“We will turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years”. This threat from an Israeli general is now being implemented by a brutal bombardment of Lebanon by the Israeli army, the IDF. Within seven days, many parts of Lebanon were “bombed underground” as one socialist activist in Beirut graphically described it.
CWI comment and analysis
The Israeli regime, with the support of the Bush administration and his sidekick Prime Minister Blair, is in danger of driving the region towards a new regional war unless the Israeli capitalist class are forced to back down. The IDF incursion into Gaza was devastating enough. The Israeli regime has a history of invasion and occupation of Lebanon. However, the most recent air invasion of Lebanon, given the vastly increased firepower of Israeli military weaponry which has devastated the country, is of a qualitatively different order.
Events are spiralling out of control. Reports on Jordanian TV speak of Israeli warnings to the Syrian regime to force Hezbollah to back down or face bombing raids within 72 hours. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert talks ominously of a “long war”, while Sheikh Nasrullah, leader of Hezbollah, threatens Israel with more rocket attacks and delivers them. One Western diplomat said “If [the nightmare scenario] develops we are all in deep, deep trouble” (Observer, 16 July 2006)
War and military conflict generally have a logic of their own. In the Middle East, awash with hatred towards US imperialism and the barbaric, decades-long oppression of the Palestinians, this is even more the case. Since the IDF occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, over 650 000 acts of imprisonment of Palestinians have been carried out by the Israeli state. Over 9000 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners languish in Israeli jails. This is just one indication of the oppression faced by the Palestinian masses.
It cannot be ruled out that the Israeli regime may step back from the brink of all-out war. But this possibility grows less by the day. However, even if this is the case, the political situation in the Middle East shows some similarities with the huge tensions and bitter anger amongst the Arab masses that existed in the period preceding the Israeli-Arab wars in 1956 and 1967.
Huge swathes of southern Beirut are reduced to smoking rubble with residents wandering around in shock at the massive devastation that has come in the form of a hail of missiles and bombs from land, sea and air. Bridges, roads, and power stations are pulverised. The destruction of factories has begun. All ports and airports in Lebanon are bombed. Food and water shortages are widespread. Starvation and disease, always the camp-followers of war and conflict, now threaten the poorest in Lebanon.
Hundreds of Lebanese civilians have been killed, many of them blown to pieces by IDF bombs while attempting to flee the country to the Syrian capital, Damascus. One million refugees have fled Beirut. Massacres have already occurred. On Saturday 15 July the IDF warned residents of Marwaheen in South Lebanon to leave their village. When they did so a convoy of trucks was struck by an Israeli missile. Twenty were killed, including many children. Horrific pictures of dismembered bodies were shown on TV across the Arab and Muslim world.
But as the case in all conflict it is the working class and poor peasantry on both sides that suffer – not the generals, the politicians and capitalist elite who are far away from danger, including those like the son of Hariri, the former Lebanese president, who was ensconced in a five star hotel in Damascus. Lebanese workers and youth have experienced the worst death and destruction. However, increasingly Israeli Jewish workers will also suffer as the deaths of eight rail workers from a Hezbollah missile attack on Haifa last weekend demonstrated. Israeli Arabs have also become casualties of Hezbollah rocket attacks in villages inside Israel like Majd el Krum where one Israeli Arab resident said that Hezbollah appeared not “to make a difference between Jews and Arabs. But we all eat off the same plate”.
Internationally, workers and young people will be absolutely enraged by the brutality of this conflict and the cynical callous disregard for innocent civilian life shown by US imperialism and the EU powers. When a US presidential spokesperson was asked if the Bush would condemn the disproportionate response by Israel, he said “The President is not about to give military advice to Israel” (London Times, Saturday 15 July 2006). Yet at the G8 Summit, in a private conversation to Blair that was caught on tape, Bush said “What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit”.
The Arab elite are spineless and grovelling. A meeting of the Arab League over last weekend was unable to come up with any statement! Saudi Arabia has initially supported Israeli action against Hezbollah. All of these actions will be remembered by the Arab masses and these leaders will pay for these crimes in the future.
