Two articles on the current situation in Lebanon by Jenny Brooks, Socialist Party England & Wales
As Israeli missiles continued to bombard Lebanon, an immediate ceasefire was demanded by an emergency demonstration of 100,000 people in London on 5 August.
Also, reflecting the anger of people in Britain and internationally at George Bush and Tony Blair’s refusal to call for a ceasefire, almost a third of the parliamentary Labour Party – over 110 Labour MPs – signed a petition calling for an immediate ceasefire. That number would be enough to wipe out Blair’s majority in parliament, which illustrates, once again, the weakness of his position.
Blair claimed in a recent speech on the Middle East: “We could have chosen security as the battleground. But we didn’t, we chose values.” So his original reason for the Iraq war, which was ‘security’ against weapons of mass destruction (which did not even exist in Iraq) is now dismissed. And values? How many people support Bush and Blair’s values which have led to 100 deaths per day in Iraq and their backing of the Israeli state terror offensive in Lebanon?
The Israeli regime and its army chiefs are becoming increasingly desperate as their brutal bombing of Lebanon is failing to stop Hezbollah rockets hitting Israel. As well as continuing to pound south Lebanese villages and southern Beirut, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) shells have hit new areas, including the bridges in a Christian area of north Beirut. It was unlikely that there were Hezbollah fighters in that area.
There have been many missile hits on civilians, including the terrible Qana massacre, where over 40 were killed, and a strike on a group of mainly Syrian Kurdish farm workers, killing 33. Over 900 Lebanese people have been killed (a third of them children), and one million forced to flee their homes. Attempts to reach displaced, trapped and injured people with aid have been severely hampered by Israeli bombing of key roads and bridges. Diseases are starting to spread among people who have had their water supplies destroyed by missiles.
The toll in Israel, while much less, at 94 deaths and 300,000 people displaced, has caused great suffering to those worst affected and is a blow to the Israeli regime that it did not expect.
Israeli Jewish people overwhelmingly support the war so far. But they were assured at the start of it that Hezbollah would soon be eliminated, yet Hezbollah’s resistance remains strong.
So Israeli ministers changed their propaganda to say that Hezbollah can only be weakened, not completely defeated, which has led to widespread questioning of their strategy. This will turn into outright opposition if the war continues for a prolonged period.
This savage war will bring no security to Israeli Jews, and is a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people in Lebanon. The building of the anti-war movement internationally and in Israel is urgent, to bring a halt to it as soon as possible.
Lebanon: The Israeli capitalist class is in a very serious predicament
Throughout its existence as the ruling class of a Jewish state founded on Palestinian land and surrounded by Arab states, it has depended on military strength for its security.
In between wars, it has relied on the ‘deterrence’ of having a strong military force, thanks to the dollars and arms supplies of US imperialism.
Yet now, it is faced with an inability to defeat the much lesser-armed guerrilla force, Hezbollah, with the consequence that its image of invincibility will be seriously damaged. As Peter Beaumont in the Observer put it: “The Israeli army, the world’s fourth most powerful, is driven back by the fierce resistance of shepherds, farmers and mechanics who are not afraid to die.”
The IDF did not expect the degree of resistance it is facing. Hezbollah is better armed and trained as a military force compared to the Palestinian militias that the IDF has been fighting in Gaza and the West Bank. Also unwelcome to the Israeli regime is that Hezbollah’s standing in Lebanon and the wider Middle East has been much boosted by its resistance to the Israeli onslaught. It now has unprecedented prestige among both Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Reflecting its dilemma, there are growing divisions at the top of Israeli society over the IDF’s performance and strategy. The Israeli government’s aim is to take control of a strip of south Lebanon of up to 20 kilometres, to prevent Hezbollah from operating there. However, the IDF is struggling to take some of the villages in that zone – even after flattening them from the air.
This failure is leading the Israeli generals to escalate the war, to try to get more concrete gains, before they come under international pressure for a ceasefire. Shelling is being stepped up further and the IDF ground force in Lebanon – presently 10,000 troops – may well be increased.
A senior IDF officer told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “We are now in a process of renewed escalation. We will continue hitting everything that moves as Hezbollah – but we will also hit strategic civilian infrastructure.”
