Sovereignty trumps self-defense

Colombia's capitulation suggests Israeli counterterrorism efforts against PA state wouldn't be tolerated.

Al Aksa gunman 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Al Aksa gunman 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
News item: "Interpol said its forensic experts had found no signs that Colombia had altered files from computer equipment recovered in a raid on the rebels." - New York Times, May 16 The Andes Mountains are thousands of miles from Israel, and what occurs in Latin America might be thought to have little relevance to events in this part of the world. However, a recent dispute between several states in that remote area has very direct and important implications for Israeli foreign policy and should be carefully noted. For some 44 years now, Colombia has been subjected to vicious attacks by a guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ( FARC). This group specializes in drug-trafficking, kidnappings and extortions, besides engaging in terrorist military activity. By way of illustration, it has held captive for six years a woman who was a candidate for the presidency of Colombia, and even now, despite her reportedly failing health, refuses to release her. This terrorist group has hideout camps in the jungles of Ecuador, from which it has launched murderous attacks into Colombia. Between 2004 and 2008 no less than 40 terrorist attacks were launched against Colombia from Ecuador. UNDER international law, Ecuador, and other neighboring countries where the camps are located, are obliged to eliminate these camps and put an end to the terrorist activity. Colombia charges that Ecuador, for one, has failed to fulfill its obligation under international law. At the beginning of March, Colombia launched an air strike against a rebel camp situated close to its border, just a mile inside Ecuador. The information about the camp was supplied by an informer, and the air strike was unusually successful, killing Raul Reyes, the second-in-command of the terrorist group, in addition to some 20 guerrillas. Under the circumstances, Ecuador might have been expected to be grateful for the elimination from its territory of a guerrilla camp that was seriously harming relations between the two states. Instead, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador charged Colombia with violating its sovereignty, demanded an apology from the Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, and a promise that Colombia would never again launch any such cross-border strikes. THE REGION heated up as Ecuador deployed some 3,000 troops, and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela deployed no less than 9,000 troops, together with tanks and aircraft. For his part, Colombian President Uribe reported that laptops captured in the Colombian action implicated both the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan presidents as actively aiding the rebel movements, and he threatened to take Chavez to the International Criminal Court and charge him with aiding and financing genocidal schemes. Subsequently, at a meeting at Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Uribe apologized to Ecuador and promised that no such action would be undertaken in the future. This was still not enough for the Ecuadorian president, who demanded that the Organization of American States (OAS) condemn Colombia for its violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty. At an urgently convened meeting in Washington, all member states of the OAS, with the sole exception of the United States and Colombia, endorsed a condemnatory resolution. The law, as indicated, was on the side of Uribe: Columbia was a victim of international terror, and had acted in self-defense. But none of this helped him in his moment of confrontation. He had violated a neighbor's sovereignty, and was made to eat crow. THE CREATION of a Palestinian state is, ostensibly, the solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute, which has lasted 60 years. In fact, awarding sovereignty to such a state may be the beginning of a new stage of Arab terror against Israel, without Israel being able to rout terror at will, as it can currently do. Even if an agreement were to specify that Israel reserved the right to traverse borders and act to protect itself, the provision in practice would be meaningless in the face of a charge that the sovereignty of the Palestinian state was being violated. The Oslo Agreement specified that movement in the peace process would depend on the cessation of Arab terror. Arab terror never ceased, yet pressures mounted to continue with the peace process. The process had its own inexorable momentum. The Colombian experience teaches us that for many states, sovereignty is more sacrosanct, and ranks as a greater right, than even self-defense. It is an instructive lesson. The writer is the James G. McDonald Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.