However, what really enrages all those who are horrified by the scenes of destruction on their TVs every night and which drives Arab and Muslims to incandescent levels of anger, is that US imperialism is so open and blatant in its support of the Israeli regime. And all this is done in the name of “democracy” and against “terrorism”. The G8 summit, under severe pressure from US imperialism, issued a statement putting onus for the conflict on Hezbollah and refusing to call for a ceasefire. A meeting of EU foreign ministers followed this up with similar comments, refusing to condemn Israel. This amounts to giving open support to the Israeli regime’s collective punishment of the entire Lebanese nation. Western imperialism will rue the day they gave the green light to the Israeli regime’s pulverisation of Lebanon, which amounts to nothing more than mass state terrorism.
US imperialism’s attitude to Israel is now nothing new. Over the last year, Bush supported Israel’s building of massive settlements on the West Bank and given almost carte blanche support to Olmert’s plan to unilaterally impose a ‘final settlement’ on the Palestinians, which will leave them with only 11% of the original land area of Palestine, all of which will be divided into cantons surrounded by a Berlin-style “separation wall”.
Gone are the days when US imperialism appeared to be more neutral. It is now very difficult for the Bush administration to even pretend to be acting as a break on the Israeli regimes brutal military repression. Even the Arab elite realise this.
Change in policy
Part of this represents a change in policy under the second Bush administration. But it is also linked to the fact that US imperialism’s ability to intervene and influence world events is now much more limited than before. Following the September 11 attacks, where the US hyper power appeared to temporarily have more room to intervene militarily around the world, the Bush regime put forward the idea that it would reshape the Middle East. They would sweep the Taliban out of Afghanistan and implement a "democratic secular regime". Iraq’s Saddam Hussein would be dealt with and a new stable US-friendly regime would flower in the Middle East and provide cheap energy for the West. A "democratic" transformation of the rest of the region would follow, sweeping aside the Iranian regime which was part of the "axis of evil", Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Ba’ath regime and maybe even replacing past allies of US imperialism with more compliant and stable rulers in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. A final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would result from the crushing of the most extreme Islamic groups in the Occupied Territories.
This neo-con Utopia is replaced with a horrific catastrophe for the masses and provoked a political and military nightmare for imperialism where ever it turns. Iraq is in a worse situation than when under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. The possibility of the country breaking up into hostile unstable statelets is becoming greater by the day. Iran has been qualititatively strengthened regionally because Shiah parties linked to the regime are in the ascendancy in Iraq.
Moreover, the Iranian regime has refused to bow to Western pressure to end its production of enriched uranium and by doing so gaining the support of the majority of the Iranian population for its anti-imperialist rhetoric. Saudi Arabia and Egypt face a growing threat from Al Qaeda-linked reactionary armed Islamic groups. In addition, the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood made significant gains in the last general election in Egypt. But the most graphic humiliation for US imperialism’s plans for the region came with the crushing landslide of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, in January of this year. This example showed the utter hypocrisy of the Bush administration. It launched a campaign backed up with threats of military intervention for the wider Middle East in the name of “democracy”. Yet when elections took place US imperialism did not like the results. Consequently, when the Israeli ruling class unleashed more destruction on the Palestinian masses as a result of the elections, they received the full backing of US imperialism and its cohorts.
But the present turn of events is far more serious. Hezbollah’s original attack on the Israeli army convoy was designed to bolster its position within Lebanon, since the withdrawal of Syrian troops took away what was seen as one of its allies. The attack also was designed to divert attention away from the demand by the United Nations for Hezbollah to disarm its militias.
Hezbollah, better armed and more cohesive than Hamas, represents a formidable enemy for the Israeli regime. It is now regarded as the third most powerful armed force in the region by some military observers. It was responsible, on the basis of its mass support amongst the in Shiah population and by its armed attacks against Israeli troops to force the IDF to withdraw prematurely from south Lebanon in 2000. This was a major blow to the prestige of the military. This is why some Israeli media commentators refer to Lebanon as “Israel’s Vietnam”.
