It’s time to declare Israel a rogue state

It is time for the international community to accept that Israel is a rogue actor and start treating it as such.

Palestinians including children search among the rubble of destroyed buildings to retrieve their belongings after an Israeli attack on the al-Jamal family's house in Rafah, Gaza on April 25, 2024. Six people including two children were killed in the attack [Abed Rahim Khatib/ Anadolu Agency]

Another day, another tragedy in Gaza. At the time of writing, rescuers were pulling bodies out of the rubble after an Israeli air strike on a residential building in southern Gaza’s Rafah city. Meanwhile, a few miles away in Khan Younis, the grisly effort of digging up bodies buried in mass graves on the grounds of the Nasser Hospital continues. The Palestinian death toll is now more than 34,000 and 1.1 million people in Gaza are experiencing catastrophic levels of food insecurity.

The world is also on edge, as many fear a wider regional war after Iran sent a retaliatory barrage of drones and missiles into Israel, following Israel’s strike on the Iranian consular building in Damascus. Since then, Iran’s air defences brought down three suspected Israeli drones over the central city of Isfahan. Ignoring calls for caution from around the world, including its closest partner and protector – the United States, Israel remains determined to conduct a costly ground operation in Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are sheltering. Commentators and political figures have declared that Israel is a “liability” and that its leaders have “lost” their way.

Is it then not time to pronounce Israel a rogue state?

The “rogue state” label has a sordid history. It has long been weaponised against states considered antagonistic to Western political interests. The label had its heyday during the Clinton years, when it was used for countries that were viewed as unpredictable, obstinate and, all in all, unwilling to follow international norms.

Eventually, the Clinton administration abandoned “rogue states” for the more politically correct label “states of concern”. But as the US-led “war on terror” divided the world between the good and the bad, the “rouge states” label was once again revived by the Bush administration as a catch-all term for countries that constituted the “world of evil”.

Undoubtedly, this label helps the West’s self-perception as a “force for good” in the world. But it also provides justification for the contemptuous treatment and isolation of rogue states – presumably to prevent them from “wrecking public order, setting off wars, and subverting whole areas of the world”.

The irony now is that Israel, often considered a beachhead of Western interests in the Middle East, seems to exhibit all the familiar features of a rogue state.

Indeed, it has violated all international norms and laws throughout its genocidal war on Gaza.

For example, according to international humanitarian law, states and non-state groups engaged in an armed conflict are required to protect civilians, medical staff and humanitarian aid workers and ensure unrestricted passage of humanitarian aid.

Israel has heeded none of these rules. We know that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians killed since October 7 have been civilians. This includes more than 14,000 children. Already back in January, Oxfam International reported that the daily death rate in Gaza was higher than all other major conflicts in the 21st century.

Israel’s tactics on the battlefield have been indefensible. Israeli forces have been insistent in their targeting of medical facilities in Gaza. Throughout the campaign, Israel has conducted more than 900 strikes on healthcare facilities, killing at least 700 medical professionals. Currently, only 10 out of 36 hospitals are partly functional in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli authorities have claimed that hospitals in Gaza were being used as military bases by Hamas. This was the official justification for Israel’s two-week siege of al-Shifa Hospital, the enclave’s largest and most advanced medical facility.

When Israeli forces eventually withdrew from the complex, witnesses described dystopian scenes of “human heads eaten by crows, unidentified and decomposing body parts, and hundreds of corpses piled up and buried in mass graves”.

Israeli forces have similarly targeted aid workers. There was global outrage and condemnation in early April after seven workers from the food relief organisation World Central Kitchen were killed in a “targeted Israeli strike”. But that attack was simply one of many. Gaza has been the most dangerous place for humanitarian workers for more than six months, and close to 200 workers have been killed thus far.

Going against all rules and norms, Israel has also restricted aid flows into Gaza – this despite warnings from aid agencies that famine is imminent. In violation of Article 79 of the additional protocols of the Geneva Conventions that require that journalists be protected as civilians in a war zone, it has systematically attacked journalists and media personnel in Gaza, including their family members. In fact, 75 percent of all journalist killings in 2023 were in Gaza as a consequence of Israel’s military campaign. Israeli forces have also reduced all Palestinian universities in Gaza to rubble.

Israel has also been eager to keep the battlefront open with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran, hoping that a regional war would force the direct involvement of the US and other Western allies. On the Lebanese front, Israel, Hezbollah and other armed factions exchanged 4,733 attacks from October 7, 2023 to March 15, 2024. Israel was responsible for 3,952 of these incidents. Alongside Hezbollah operatives, those attacks killed many civilians, including children, as well as journalists and medics.

When Israel carried out its strike on the Iranian mission in Damascus, it killed Brigadier-General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Zahedi was the highest-ranking Iranian official to be assassinated since the US killing of Major-General Qassem Soleimani in 2020. Iran’s retaliation was also the first time that a foreign country had directly attacked Israel since 1991.

Ironically, Iran – often treated in the West as a prototypical rogue state – has insisted on a restrained approach, declaring that the “matter can be deemed concluded”. But it has required some diplomatic wrangling to convince Israel to keep its response muted. Reportedly, US President Joe Biden has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to simply “take the win”, after Israel “thwarted” Iran’s attack. In exchange for a limited Israeli response, Biden has reportedly greenlighted the Israeli ground invasion of Rafah, even though every actor in the region opposes the operation. Cairo has warned that the invasion of Rafah could even endanger the peace accord between Egypt and Israel.

Numbers do not lie either. That Israel is largely isolated was self-evident in the voting tally for the United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a ceasefire back in December. While 153 countries voted for the resolution, only 10, including Israel and the US, voted against it. In the last UNSC vote on March 25, 2024, 14 out of 15 members voted in favour of the resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. Notably, the US chose to abstain rather than do what it usually does – veto any resolution that seeks to restrain Israeli actions against Palestinians.

Israel is able to persist with its rogue conduct and obstinate circumvention of international laws, regulations, and norms because it has strong, all-season allies like the US in the West. But labelling Israel as a rogue actor and treating it as such, is an essential condition for any punitive actions the international community can take against a country that has violated the rights of Palestinians for 75 years with utmost impunity.

With countries like Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Spain, and Belgium suspending arms sales to Israel, it would seem that its rogue nature is gaining some recognition. Eventually, one would hope that supporting Israel would become too much of a liability, even for the US, and this would make way for Palestinian liberation.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.