Middle East: Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine…

A socialist analysis and a socialist alternative

Will the US attack Iran?

Growing tensions between the US and Iran are making many people around the world fearful of a US military strike against the Middle East country.

Niall Mulholland

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that Iran failed to abide by a 31 August UN deadline to halt its uranium enrichment programme, the Bush administration demanded UN sanctions against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

American officials also refer to the "military option". However, UN Security Council members, Russia and China, which have important economic links to Iran, resist sanctions. If there was no UN agreement, the US may call for its allies to introduce economic blockades. In response, the Iranian regime argues it is not developing nuclear power to make weapons and it will not give in to the West.

The Ahmadinejad regime is regionally strong and confident. This is due to Iran’s oil wealth (it is the world’s fourth largest oil producer), the recent military debacle suffered by US-supported Israel against the Iran-supported Hezbollah, and the powerful role of Iran’s ’Shia allies’ in Iraq.

During Kofi Annan’s recent visit to Tehran, the Iranian President lectured the UN Secretary General about Iran’s growing power in the region and the world, compared to the "fading powers" of the US and Britain, who were "paying a price for meddling in the Middle East".

President Ahmadinejad said he is willing to enter into negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme but would not agree to suspend uranium enrichment beforehand, as the UN Security Council had demanded.

Is Iran trying to develop nuclear arms, as the Western powers claimed? Although Iran’s supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, it is possible that sections of the Iranian ruling class want to build the bombs. However, the IAEA failed to prove that there is a weapons programme.


THE WEST is supremely hypocritical: the major powers, like the US and Britain, stockpile huge arsenals of nuclear weaponry. Iran is surrounded by pro-US countries holding nuclear weapons, like Israel, Pakistan and India. Like Iran, Brazil is a signed-up member to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and announced it is now enriching uranium. But there are no threats against Brazil’s government, which is regarded as friendly to the US.

Socialists oppose all nations, including Iran, possessing nuclear arms. The purpose of these terrifying weapons is to wipe out millions of innocent people and society’s infrastructure.

Workers and youth can have no illusions that the Iranian regime, in any way, acts in their interests. Despite his anti-imperialist and populist rhetoric, President Ahmadinejad represents a reactionary, theocratic, capitalist regime. US sabre-rattling allows the Tehran regime to rally the population around "national unity".

The Bush administration regards Iran, part of the "axis of evil", as a regime that stands in the way of US interests. US imperialism wants to subdue Iran and the Middle East, to give the US domination of the region’s oil and gas resources. The administration resists attempts by other powers to foster real negotiations with Iran.

Bush certainly wants "regime change" in Iran, but would he go as far as to attack or even invade Iran? The Bush administration is a reckless ’executive’ of the US ruling class, but even it can see that US imperialism’s options are limited. Already bogged down in the Iraq and Afghanistan disasters, the superpower’s military is hugely over-stretched.

Bush is no position to try another military invasion in Iran, which is three times the size of Iraq and has a population of 70 million. A land invasion would meet severe, mass resistance. Sections of the US ruling class also counsel against military strikes.

However, as the crisis between the US and Iran escalates, and as Bush desperately tries to regain domestic support by acting as a ’war leader’, it cannot be ruled out that the US would carry out air attacks on Iran, possibly through Israel, acting as its proxy. This could lead to an Iranian military response and armed actions by pro-Iranian forces, like Hezbollah, in Lebanon, Hamas, in Palestinian areas, and the Shia militias in Iraq.

Iran could restrict or turn off its oil supplies, causing shocks to the world economy and even triggering a downturn. US air strikes would provoke outrage across the Muslim world, threatening pro-US regimes in the Middle East, like Egypt. Imperialist attacks would lead to more terrorism.

The anti-war movement must strenuously oppose US imperialism’s threats towards Iran and support the struggle by working people and youth in Iran fighting for democratic rights and their class interests. It is the task of the Iranian working class to overthrow the ruling theocracy, just as it is the task of the British or American working class to get rid of Blair and Bush, and to struggle for socialism.

