At the end of September Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser, mused that “the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades”. Just a week later came the start of the fifth Israel-Gaza war, completely shattering that false perspective.
The October 7 deadly assault on Israel led by Gaza’s ruling party Hamas killed the highest number of Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust and a number of foreign migrant workers, Israeli Arabs and Bedouin. In response the Israeli government declared a State of War that unleashed massive terror and destruction on Gaza, quickly escalating the death toll of Palestinians to beyond that of Israelis.
Israel’s most right-wing coalition government ever, under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had been focusing on further steps towards annexation of the West Bank and had not prepared the Israeli military for the scale of the attack from Gaza. It had regarded the entrapment of over two million Palestinians behind the Gaza fence as a problem it could leave aside, and Gaza’s Hamas government as subdued and lacking in military capability.
But the ongoing occupation and brutal repression of the Palestinians was never going to result in peaceful co-existence and nor will any amount of further bloodshed in this latest terrible war. The Israeli military forces cannot totally wipe out Hamas and other Palestinian militias, or destroy the Palestinians’ desperation to be free of prison-like conditions.
Neither can the Palestinians advance their struggle through the methods used by Hamas and its junior partner Islamic Jihad on October 7. The rupturing of the Gaza fence and launch of a major onslaught by around 2,000 of their fighters on Israeli military bases and residential areas was a carefully planned new departure – beyond the rocket fire and suicide bombs referred to in our cover article by Judy Beishon (starting on page four), written before the war. That onslaught, despite its brutal and indiscriminate killing, was viewed as legitimate resistance by many Palestinians and others worldwide. But as Judy’s article outlines, attacks on Israeli civilians play into the hands of the Israeli government, aiding it in gaining mass support to carry out even more brutal repression against the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have every right to armed struggle, however; which to be successful, both for defence and to challenge the occupation, needs to be conducted on a mass basis and with democratic decision-making. If their struggle targets military forces and infrastructure of the occupation, and not civilians, they will be able to gain more sympathy from a layer of Israeli Jewish workers, laying the basis for future links and cooperation when Israeli workers turn to the task of building their own independent opposition to the Israeli capitalist class.
In the meantime, although the war inevitably worsens division and distrust between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, it is significant that united, Jewish-Palestinian action groups were formed in Haifa and Jaffa in Israel after its onset, to counter local sectarian division and clashes (Haaretz, 12 October). Also, while the war brought a stronger mood among Israeli Jews for Jewish unity and security, many have expressed great anger towards the Netanyahu government for failing to anticipate Hamas’ attacks – with a large majority saying in an opinion poll that Netanyahu is to blame for them. There has also been widespread questioning of the increased Israeli army deployment in the West Bank and support of the violent ultra-nationalist settlers backed by far-right ministers before the war.
Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political analyst, said: “It’s hard to overstate how colossal the rupture is between Israelis and the state. There’s such a huge sense of confusion and abandonment”. Following the experiences gained in the mass movement before the war – which ignited in response to the Israeli government’s attempt to curb the powers of the supreme court – there is now further widespread questioning of the government along with other state authorities, including the military apparatus, which after the war can lead to new movements with the potential to rock Israeli capitalism.
This is in a Middle East in which there’s a massive level of discontent in every country. The poverty and desperation that led to mass uprisings in 2011 has not gone away and will certainly resurface in new movements. For the Arab ruling elites, this new war has added to their fear of instability and threat to their interests, as outrage over the plight of the Palestinians has again resurged from below.
Fifty years ago, a coalition of Arab countries led by Egypt and Syria invaded Israel, reflecting support across Arab populations for the Palestinians following the 1967 war and the Egyptian and Syrian elites’ desire to regain lost territory. That was the Yom Kippur war, in which the Arab coalition was supplied by the Soviet Union, and Israel by the United States.
Following the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the Arab regimes gravitated into the orbit of then dominant US imperialism. Israel had already signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, and later came peace treaties in 1994 with Jordan, and 2020 with UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, all brokered by US imperialism. In 2023, Saudi Arabia entered into talks with Israel, again urged by the US, but the eruption of the war has halted them, due to solidarity with the Palestinians among the masses in Saudi Arabia. This is a setback to the interests of US imperialism in the region.
The previously signed treaties and trade deals will also come under great pressure, as they didn’t include any meaningful attempts to alleviate the Palestinians’ situation, which is not of genuine concern to the Arab ruling classes.
Those elites no longer want the instability and cost of direct involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but there is a danger of a wider war developing in the region through many possible routes. The capitalist powers internationally were immediately concerned about the potential for a war front to reopen between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and possibly involving other Iran-sponsored organisations in Syria, Yemen or Iraq. The US and UK therefore ordered warships to go to the eastern Mediterranean to back up Israel and to warn Hezbollah and Iran against involvement, while at the same time attempting to row back from previous total support of the Israeli assault on Gaza and expulsion order as they try to find a way to defuse the situation.
Overall, the new war has added greatly to potential volatility in a world that was already in turmoil due to the Ukraine war and other conflicts, and the world economy slowing and facing huge problems regarding debt levels, inflation, supply chains, US-China competition, protectionism, low investment, extreme weather events, and many other issues.
And while the US is still the most powerful capitalist country economically and militarily, it has lost influence since its brief period of major dominance, including in the Middle East, and the world is now more multipolar and in political flux regarding alignments of blocs and countries within them.
None of the capitalist powers globally have any solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many of them cling onto their relations and trade with Israeli big business as paramount. But they all fear the danger of increased instability across the Middle East and world that the war brings.
Eruptions of bloodshed in Israel-Palestine have a particular resonance worldwide, which as well as increasing tensions between states, leads to tensions and clashes inside cities in Europe and elsewhere between people expressing fury at the Palestinians’ suffering and people – particularly of Jewish descent – who see themselves as defending Israelis or the Israeli regime.
There will be those asking serious questions. How can this seemingly endless cycle of violence be stopped? How can the Palestinians be liberated from decades of national oppression? How can Israelis’ fears of one day being ‘pushed into the sea’ be averted? Socialists and trade unionists must intervene wherever possible to explain that division is in the interests of the ruling classes in Israel, the wider Middle East and in our home countries, and not in those of ordinary people anywhere. We call for the building of workers’ unity, workers’ organisations, and a socialist programme against war, terror and capitalism.