Archive article from The Socialist Issue 449
Lebanon: Israel's air war threatens regional war
"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.
The Israeli regime, with the support of the Bush administration and his sidekick Blair, is in danger of driving the region towards a new regional war. The IDF incursion into Gaza was disastrous enough. However, the air invasion of Lebanon is qualitatively different.
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 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, brutal, decades-long oppression of the Palestinians, this is even more the case.
It's possible the Israeli regime may step back from this immediate brink of all-out war. However, even if this happens, 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 have been reduced to smoking rubble with residents wandering around in shock at the massive devastation from a hail of missiles and bombs from land, sea and air. Bridges, roads, power stations have all been pulverised. Food and water shortages are widespread. Starvation and disease now threaten the poorest in Lebanon.
Hundreds of Lebanese civilians have been killed, many blown to pieces by IDF bombs while attempting to flee the country to the Syrian capital, Damascus. Massacres have already occurred.
On Saturday 15 July the IDF warned Marwaheen residents 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 IN all conflicts it is the working class and poor peasantry on both sides that suffer. Lebanese workers and youth have experienced the worst death and destruction. However, increasingly Israeli Jewish and Arab workers will also suffer as the deaths of eight rail workers from a Hezbollah missile attack on Haifa showed.
Internationally, workers and young people will be absolutely enraged by the brutality of this conflict and the cynical callous disregard for human life from US imperialism and the EU powers.
When a US presidential spokesperson was asked if Bush would condemn the disproportionate response by Israel, he said: "The President is not about to give military advice to Israel."
Yet, at the G8 Summit, in a private conversation to Blair caught on tape, Bush said: "What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit".
The spineless, grovelling Arab elite are even worse. A meeting of the Arab League over last weekend was unable to come up with any statement! Saudi Arabia has 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 drives Arab and Muslims to incandescent levels of anger, is that US imperialism is so open and blatant in their 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 the 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 open support for 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, amounting to nothing more than state terrorism.
Over the last year, Bush has 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, leaving 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 could appear to play a more 'neutral' role. It is now very difficult for the Bush administration to even pretend to act as a brake on the Israeli regime's brutal military repression. Even the Arab elite realise this.
This partly represents a change in policy under the second Bush administration. But it is also linked to US imperialism's ability to intervene and influence world events being more limited than before.
Following September 11, where the US hyper power appeared to temporarily have more room to intervene militarily around the world, Bush's regime put forward the idea it would reshape the Middle East.
They claimed 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.
And their solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would result in the crushing of the most extreme Islamic groups in the Occupied Territories.
This neo-con Utopia has been replaced with a horrific nightmare for imperialism and for the masses. 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 Shia 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 gaining the support of the majority of the population for its anti-imperialist rhetoric.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt face a growing threat from Al Qaeda-linked reactionary armed Islamic groups. And, the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood made significant gains in Egypt's last general election. The most graphic humiliation for US imperialism's plans for the region came with Hamas's crushing landslide in the Palestinian elections in January of this year.
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 armed wing.
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.
Through mass support in the Shia population and armed attacks it was able to force the IDF to withdraw prematurely from south Lebanon in 2000, a major blow to Israel's military's prestige. Some Israeli media commentators now refer to Lebanon as "Israel's Vietnam".
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 population centres like Haifa.
The Israeli regime's prestige is on the line. Its decades-long promise to provide lasting security for the Israeli Jewish population is increasingly exposed.
This is a major reason why there has been such a brutal response to Hezbollah's attacks. The Israeli military elite clearly want to emphasise a policy of what they describe as "deterrence". This does not mean they oppose the government's plans for withdrawing from sections of the West Bank and the imposition of a final settlement on the Palestinians. But they want to achieve this on the basis of pummelling any signs of resistance and show that Israeli capitalism is the major military power in the region with withdrawal not being a sign of weakness.
THE IDF hope their bombardment will push 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. Effectively, this would mean Hezbollah moving away from areas where support for it is highest.
However, this approach 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 are historic opponents of theirs from the time of the Lebanese civil war.
Following the initial bombing wider sections of the population may have felt that they were being made to suffer for actions carried out by Hezbollah. However, given the brutality of the attack, the mood is now changing and now the hatred of the Israeli capitalist regime's brutality dominates and support is swinging behind Hezbollah - not just amongst the Shias.
In Israel there have 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 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.
However, the threat of widespread rocket attacks and a growing mood of being surrounded by hostile Arab countries threatening to drive the Jews into the sea means that the mood has begun to change.
There is now growing support for more decisive military action and increased support for the 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 physical and social security the mood will change but presently it is moving towards 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. An atrocity on either side could tip the balance.
The IDF already has covert land forces operating in Lebanon. Olmert signed an order on 18 July to recruit three battalions of reservists. This could be a signal that the IDF is preparing a land invasion.
Even the continuation of the vicious air war could 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 covert forces back into Lebanon.
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 of Syria and also Iran, particularly its nuclear facilities. This can no longer be ruled out. And if this horrific eventuality comes about then a regional war becomes more of a possibility.
Israeli capitalism and US imperialism are banking on the fact that Hezbollah is isolated within the Arab world, with many Sunni Arab leaders seeing it as an opportunity to clip the wings of a strengthened competitor of theirs.
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 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 a whole number of regimes could be threatened, now or later, with massive instability, mass movements and the overthrow of corrupt elites. The Egyptian administration rests on a knife edge, and countries like Saudi Arabia - despite the increase in oil prices - are plagued with instability. 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, no longer seems far fetched.
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.
Capitalist wars and conflict can also see further working-class struggles develop against privatisation and attacks on workers' living standards like those 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.
The huge anger that exists against imperialism's pernicious role must be channelled in the towards building new working-class movements and parties, based on the ideas of a socialist confederation of the Middle East, the removal of all imperialist armed forces, and the overthrow of capitalism and feudalism in the region.
Unlike the US neo-cons' plans for the region this is not a Utopia but 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 conflict 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. A movement for revolutionary socialist change across the region needs to be built as a matter of urgency right now.
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