Hezbollah has the right to resist Israeli aggression but to use indiscriminate attacks on civilian Israeli areas is counterproductive. Rather than undermining support for the Israeli regime amongst its population is likely to cement Israeli workers and youth behind their regime.
When Hezbollah killed seven soldiers and captured two more the Israeli military suffered another major blow. Since the conflict has escalated, Hezbollah has shown that it is capable of hitting major Israeli population centres like Haifa. Over one million inhabitants from in and around this city, Israel’s third largest, have fled south and all Haifa’s major workplaces are closed. This means the Israeli regime ’s prestige is on the line. Its decade’s long promise to provide lasting security for the Israeli Jewish population is increasingly exposed as a sham.
This is one of the main reasons why there has been such a brutal response to Hezbollah’s attacks. It is clear that the Israeli military elite want to emphasise a policy of what they describe as “deterrence”. This does not mean they oppose the Olmert government’s plans for a withdrawal from sections of the West Bank and the imposition of a final settlement on the Palestinians. But it is clear that they want to do this on the basis of pummelling any signs of resistance to underline the point that Israeli capitalism is the major military power in the region and withdrawal is not a sign of weakness. The overwhelming nature of the response to Hezbollah rocket attacks is also a clear message to its opponents and the Arab masses – oppose us and you will suffer the consequences.
The IDF hope that their bombardment will force the Lebanese government and population to turn against Hezbollah and force it to disarm and move 25 miles away from the Israeli-Lebanese border to the Litani River. In effect, this would mean Hezbollah moving away from areas where support for it is highest.
However, the IDF tactics will only serve to make things worse. Amongst some sections of the population who support the most reactionary Christian parties in Lebanon, there is full support for the smashing of Hezbollah, who after all are historic opponents of theirs from the time of the Lebanese Civil War. In the initial phase of the current bombing, wider sections of the population felt that they were being made to suffer for actions carried out by Hezbollah. However, given the brutality of the IDF attacks, the mood has changed and now the hatred of the brutality of the Israeli regime dominates and support is swinging behind Hezbollah – not just amongst the Shiahs.
In Israel there have also been sharp changes in mood and consciousness. Never before in Israeli capitalism’s history has the rich elite been hated so much by the Israeli Jewish working class because of the government’s neoliberal attacks on their living standards and the increasing corruption amongst politicians. The military generals have also seen their normally high standing in society undermined.
But the threat of widespread rocket attacks, and a growing mood that they are surrounded by hostile Arab countries threatening to drive the Jews into the sea, means that, for the moment, the mood has begun to change. There is now growing support for more decisive military action and increased support for the Olmert government – even though this may be tinged with doubt and criticism. Through experience of the futility of using military means to crush mass opposition and the incapability of Israeli capitalism to protect their population’s physical and social security the mood in Israel will change. But at the moment it is moving in the direction of a war mentality.
This polarises the situation further and also explains why Israeli capitalism, imperialism and the Arab elite have so little room for manoeuvre. All it will take is an atrocity on either side to tip the balance. The IDF already has covert land forces operating in Lebanon. Olmert signed an order on Tuesday 18 July to recruit three battalions of reservists. This is a signal that the IDF could be preparing a land invasion.
But continuing the vicious air war could, in all likelihood, lead to the weak and divided Lebanese government falling apart, and Hezbollah taking open control of the areas where it has majority support. The Syrian regime could use this as an excuse for sending its forces covertly back into Lebanon disguised as Hezbollah fighters. It could not even be ruled out that the Iranian regime, which has already provided weaponry and military advisers to Hezbollah could send armed volunteer fighters into Lebanon.
Part of the spiral to war could potentially be bombing attacks by Israel on Syria and also Iran, particularly against Iranian nuclear facilities. This can no longer be ruled out but is not certain particularly if pressure on Israeli capitalism to call a ceasefire grows. And if this horrific scenario comes about a regional war becomes more likely. Israeli capitalism and US imperialism are banking on the fact that Hezbollah is isolated within the Arab world, with many Sunni Arab leaders seeing the conflict as an opportunity to clip the wings of a strengthened competitor. Some serious military analysts have pointed to the relatively restrained response by the Syrian regime to the Israeli attacks as evidence that they are unwilling to put their necks on the line. They even use the fact that the Iranian Foreign Minister has called for a ceasefire and negotiations and for the release of prisoners, as evidence that there are limits to their support of Hezbollah.
