Middle East: Crisis and conflict spreads and deepens

Hatred of imperialist oppression climbs to new levels

Last night the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) bombed the runway of Beirut International Airport, fired rockets at Hezbollah’s (the Lebanese Islamic Shiah organisation) and carried out over 30 other air raids on Lebanese targets. They implemented a land, sea and air blockade of Lebanese territory. For the first time since May 2000, the Israeli army has re-entered Lebanese territory.

Workers and young people around the world have been sickened at the recent vicious IDF military attacks in Gaza which have left the majority of the population without electricity and running water. When the Israeli security forces arrested 64 Hamas leaders including many government ministers, the Bush regime was collectively struck dumb. And yet they did not stop speaking about the outrage of the capture, or "kidnapping" as they described it, of IDF soldiers. US imperialism has launched a huge propaganda campaign against the "terrorist" Hamas government but has not uttered any words of condemnation against the latest IDF invasion of Lebanon. Millions around the world will be absolutely horrified by these double standards.

The Israeli regime’s use of brutal military force has already claimed the lives of 50 Lebanese civilians. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) attacks were in response to a surprise military attack across the Lebanese border by Hezbollah. In the clashes which followed, eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two were captured by Hezbollah who took them back across the border. This was a big blow to the prestige of the Israeli regime. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, called this an "act of war" and threatened reprisals which would be "very, very, very painful". Six thousand reservists have been called up for army duty on Israel’s northern borders.The commander of Israel’s northern forces said that if the soldiers were not released immediately, then the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) would turn the clock back "twenty years in Lebanon" in terms of destruction of infrastructure. If the IDF continue and extend their invasion of Lebanon, then given the conditions that exist in the Middle East, this could light the fires of a much wider conflagration.

But this is only one flank of an already growing military conflict. On the same day as they bombed Lebanon, the IDF killed 23 Palestinians in their continuing campaign of massive collective military punishment against the Palestinian people. This campaign is ostensibly a response by the Israeli regime to the attack by Islamic militias on an Israeli army outpost and the taking prisoner of an Israeli soldier. IDF forces, after pulling out of Gaza in August of last year have now reoccupied the south, middle and north of the strip effectively splitting the territory in two. In one raid the IDF dropped a massive quarter of a tonne bomb on the house of a Hamas leader.

Tension and conflict already high in the region, is in danger of spiralling out of control. There is a cauldron of incandescent hatred bubbling amongst the masses of the Middle East towards the Israeli regime’s increasingly brutal oppression of the Palestinian masses which is seen as having carte blanche support from US imperialism. In addition, US imperialism’s barbaric military occupation of Iraq (to protect the oil supplies for energy hungry US capitalism) has brought the country to an open civil war.

As if this were not enough, the last decade has seen a massive stepping up of neoliberal attacks in the region. The Arab regimes are corrupt, undemocratic, and brutal and they are the willing agents of imperialist inspired, massive attacks on the living standards of the working class and poor peasantry in the region. All this and more means that the region is becoming increasingly unstable by the day. The possibility of armed conflict becoming an open regional war cannot now be ruled out.

The main reason for this is that increasingly there is very little room for manoeuvre for the imperialist powers and the corrupt Arab elites in the region. It seems to be the case that when faced with opposition to their policies, the imperialist powers and especially their proxy agents in the region respond by stepping up economic, and now increasingly military and repressive attacks on the masses. In reality, the Israeli ruling class has no fully worked out strategy and is simply reacting to events with brute force. This adds to the danger of a further escalation of the conflict.

But US imperialism’s strategy for maintaining control of the Middle East has been torn asunder over the last few years. 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.

Imperialism’s nightmare

This neo-con Utopia has been replaced with a horrific nightmare for imperialism (and for the masses) 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 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. 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.

But it is the latest incursion into Lebanon which could have serious consequences given the history of imperialist and Israeli capitalism’s intervention in the country. The IDF first invaded Lebanon in 1978, ostensibly in retaliation for a PLO attack in Israel. In reality, the right-wing Israeli government at the time, with Ariel Sharon as Defence Minister, wanted to smash the PLO in Lebanon and put in place a regime friendly to Israeli interests. Israeli capitalism’s intervention led to the formation of the Shiah Hezbollah movement which finally managed to drive the IDF out of southern Lebanon in ignominious defeat in 2000.

Given the greater military strength and cohesiveness of Hezbollah, the Israeli regime is going to have even greater difficulties in forcing Hezbollah to release captured Israeli soldiers than it did with Hamas in Gaza.

US imperialism also suffered big setbacks in Lebanon. In 1983, the US embassy was destroyed by Hezbollah and later that year a massive truck bomb killed 241 US service men forcing US troops to withdraw later in the year. Richard Armitage, who played a senior role in the US State department from 2001 – 2005, said recently that Hezbollah owed a "blood debt" to the US as a result.

Since the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon as a result of mass protests within Lebanon (and under the pressure, for their own different reasons, of US and French imperialism) there has been a growth in sectarian tension in Lebanon and increasing instability in the country and government. The Lebanese Prime Minister has distanced itself from Hezbollah’s actions, despite the fact that Hezbollah is part of the coalition government. This crisis could lead to the fall of the Lebanese regime, and, if instability leads to open clashes a re-entry of Syrian armed forces into the country, with all that entails.

Despite its overwhelming military power, the Israeli regime is also under huge pressure. Ehud Olmert is a new prime minister who unlike most previous Israeli leaders does not have much of a record as a "war hero". His party, Kadima was only created just before the March general elections which brought it to power and is made up of many of the dinosaurs of Israel’s political scene from its two main parties, Labour and Likud. It does not really have a unified political policy and cracks are beginning to appear in it. Despite Olmert’s warlike rhetoric of refusing to negotiate with those who have taken Israeli soldiers prisoner, it is unlikely that brutal military repression will bring about their release. There is an extremely strong tradition in Israeli Jewish society that the political and military leadership are personally responsible for any prisoners taken in armed conflict. Kadima’s standing in the opinion polls has already fallen – if there was an election now it would lose four out of twenty nine seats.

Important objectives are at stake here as well. Olmert was elected on the basis of pushing ahead with the "convergence plan". This aims to finish the ‘separation wall’ (which will divide Israeli territory from the Occupied Territory), and withdraw from some isolated settlements on the West Bank. This plan would, however, include the remaining major settlement blocks within Israeli territory as part of a unilaterally imposed "final settlement" of Israel’s borders. Before the latest military operations there was majority support for this plan amongst Israelis – now this is no longer the case.

In addition, rather than weakening support for Hamas and Hezbollah, these military operations have enraged the Palestinian masses and particularly the population in southern Lebanon. One result is, therefore, most likely to be increased support for both Hamas and Hezbollah.

However, neither of these two groups will be able to solve the basic problems of the masses on the basis of what would be, if they had their way, theocratic, capitalist regimes.

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 a socialist confederation of the Middle East, the removal of all imperialist armed forces, and the overthrow of capitalism and feudalism in the region.

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 also 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.

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 in the future. A movement for revolutionary socialist change needs to be built as a matter of urgency right across the region now.


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July 2006