Hezbollah, on its part, is continuing to fire rockets into Israel and has threatened to send them as far as Tel Aviv. Escalation of the war might not stop at the Lebanese borders; there is the constant danger of the surrounding countries being drawn in, worsening the situation even further.
A United Nations (UN) ceasefire plan drawn up by government representatives of the US, France and Britain was condemned by the Lebanese government and other Arab governments, as “no less than the adoption by the international community of Israel’s position”. It did not mention an immediate ceasefire and so would allow Israel to continue its offensive. It also proposed that Israeli soldiers could remain in south Lebanon until an international force can take over from them.
This would mean that the people who have fled their villages in south Lebanon would not be able to return in the foreseeable future. And with Israeli or other foreign troops occupying Lebanese land, Hezbollah’s armed struggle would continue.
At the time of writing this article, the possible imposition of an international force (which would be doing the bidding of the world capitalist powers which all have interests in the region), is still some time off. France, which has put itself forward as the backbone of a future ground force, has said it will not enter Lebanon without a ceasefire in place.
However, if an international presence eventually goes in, if it acts to undermine or disarm Hezbollah, it will be seen as an occupying force and will face attacks by Hezbollah and other militias wanting to resist occupation and hit back at the US and Israel. US and British troops occupying Iraq have faced many attacks, and the ‘peace-keeping’ role of the United Nations in Baghdad did not prevent it from having its compound bombed in August 2003, forcing its withdrawal.
US loss of power
For US imperialism, the present situation in the Middle East is disastrous. Far from reducing the influence of Iran, the state it branded as “evil”, Iran’s power in the region has increased.
One major factor in this is the dominance in Iraq now of Iran’s Shia allies, brought about by the US invasion of Iraq. Aware of the mood of Iraqi workers, leading Iraqi Shias have spoken out against US backing for Israel, and Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has not condemned Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon. Iraqi Shias now increasingly accuse the US of siding with Sunnis, as the US tries desperately to correct some of the mistakes it made following its invasion of Iraq, when Sunnis were heavily discriminated against.
The pro-Western Sunni Arab leaders in countries like Egypt and Jordan are caught between huge pressure from below, from populations who see their ruling elites doing nothing to help the Lebanese or Palestinian people, and trying to defend their own privileges and wealth. They also fear the rise of Shia Iran as a regional power, in the jostling of the Arab and Iranian elites for the resources of the region.
While Bush and Blair fall ever lower in opinion polls in their countries, the Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah leaders are able to benefit from their anti-imperialist stance to gain increased support.
After the Qana massacre in Lebanon, while the Lebanese government made it clear that US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was not welcome in Beirut, the Iranian foreign minister was welcomed to the city and thanked for sending equipment and supplies.
The Beirut-based journalist Robert Fisk, wrote that “extraordinary precedents are being set in this Lebanon war”. He included as one of the profound changes taking place, “the growing unwillingness of Arabs to be afraid” and that: “Their leaders – our ‘moderate’ pro-Western Arab leaders such as King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt – may be afraid. But their people are not. And once a people have lost their terror, they cannot be re-injected with fear.”
The Lebanon war is igniting massive outrage and protest throughout the Arab and Muslim world. The biggest demonstration was in war-torn Baghdad, where hundreds of thousands of Shia turned out to condemn the Israeli offensive. But other repressive Middle Eastern regimes, where demonstrations are illegal, are also struggling to keep a lid on huge levels of anger.
While the Lebanese people suffer acutely – especially the poorest who don’t have the cars or money to flee – and the lives of many Israeli workers are devastated by rocket attacks, the Arab elites have their eye on rich pickings from the war.
The head of Bahrain-based Arcapita bank said: “In a paradoxical way, war in the broader region could have a positive impact by driving the oil price even higher.” They are also hoping to gain from the exodus of skilled workers from Lebanon and eventually from reconstruction contracts in Lebanon.
Capitalism throughout the globe can only offer war, terror and poverty, whether directly or by proxy. As well as building the anti-war movement in every country, it is essential to spread socialist ideas in these movements. This must include the need for democratic workers’ unity and defence across all ethnic, national and religious divides in war-torn countries and areas like Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, together with implacable opposition to capitalism.
The Israeli working class also has the vital task of building its own independent workers’ party and developing socialist ideas within it, as the only force capable of removing the Israeli ruling class which attacks the living standards of Israeli workers and brings great suffering to the Palestinian and Lebanese people.