Iraq: Will bringing the troops home bring stability?

THE NEWSPAPER headlines said it all: a "grim scorecard", "scores die", "murders continue unabated in Iraq".

Karl Debbaut

There is no doubt that Iraq is experiencing a civil war in which Sunni and Shia death squads are the determining factor. The British and American occupation forces are increasingly forced to go into hiding in a country that has spiralled out of control. The occupation has brought this about and it must end.

In the three months since the death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the alleged Al Queda leader in Iraq, the bloodletting has increased. The civilian death toll recorded by the Iraq Body Count website since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq has exceeded 47,000.

The bloodshed continues to grow with 50 deaths the average daily rate for 2006. Even this shocking level of violent deaths is probably an underestimation, as many other are unreported and unrecorded.

A secret report by the chief of intelligence for the US Marine Corps in Iraq bluntly stated that in the Western province of Anbar, which encompasses 30% of Iraq’s land mass and contains the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, there is nothing the US military can do to improve the political and social situation.

One Army officer commented: "We haven’t been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically – and that is where wars are won and lost."

Speaking on the anniversary of 9/11, Bush restated the intention of US imperialism to do whatever it takes to control Iraq’s oil wealth. His declaration that the US is in "the early hours of this struggle between tyranny and freedom" will have horrified Iraqi, US and British working-class families alike.


THERE ARE those who were opposed to the war at its onset but argue now that the occupation forces should stay until the necessary institutions are built and an ’Iraqi democracy’ is established with reliable armed forces of its own. This is the position of the Liberal Democrats.

However this is never going to happen. The Iraqi government sits on the bayonets of the occupation government and has no real authority.

The armed forces trained by the US military reflect the ethnic divisions in the country and could fragment into ethnic-based militia.

The situation in Baghdad is so bad that the Iraqi government is planning to seal off Baghdad by building a 60 mile-long trench around the city to control the movement of seven million people in and out of the city.

The Socialist Party demands the immediate withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq. However, the withdrawal of the troops would not guarantee an end of the sectarian conflict.

On the basis of capitalism, with its long history of divide and rule fomented by imperialism, and the fight over who can lay their hands on the natural resources of the country, the existing sectarian divisions could grow.

In our opinion, the only guarantee of overcoming the divisions in Iraq and preventing an escalating and bloody civil war and possible break up of the country, is a united struggle of Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and Turcomen workers.

This would include the setting up of multi-ethnic defence forces, based on trade unions and community organisations, to halt the sectarian killings and a united struggle to end the occupation.

Although it will not be easy to build such organisations in the current situation, the history of Iraq itself has shown many examples of united struggle against the Saddam regime. And more recently against the occupation when, for example, cross-sectarian solidarity was organised when the Shia town of Najaf and the Sunni town of Fallujah were both brutally attacked by occupation forces.

But a united struggle would also need to be based around a socialist programme which would guarantee that production and the rich resources of Iraq were democratically owned and controlled by the working class and poor of that country.

A socialist Iraq, as part of a socialist confederation of the Middle East, would guarantee the rights of all ethnic groups, religions and nationalities, including the right to self-determination, ending the nightmare that faces ordinary Iraqis today.

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.

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.

How can the Palestinians win national and democratic rights?

A number of journalists have suggested that the changed situation in the Middle East following the Israel-Hezbollah war has opened the door to an Israel-Palestine settlement.

Jenny Brooks

They point out that Israel is in a weaker position militarily, the Palestinians are desperate for change and will soon have a new, more moderate Hamas-Fatah coalition government and that the Arab regimes are under great pressure from their populations to aid the Palestinians. However, in reality there is no settlement on the horizon to end the nightmare conditions faced by the Palestinians.

