivialize Iran’s threats of aggression and genocide against Israel, a sovereign member of the international community, including threats to violate the UN Charter as well as some of the most serious international instruments prohibiting such threats, represent a real danger to the international order and to the accepted norms and modes of international behavior.
Such a message to the Iranian leadership, delivered by none other than the incoming Foreign Affairs chief of the EU, is doubtlessly interpreted by Iran as a sign of Europe’s weakness and timidity vis-a-vis Iran’s current aggressive tendencies.
This attitude would appear to echo a prevalent view that exists within the EU and within the wider international community, intent on appeasing and coddling the Iranian regime – evidently for economic and wider security reasons.
In a recent article dated June 15, 2019, political scientist Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a board member of the Harvard International Review and president of the International American Council on the Middle East, stated:
In light of the astounding statement by Minister Josep Borrell trivializing and marginalizing the Iranian threats to annihilate Israel, and in light of the message that such trivialization transmits to the Iranian leadership, the EU might be expected, prior to its confirmation of his candidacy, to reconsider his suitability for the post of “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.”
Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.