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From: The Socialist issue 455, 21 September 2006: End the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan

Search site for keywords: Lebanon - Hezbollah - US - War - Israel - Middle East

Is a lasting peace possible in Lebanon?

LASTING ONLY one month, the war in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah left 1,400 dead and 5,500 injured.

Dave Carr

In addition, it created 1,150,000 internal refugees of whom over 200,000 remain homeless. The cost of rebuilding will amount to around $3 billion. These facts show the devastating results of modern warfare.

At present, a shaky ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah is in place while small numbers of international troops, under the United Nations banner, are being deployed in southern Lebanon to keep the peace.

But none of the fundamental sources of conflict which sparked the 34-day war have been resolved and nor are they likely to be given the aims of the Israeli state and the Western imperialist powers, especially the US.

In alliance with the Israeli state, the US and its British junior partner want to dominate the oil-rich Middle East and to undermine the regional powers of Syria, Iran and their allies.

And while the ruling classes of these states jockey for domination and periodically clash, the underlying social and economic system of capitalism condemns millions of workers and poor people to lasting poverty and a future without hope.

Such is the contempt for the lives of ordinary people, that when the population of Beirut and Southern Lebanon were being obliterated by high explosives, US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, refered to the carnage as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East".

And when an attempt to broker an earlier ceasefire was being made at a summit in Rome, Tony Blair joined with George Bush to vote it down. Clearly, Bush and Blair wanted a ceasefire only after the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had crushed Hezbollah.

Unwinnable war

But the IDF quickly got bogged down in an unwinnable guerrilla war with Hezbollah and other Shia-based militias. Consequently, the US and British governments (already facing major difficulties in pacifying Iraq and Afghanistan), having previously brushed aside the United Nations, invoked the ceasefire resolution 1701 to create a UN 'buffer zone' on the Lebanese side of the Israeli-Lebanese border. As well as exposing the limitations of imperialism this episode also showed that the UN largely serves the interests of the US.

But as Peter Taaffe writing in the socialist (7-13 September) put it: "Why should a 'buffer' be established only on conquered Lebanese territory? Why not on Israeli territory? And why is there no 'international' buffer between Israel and Gaza?"

The presence of UN troops in the Lebanon is not new. They have been there since 1978. However, they did not prevent the IDF conducting a full-scale invasion in 1982. Then, too, a 'multinational force' was sent to the Lebanon as peacemakers but the Israeli forces remained in Lebanon for another 18 years while a civil war in Lebanon raged unabated until 1990.

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. Back in 1983 only months after arriving, 241 US marines and 58 French personnel were blown up in their barracks by suicide bombers. Hence the reluctance of many countries now to send troops.

Internationally, some look to Hezbollah as a force capable of ending conflict within Lebanon. The failure of the IDF to push the Islamic guerrilla force out of southern Lebanon has strengthened Hezbollah's political support. Its 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.

But can it extend its political base beyond its Shia muslim heartlands and unite the workers and poor amongst Lebanon's various ethnic groups?

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.

But Hezbollah is at root a pro-capitalist, Shia-based Islamist organisation, which will not in the long term be able to unite all sections of Lebanese society. And while it shows solidarity with the poor, it does not deploy working-class struggle as a central method of challenging the profit system of capitalism. It has ministers in the Lebanese govenment which has carried through privatisations.

Working-class struggle

Socialists 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.

Instead of turning the Israeli working class against its capitalist war-mongering government it resulted in drawing them closer to the war aims of the Israeli regime. Yet the social weight of the Israeli working class is critical in undermining the Zionist ruling class and resolving the region's long-time national and social conflicts.

But if imperialism, the UN, the ruling classes of the region and organisations like Hezbollah are incapable of ending the continuing nightmare of wars, poverty and conflict in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East, is there an alternative?

The only force potentially capable of uniting the poor and oppressed is the working class. This class, unlike the capitalists, has no material interest in grabbing land and resources, nor the exploitation of workers to make profits. Only the working class as a movement against capitalism can overcome sectarian division and the poison of narrow nationalism. It is building a movement based on working-class and socialist internationalism that will answer the problems of the Middle East.

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