In the last three months, over 240 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli shelling in Gaza and the West Bank, including 48 children. Palestinian public-sector workers have barely been paid for the last seven months, because aid and taxes have been withdrawn by the world capitalist powers and Israel to punish the Palestinians for electing Hamas.

A World Bank review spelt out the severity of the situation last week: "Year 2006 will be the worst year throughout the Palestinian Authority’s sad history. The Palestinian economy is on the verge of an unprecedented crisis".

The US and European Union say they will reinstate aid if the planned Hamas-Fatah coalition renounces violence and recognises Israel and previous international agreements. However, although Hamas has authorised pro-Western Fatah leader Mahmood Abbas to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), it is clear there is much haggling over these issues to come.

The Islamist Hamas has implicitly recognised Israel’s existence, but both Hamas and Fatah are united over the right to armed resistance against the occupation. A lifting of the aid boycott would alleviate the present starvation conditions, but would be far from bringing any resolution to the national conflict.

The withdrawal of Jewish settlers from Gaza one year ago was not part of a deal towards a Palestinian state, but was a unilateral move by the Israeli regime to cut off, atomise and isolate Palestinian areas. Its aim was to ease the military burden of the occupation and attempt to resolve Israel’s demographic problem – the higher Palestinian birth-rate compared to that of Israeli Jews.

The unilateral plan has only worsened the Palestinians’ plight, and so the second intifada (uprising) continues. The first intifada, which began in 1987, initially involved the Palestinian masses, but the hallmark of the second has been individual and group actions, including rocket attacks and suicide bombings on Israel.

However, violence against Israeli civilians is counter-productive, as it drives Israeli workers to support brutal retaliation by the Israeli army, rather than encouraging them into opposition to the occupation. Only mass, democratic action, led by accountable committees of struggle, can make real headway in ending the occupation and fighting for a genuine state.

National question

The Socialist Party supports the Palestinians’ struggle for self-determination and the right to their own state. Some left-wing organisations argue for a single, secular state encompassing Israel and the territories. But following the decades of conflict, most Palestinians view the idea of a shared state with hostility or suspicion, and it is a non-starter for Israeli Jews.

Israel was founded as a Jewish state on the basis of providing a safe haven for Jews worldwide. This was a profoundly mistaken strategy – Israel is increasingly seen as the least safe place for Jews in the world. However, Israel exists, and with nowhere else to go Israeli workers feel compelled to defend that state for their own survival.

The Israeli capitalist class has its own reasons for defending its state – a desire for increased profit and wealth, including economic superiority over the Palestinian territories and surrounding countries. It does not want both the security and economic consequences of allowing an armed Palestinian state on its doorstep. So as well as supporting a two-state solution, the Socialist Party believes it can only be achieved by the removal of Israel’s capitalist class by Israeli workers, to bring in a socialist society that has no interest in economic or military domination over the Palestinians.

A socialist Palestinian state is also essential, as capitalism would not provide Palestinians with decent living standards. Even in today’s capitalist Israel, with its relatively developed economy, workers are suffering from poorly paid, casual jobs and severe cuts in the welfare state.

Socialism in both Palestine and Israel, as part of a socialist confederation of the Middle East, would provide the conditions for a permanent end to the national conflict, and decent living standards for all in the region. Under the democratic control of the working class and peasantry, the region’s resources could be used for the benefit of all, as part of an overall plan of production.

While capitalist politicians worldwide have no solution to end the cycles of bloodshed, workers and young people on both sides of the divide express a strong desire to end it. The intense suffering of the Palestinians is plain to see, and Israeli workers also face increased poverty and constant insecurity. Israeli public-sector workers have periodically fought back with large scale strike action, and at present tens of thousands of Palestinian public-sector workers are on strike against non-payment of their wages. Struggles like these are starting to build the working class solidarity necessary to build alternative societies.

What’s socialism got to do with it?

The Israeli regime’s brutal onslaught on Lebanon, backed by Bush and Blair, created massive anger worldwide.