But there is also huge anger amongst the Arab masses. If conflict escalates then Arab regimes could be threatened now or later with massive instability, mass movements and even the overthrow of corrupt elites. The Egyptian administration rests of a knife edge, and countries like Saudi Arabia – despite the increase in the price of oil – are plagued with instability as never before. The idea of a spreading whirlpool of armed conflict, taking in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and then Iraq where over 140 000 US troops are stationed is no longer so far fetched.
This would have catastrophic effects on the world economy where oil is already set to hit $80 a barrel and could quickly climb to over $100. This could raise the prospect of a new world economic crisis on the scale of 1974 – 75 which was partially sparked by a four-fold increase in the price of oil.
As well as this the brutal military tactics of the IDF and their imperialist backers have already had far-reaching and serious effects and will continue to do so. For example military occupation in Afghanistan has strengthened the Taliban and Al Qa’eda while in Iraq it played into the hands of Zarqawi and lead indirectly to the bombings in Madrid and London. The repercussions of this latest attack in Lebanon could unfortunately be felt around the world in a new wave of terror attacks in which the working class people will invariably be the victims.
The working class of the region, drawing along with it the poor peasantry, are the only force capable of defeating imperialism, capitalism and the corrupt Arab elites and fulfilling the desire of the Palestinians for their social and national liberation. Conversely they will be the section of the population who suffer the most in situations of armed conflict or war.
The huge anger that exists against the pernicious role of imperialism needs to be channelled in the direction of building new working class movements and parties, based on the ideas of the removal of all imperialist armed forces, and the overthrow of capitalism and feudalism in the region and a socialist confederation of the Middle East.
Undoubtedly the prospect of further conflict and war fills workers and young people around the world and particularly in the Middle East with dread because of the terrible suffering it could mean. However, capitalist wars and conflict will see further working class struggles against privatisation and attacks on workers living standards which have already taken place in countries like Iran, Egypt and Israel. Such movements will come to the fore again but with a different consciousness – one that is imbued with a desire for an end to bloodshed and a new society where the mass of the population control the huge wealth that exists in the region.
This perspective is based on historical experience. At the height of the internecine Lebanese Civil War in 1988, Lebanese workers across the sectarian divide took strike action against the collapse in the value of the minimum wage as a result of the galloping inflation caused by the conflict. Along the "green line", which divided Christian and Muslim Beirut, joint demonstrations took place on this issue. During the same period between half and one million Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the IDF invasion in Lebanon.
However, socialists and activists cannot simply sit back and wait for these developments in the future. A movement for revolutionary socialist change needs to be built, as a matter of urgency, across the region.
- No to the mass terror of the Israeli regime against the Lebanese people. End the bombing of Lebanon. Build mass international opposition to ‘collective punishment’ of the Lebanese people
- For the right of the Lebanese working class and poor peasantry to defend themselves against Israeli state aggression. No to indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian areas. For the setting up of cross-community, armed defence committees under the democratic control of the Lebanese masses. No to the concept of collective punishment of innocent civilians Release all political prisoners and captives. All imperialist forces out of the region
- For a mass movement of Arab and Palestinian workers, poor peasants and young people to overthrow the capitalist system which breeds war, poverty, mass unemployment and neo-liberal attacks in the Middle East. For a socialist confederation of Arab states based on a democratically planned economy, under workers’ control and management
- For a mass movement of Israeli Jewish workers to overthrow the Israeli capitalist regime which means endless wars and attacks on living standards. For a socialist Palestine and socialist Israel as part of a socialist confederation of the Middle East in which workers and poor peasants and not corrupt leaders will decide how society is run and where the national, religious and ethnic rights of all minorities will be guaranteed