Israel's airstrike on Syria's Al-Kibar facility : a test case for the doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence?

Garwood-Gowers, Andrew (2011) Israel's airstrike on Syria's Al-Kibar facility : a test case for the doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence? Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 16(2), pp. 263-291.

View at publisher


This article analyses the legality of Israel’s 2007 airstrike on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility at Al-Kibar—an incident that has been largely overlooked by international lawyers to date. The absence of a threat of imminent attack from Syria means Israel’s military action was not a lawful exercise of anticipatory self-defence. Yet, despite Israel’s clear violation of the prohibition on the use of force there was remarkably little condemnation from other states, suggesting the possibility of growing international support for the doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence. This article argues that the muted international reaction to Israel’s pre-emptive action was the result of political factors, and should not be seen as endorsement of the legality of the airstrike. As such, a lack of opinio juris means the Al-Kibar episode cannot be viewed as extending the scope of the customary international law right of self-defence so as to permit the use of force against non-imminent threats. However, two features of this incident—namely, Israel’s failure to offer any legal justification for its airstrike, and the international community’s apparent lack of concern over legality—are also evident in other recent uses of force in the ‘war on terror’ context. These developments may indicate a shift in state practice involving a downgrading of the role of international law in discussions of the use of force. This may signal a declining perception of the legitimacy of the jus ad bellum, at least in cases involving minor uses of force.

Impact and interest:

1 citations in Scopus
Search Google Scholar™

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

456 since deposited on 10 Aug 2011
48 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 43862
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: international law, pre-emptive self-defence, Israel, nuclear reactor, Syria
DOI: 10.1093/jcsl/krr011
ISSN: 1467-7954
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Schools > School of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 Please consult the authors.
Deposited On: 10 Aug 2011 02:02
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2011 22:20

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page