Archive article from The Socialist Issue 452
Unite against war, terror and racism
THE ISRAELI ceasefire was met with great relief in Lebanon. During 34 days of intensive shelling, over 9,500 Lebanese 'targets' had been hit by the Israeli army and navy. The brutal onslaught included the use of US-supplied M-26 cluster bombs, which scatter multiple warheads. Around 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon, over half of them civilians.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are returning to flattened villages, to begin the task of rebuilding their homes and lives. Direct damage to infrastructure and homes has been estimated at $3.5 billion.
The Israeli government felt compelled to agree to the ceasefire, having suffered the loss of 114 soldiers with nothing tangible to show for it. That government is now under fierce attack from the Israeli population for presiding over its first ever failure in a war.
Israeli ground troops are slowly pulling out, though in violation of the ceasefire agreement the Israeli army continues with some offensive missions inside Lebanon, causing further bloodshed.
In a limited face-saving exercise for the Israeli regime, Israeli troops are being replaced with 15,000 Lebanese troops and 15,000 from a number of other countries, supposedly to guard a buffer zone in south Lebanon. However the United Nations (UN) is struggling to get commitments for the international half of this force, because violent clashes are feared.
Many British people are outraged that Tony Blair refused to call for an early Israeli ceasefire and then disappeared on holiday at a time when Britain was said to be under major threat of a terrorist attack. And an increasing number of people blame Blair for that threat of terrorism.
As two writers from the Washington DC Brookings Institution put it, Bush and Blair's support for the Lebanon war has "almost certainly helped create more terrorist enemies as images of Lebanese women and children crushed under Israeli bombs were broadcast on satellite televisions throughout the world."
A recent YouGov poll gave Blair a rating of minus 37. Chancellor Gordon Brown, who also did not call for a ceasefire and is one of Blair's prime fellow executors in destroying the NHS, was given minus 22.
The next response to Blair and the other New Labour leaders must be to make the anti-war demonstration outside Labour Party conference on 23 September in Manchester as large as possible.
THE FRENCH government, trying to assert its influence as the past colonial ruler of Lebanon, offered to lead the new international 'peace-keeping' force in south Lebanon, but then dragged its feet over committing a sizeable number of troops. It also demanded an exact description of the powers of the new force, saying this was not to avoid any prospect of violent exchanges, but in order to have the right to offensive action.
In response, the UN obtained agreement that the force can use "all necessary means" to prevent clashes, including shooting Hezbollah fighters if in a hostile confrontation; though a number of potential participants are seeking further clarification.
However, significantly, the UN gave the Lebanese troops formal responsibility for disarming Hezbollah in the buffer zone rather than the international force. This was because the international forces face bloodshed if they try to disarm Hezbollah, whereas the Lebanese forces will not even seriously try to do so.
Hezbollah has already proved itself as a far superior fighting force to the Lebanese army, and in any case, nearly 60% of the Lebanese soldiers being deployed are Shia Muslims, many of whom support Shia Hezbollah. With these factors in mind, the Lebanese government has made its own agreement with Hezbollah, with the idea that Hezbollah will just keep its arms away from open view.
Hezbollah has lived alongside a small force of UN 'peacekeepers' for years, and can go on doing so if its arms and status are not threatened. However, there are likely to be great divisions between the intervening countries on what role they should play in relation to Hezbollah and Israel. Italy has promised 2,000-3,000 troops and is being encouraged by the Israeli regime to send them. On the other hand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh offered a total of 3,600 troops, and these three countries do not even support Israel's existence.
Crisis in Israel
The war and ceasefire led to political turmoil in Israel, with the government being blamed for a war that is viewed as worse than a complete failure. Israeli soldiers' lives were lost and at the same time the deterrent power of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has been severely damaged.
As one Israeli commentator put it: "This is not a mere military defeat. This is a strategic failure whose far-reaching implications are still not clear. And like the boxer who took the blow, we are still lying dazed on the ground, trying to understand what happened to us... In Damascus, Gaza, Tehran and Cairo, too, people are looking with amazement at the IDF that could not bring a tiny guerrilla organisation to its knees".
Hezbollah remains in south Lebanon, still armed and with its standing strengthened. It was able to fire 246 rockets - a record number - into Israel on the final day of the war. The two Israeli soldiers taken captive by Hezbollah at the start of the war remain in captivity. Many of the parents of dead soldiers are asking what they died for.