Jane James

The oppression of Palestinians, who are still without national and democratic rights, and the disaster of Iraq still evoke outrage.

As socialists we call for the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan and to end the occupation of Lebanon. But even if these demands were met would peace be possible in the Middle East?

We have to ask: what are the causes of war and oppression; in whose interests are wars started. Only then can we look for a solution not just to these present-day conflicts but towards a future world without wars and poverty.

How can US imperialism dictate the fate of thousands of people who have died in wars and conflicts across the Middle East? Who is responsible for the hunger and poverty of two-thirds of the world’s population and the environmental destruction of our planet? Why are workers world-wide suffering cuts in wages and conditions and our public services being sold off to big business?

In today’s world a small minority of immensely wealthy people decide the rest of humanity’s future. 500 transnational companies dominate world production. The richest 356 people have more wealth than the annual income of 40% of the world’s population. These people’s wealth has been created by the exploitation of others.

The US spends $400 billion a year on defence – over $1 trillion globally while 4.8 million people in sub-Saharan Africa die before the age of five every year – nine deaths every minute.

Our world has the resources to let everyone live peaceful lives without hunger, poverty or homelessness. But capitalism, whose ultimate goal is more profits, brutally drives down workers’ wages and conditions across the world, wages wars for profit and power in the name of ’fighting terrorism’ or ’spreading democracy’ and supports the imperialist oppression of whole nations to safeguard its system.

Capitalists are the ruling dominant class in the world and are highly organised, defending their class and wealth by any means necessary. Their biggest fear is that workers and poor people internationally will unite in struggle to ensure that the world’s resources and wealth are shared with everyone and not just the minority of rich capitalists.

The working class produces the wealth of society but they do not own either the place they work in, the tools they use or the products of their labour. Their position in society forces the working class to look towards collective solutions; that makes it the only class with the power and the consciousness to change society.

So workers and the oppressed, the vast majority of humankind, need their own independent organisations to struggle against the bosses on a daily basis as well as fighting for a socialist future.

There are many examples both today and in the past where workers have built their own organisations and fought heroically against their ruling class for a better society.

Iraq has a rich history of struggles against oppression. The Communist Party (CP) in Iraq had a mass membership in the 1950s and ’60s. The CP organised a demonstration of over half a million in 1959 against the banning of political opposition parties.

Between 1959 and 1961 the CP’s pressure, based on struggle and mass support, brought many reforms on the land and in the cities before the CP leadership’s incorrect policies led to its defeat and persecution.

Recent struggles in South America against the effects of capitalism, and the victory of French workers and youth against attacks on workers’ rights show that struggle by workers and the oppressed is still alive and can succeed. The huge demonstrations against the war and against world poverty at the G8 show that ordinary people, especially youth, are angry against the rich and powerful and want a better world.

Many people can see what they are opposed to, but we stress that only a democratic socialist society can address all these problems. We need to discuss past struggles and revolutions in order to learn from successful movements and avoid repeating past mistakes.

The regimes which collapsed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, although based on planned economies, were not socialist but bureaucratic dictatorships.

We are fighting for socialist democracy. Socialists would take the economy out of the control of the capitalist class, who give a handful of huge corporations economic power over the means of production and a few wealthy individuals control over political decisions.

A socialist society, on the other hand, would allow working-class people to democratically decide such questions as what is produced as well as on other matters impacting on their lives.

The driving forces in a socialist society would not be competition and profit but cooperation, using the world’s resources to provide every human being with a decent standard of living without destroying the environment. The huge resources wasted in making weapons and fighting wars or spent on useless advertising could enable humankind to progress.

The Socialist Party is part of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) which is organised in 40 countries. Along with our sister parties we campaign and struggle every day against attacks on our public services and jobs and against war and poverty.

We are fighting for a socialist society in Britain and throughout the world that can rid the world of this unequal, oppressive and wasteful capitalist system. Join us.

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September 2006