The Crisis in Lebanon deepens

Four months after it was formed and two weeks after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri the pro-Syrian government of Omar Karami has resigned. The right-wing opposition that brought down the pro-Syrian government headed by Karami is focused on the removal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon.

The anti-Damascus opposition that launched the campaign against the government hailed the resignation but vowed it would not stop its mobilization in the streets of Beirut until the last Syrian solider was out of Lebanon.

The resignation of the government is favourable to US plans for the Middle East. Under the guise of George Bush’s slogans of “freedom” and “democracy”, it is understood that part of the plan is to mount pressure on Syria. This is something that the rulers of Israel have been happy to assist by issuing semi-open threats of military intervention. With these hypocritical slogans the US is developing a new initiative with the aim of intensifying strategic control over many Muslim nations in the Middle East and beyond.

Immediately following the resignation of Karami, the spokesperson for the White House, Mr. Scott McCllelan announced that: "The resignation of the Karami government represents an opportunity for the Lebanese people to have a new government which is truly representative of their country's diversity”.

Israel announced that it would be happy to forge a new peace with Lebanon without Syria. George W. Bush now pays lip service to the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty and demands the removal of Syrian troops. However, for decades Syrian troops have been in Lebanon with the tacit support of the US.

Before we deal with the role of previous American administrations regarding the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon and the aims of Bush, we should deal with some aspects of the history of imperialism in Syria and Lebanon - the same forces of imperialism that are now so concerned with the Lebanese.

A Short History

Syria and Lebanon are the creation of the European imperialists who divided Greater Syria for their own interests. At the end of World War I and at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the territory that was Greater Syria came under the knife of various imperialist powers. The result was the carving up of the Middle East into artificial states.

The French colonialists carved out the State of Lebanon in 1920. This was followed by a French military assault on Damascus which led to the overthrow of Faisal and his exile to Iraq.

The actions of French imperialism in Greater Syria were followed in 1921 by Winston Churchill, who arbitrarily created the boundaries of much of the modern Middle East. Of course the British gentleman did not consult the indigenous populations and ignored their political aspirations.

The same year, the League of Nations, “the thieves’ kitchen” as Lenin called them, gave Palestine as a Mandate to the British imperialists as a prize for its victory in the war. The British promptly detached Palestine from Greater Syria.

In 1926 France declared Lebanon a republic, but this was a phony independence as France maintained control over Lebanese foreign affairs and its military. The French introduced a constitution that provided for a single chamber of deputies elected according to religious sectarian representation. The exact formula for determining the actual weight of each leadership of the religious sects would not be detailed until the drafting of the "National Pact" in 1943.

In 1943, under the pressure of the masses, the French colonialists were forced to permit elections in Syria and Lebanon. In Syria, the National Bloc came to power and Shukri al-Quwwatli became the first president.

The terms of the "National Pact" were based on the 1932 census. Under the terms worked out under French supervision, the President of Lebanon was to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shiite Muslim. (The Maronites took their name from the fifth century Saint Maro, a Syrian hermit who died in 435 AD.) This was a perfect formula for civil strife.

The French continued to resist the anti-colonialist, revolutionary struggle of Syria and Lebanon. The struggle became very sharp and was part of the world revolutionary upheaval following the end of World War II. As result Damascus suffered French air and artillery bombardment.

In 1958, the first Lebanese civil war broke out between Christian and Muslim groups. Muslims, pleased by the emerging Arab left nationalism which led to the short and formal unification of Syria and Egypt, a move by the radical petit bourgeois Nasserites, wanted to see Lebanon become part of this unification and to see Lebanon free from the domination of the Christians. Christian president Sha'mun called for a US intervention and the US Marines landed on the beaches of Beirut on July 15.