The Israel government and army are being attacked for lack of preparation. Troops lacked basic items. Some had to take water containers off dead Hezbollah bodies because they lacked water, and raid Lebanese shops for food.
The first ever anti-government demonstration of Israeli army reservists took place on 17 August and one reserve detachment wrote: "The sense that the echelons above us were unprepared, not serious, lacking momentum and incapable of making intelligent decisions leads us to ask whether we were called up in vain".
There is also huge criticism regarding lack of help and protection given to civilians. As with the Lebanese, thousands of Israeli Palestinians and Jews sat for weeks in dirty shelters, many without enough food. Israelis whose homes were hit by rockets fear that they will not receive adequate compensation. This shows how the neo-liberal agenda of this Israeli government and those before it has penetrated all walks of life.
A majority of Israelis blame the lack of a victory on poor preparation and strategy, and on a bad ceasefire deal. However, a minority are now questioning the idea of using force in all situations and the Israeli dictum: "what doesn't work through force will work with even greater force".
Prime minister Ehud Olmert's standing has halved in the opinion polls, from 78% at the start of the war, to 40%. A majority of Israelis are demanding the resignation of defence minister, Amir Peretz, who is on 28%. And senior IDF officers called for the immediate resignation of Dan Halutz, their chief of staff, for selling a £15,000 stock portfolio just hours before declaring war on Lebanon, to avoid personal financial losses. To try to weather the storm, the government and IDF conceded to commissions of inquiry into their war conduct.
Olmert also faces a crisis over his unilateral withdrawal plan from the Palestinian territories, inherited from Ariel Sharon. Having said in the middle of the onslaught on Lebanon that attacking Hezbollah would boost the withdrawal plan, he did a U-turn to say he will not proceed for the time being with the next stage of it.
This is fundamentally because the credibility of his government has gone in the light of the Lebanon war. The U-turn spells crisis for Olmert's party Kadima too, because the withdrawal plan was the only policy behind its formation.
As well as for Israeli capitalism, this war has been disastrous for US imperialism, as was outlined in the last issue of the socialist. Hezbollah's leader, Nasrullah, now has iconic status. Morale of the Shias in the region has been much boosted, but also of the masses in the Middle East who are in the main strongly anti-Israel and US imperialism.
As well as expressing Shia solidarity with Iran, Hezbollah has emphasised its anti-Israeli stance and played up Lebanese nationalism, to gain allegiance from non-Shia Lebanese people. Nasrullah made a point of saying: "The victory will be for all of Lebanon, for every Arab, Muslim and honourable Christian, who stood with Lebanon and defended it". Hezbollah moved faster than the state and mobilised its own construction workers for the rebuilding of the 15,000 destroyed homes. It is giving a year's rent and other help to families who lost their homes.
Socialists should fully support the right of the Lebanese people to armed self-defence against attacks and occupation. However, the firing of rockets into civilian areas of Israel, which killed over 40 Israeli Jews and Palestinians, was counter-productive, as it does not help to turn the Israeli working class against its capitalist war-mongering government. Rather it does the opposite, drawing them closer to the war aims of the Israeli regime.
Also, while Hezbollah has strong support in Lebanon and determined fighters, it is at root a pro-capitalist, Islamist organisation, which will not in the long term be able to unite all sections of Lebanese society.
Even now, during an atmosphere of admiration for Hezbollah in Lebanon, the journalist Roula Khalaf pointed out that: "Behind the façade of unity displayed by the Lebanese over the past month lurk sectarian suspicions, including among the minority Sunni Muslims leading the government and the Shia parties. Reports have emerged of displaced Shia refusing assistance from Sunni groups".
Only a new, democratic workers' party in Lebanon will be able to unite workers from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, in an essential struggle against imperialism and against capitalism in Lebanon and the Middle East.
Israeli workers too will have no security, either economically or militarily, for as long as capitalism exists in Israel. War can have a major impact on consciousness, and this recent war has left its mark on Israeli Jewish people. It has led to increased questioning of capitalist politicians, and the likelihood that more workers and young people will express an interest in socialist ideas.
See www.socialistworld.net for further analysis
Demonstrate - Sat. 23 September
End the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
No to Blair's imperialist Middle East policies.
Assemble 1pm Albert Square, Manchester.
called by the Stop the War Coalition
For details of transport to the demo, ring: 020 8988 8777.
Socialist Party NHS campaign:Cross strike: "We won't be treated like dirt"