In 1975 the second civil war in Lebanon began. This conflict would last until 1989. Elias Sarkis, a middle class Christian, was elected president in Lebanon succeeding President Franjiyah. In March, Christian militia leader in Lebanon, Major Saad Haddad formed the South Lebanese Army (SLA), which then proceeded to forge ties with Israel.

In July 1976, the Syrian army entered Lebanon and imposed a ceasefire. Syria involved itself initially to protect Christians from defeat at the hands of the Muslims. President Assad of Syria was convinced by Henry Kissinger and the Israeli government into believing that if he did not enter the war to repress the PLO and the Muslims, Israel would have do the job itself. In August of the same year, Lebanese Christian Phalangist forces, using weapons from Israel and other equipment that still bore Israeli insignias and markings, massacred thousands of Palestinian refugees living in the Tel al-Zataar camp.

The Syrian presence in Lebanon has always been a mechanism used to preserve Lebanese capitalism and its religious political structure. The presence of the Syrian troops allowed Israel to do what it wished in south Lebanon for many years.

This became clear in 1978, when Israel attacked PLO positions in south Lebanon in retaliation for the killing of more than thirty bus passengers in a raid by the PLO.

On March 15, 1978, Israel occupied a ten-kilometre wide section north of its border with Lebanon. Some 1,500 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed in the operation. Some of the Israeli forces were then withdrawn, but not before the area was handed over to Christian militiamen allied to Israel. These militiamen were opposed to the Palestinians and to other Arab Muslim Lebanese. The UN issued Resolution 425, which ordered Israel out of south Lebanon. Israel refused to do this and would remain there until April 2000.

On May 9, 1982, Israel began bombing villages and towns along the Lebanese coast. The PLO fired artillery rounds and rockets into northern Israel in retaliation for the attack. On June 3, 1982, the Israeli ambassador to the UK was shot. Israel used the shooting as pretext for a massive invasion of Lebanon a few days later ("Operation Peace for Galilee"). Israel announced its intention to uproot the PLO from Lebanon, and to create a 25 mile "sanitary cordon" to protect its northern settlements. By mid July, more than 100,000 Israeli troops were in Lebanon, and Beirut was under siege.

The invasion of Lebanon had long been planned by Israel as a way of neutralizing the opposition of Syria and the PLO to plans of Israel aimed at annexing the Golan Heights and "Samaria and Judea", as well as Israel's plans to gain control of water rights to the Litani River, and to its hope of setting up a friendly Christian government in Lebanon. These were plans Israeli imperialism had made back in the 1950s.

US Policy and Syria

Although the US began to recognize Syrian interests in Lebanon in the 1970s, overt US cooperation with the Assad regime began during the first Bush administration.

In 1988 the military cabinet headed by Gen. Michel Aoun, the commander of the Lebanese Army, tried to impose its own president. Damascus refused to recognize Aoun's government and established a rival regime in West Beirut.

The Bush administration declined to recognize either regime. In 1989, Aoun’s government attempted to expel Syrian forces from Lebanon. The US then tried to discredit him and his regime. Congress was even told that the crisis would worsen if Syrian troops were forced to withdraw.

Scrambling to solve the crisis the surviving members of the Lebanese parliament met in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia. The discussions fell apart over the question of the Syrian occupation. Syria promised a partial redeployment of its forces within two years and to discuss the future withdrawal of Syrian forces altogether. It was understood by everyone that this was an empty promise. A similar promise had been made in September 1982, when Syria signed the Fez Declaration obliging it to "start negotiations" with the Lebanese government regarding "an end to the mission" of Syrian forces in Lebanon.

The US convinced Lebanon to sign the accord, claiming that Syria would follow the “spirit” of the decisions reached. The agreement was hailed by the US as the first step toward “a sovereign, unified, and independent Lebanon, free of all foreign forces."

In November 1989, Lebanese Rene Mouawad was elected President of Lebanon. He was assassinated two weeks later. Aoun wanted to remain in power in opposition to Syria and his refusal to step down led to mass demonstrations in support of him. The Bush administration condemned Aoun’s actions and closed the American embassy in Beirut. The US began a campaign against the prime minister that resulted in a UN Security Council statement calling for the implementation of the Ta'if agreement.

In February 1990 the LF militia under the control of Syria began an assault on Lebanese Army positions in East Beirut – this of course with the tacit support of the CIA. The fighting left Aoun weak and open to a Syrian invasion.

After the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990, Syria agreed to participate in the US-led coalition. In exchange they received US support for their plans to complete the conquest of Lebanon.

In October 1990, Syria attacked East Beirut and the surrounding areas controlled by Aoun's government. The capital was soon in Syrian hands and Aoun eventually fled to France. Soon after the invasion, Bush met with Syrian President Hafez Assad.

The Clinton Administration

During the Clinton administration, US officials consistently declined to criticize Syrian control over Lebanon. In fact, the State Department even declined to acknowledge that Syria's refusal to a limited redeployment of its forces to the Beqaa Valley was in violation of the agreement.

The Clinton administration was motivated by its desire to convince Syria to give Israel some concessions in order to secure an imperialist “peace” between the two states. But as we have seen so many times in the past the imperialists are not capable of bringing peace to the region, even if they genuinely wanted to.

The failed summit between Clinton and Assad and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon in May 2000 brought American pressure on the Syrians to withdraw, but Assad's death in June of the same year brought this to an end.

The intentions of the administration of George W. Bush are not based on an attempt to bring an agreement between Israel and Syria, but to reshape the Middle East under its control. Pressure from the US, combined with the warnings from Israel, is aimed at the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in order to kill three birds with one stone. The real aim is to force an openly pro-US government on Lebanon, to topple Assad in order to speed up the privatisation of the Syrian economy and to stop Syria’s meek assistance to the resistance in Iraq. Basically what US imperialism wants in Syria is an obedient stooge that will do anything they want. Even the very modest independent stance of the Assad regime is too much for the US imperialists.

What Next?

Instability in the Middle East spreads and grows by the day as the contradictions between the interests of the imperialists and their local agents conflict with those of the masses. Syria has been a stabilizing factor in the imperialist order for years. The removal of Syrian troops will cause further instability and brings with it the danger of a new sectarian civil war in Lebanon as well as the threat of new local wars.

The only way to prevent this is through the revolutionary struggle of the working class, which would unify the entire Middle East on a socialist programme, leading to a socialist transformation of the entire area.

Unfortunately the Communist Party of Lebanon advocates class collaboration with pro-US forces rather than independent class policies. This programme can only add to the instability and chaos in the region and block any socialist solution to the crisis.

The Israeli Communist Party weekly “Zo Haderch” approvingly quotes the position of the Communist party of Lebanon:

“The Communists of Lebanon are calling for the creation of a national salvation government that will negotiate with Syria the removal of its army from Lebanon.

The Party is calling for elections based not on a sectarian parliament. Lebanon is in crisis that began with UN resolution 1559 that was approved under the pressure of the US and France. The crisis in Lebanon is reflecting the new political situation following the occupation of Lebanon and the close relations between Israel and the US. The US wants to create new small states based on religion to ensure its hegemony in the region. The disrespect for the Ta'if accord contributes to the instability. All political forces from the coalition and the opposition in Lebanon must be united in a new dialogue.”

This policy of class collaboration must be opposed by the best militants in the Communist Parties of Lebanon and Israel and by those who want to avert another civil war. The only road that can lead to such a solution is the road of Lenin and Trotsky. This is the road to working class power in the entire region as part of the world socialist revolution. This is the road that the working class in Venezuela is marching towards. Instead of a policy of class collaboration working class militants should push for independent and working class policies. That means adopting a revolutionary socialist perspective. As Hugo Chavez recently stated: “I am convinced that the path to a new, better and possible world is not capitalism, the path is socialism.”

March 4, 2005

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