The crisis in the Middle East deepens

The whole of the Middle East has entered a crisis. Country after country is rocked by political, economic and military crises. The shockwaves of the recent war in Lebanon are still being felt. Imperialism seeks to manoeuvre in this situation to defend its strategic interests, but every step they take simply exacerbates the situation.

For years the existence of the former Soviet Union, even though a degenerated workers' state, acted as a counterbalance to the imperialist warmongers and prevented the outbreak of a Third World War. Today, there is only one superpower and it is pushing for wars in many parts of the world. In the long run this could eventually lead to a new imperialist world war unless the working class takes power and prevents such a disaster. This is not an immediate threat of course, but it is a danger that humanity could face at some point in the future.

At present it would not be in the interests even of US imperialism to go down such a path. At the moment there are divisions within the US administration and the US military even over whether to escalate the present level of conflict on a world scale. While they still talk of the "war on terror", behind the scenes the US is conducting secret negotiations with China, Russia, and Iran. The US is already too occupied in Afghanistan and Iraq to open a new front. And even in these two countries rather than considering how to increase their military presence, they are looking for an "exit strategy".

More importantly, the masses are coming back on the stage of history and revolutionary movements are erupting in country after country, particularly in Latin America. In the final analysis the working class is the only force that can stop this march toward regional wars and eventually a new world war, through the overthrow of the capitalist system.

The crisis in the Middle East is no longer a local or regional crisis. It is part of the global crisis of the entire imperialist order, something not seen since the 1930s. Following the fiasco in Lebanon, some in the US are now pushing for a new military intervention, this time against Syria and Iran. But this could easily escalate into a regional war. Therefore the US would likely not commit itself to such an intervention on its own. It would be more likely done by Israel with the backing of NATO, which is deploying soldiers and warships in the Persian Gulf and in the Eastern Mediterranean. This military build up is taking place behind the façade of UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

Michel Chossudovsky's latest article on the website Global Research, where he deals with the preparations for a new war in the Middle East, is interesting in this regard (you can find the article here).

The naval build-up in the Middle East has nothing to do with "peacekeeping" and has been coordinated to include the possibility of air strikes in the region, targeted mainly at Iran. US contingency plans for a possible attack on Iran were formalized in CONCEPT PLAN (CONPLAN) 8022. This arose as a result of exercise "Global Lightning", a major exercise conducted by the US Strategic Command to prepare a "global strike plan." This involved a simulated attack using both conventional and nuclear weapons against a "fictitious enemy" - in this case Iran. CONPLAN is the operational plan born out of Global Lightning.

As quoted in the Chossudovsky article, CONPLAN is "an actual plan that the Navy and the Air Force translate into strike package for their submarines and bombers..." and is "the overall umbrella plan for sort of the pre-planned strategic scenarios involving nuclear weapons... It's specifically focused on these new types of threats ‑ Iran, North Korea ‑ proliferators and potentially terrorists too... There's nothing that says that they can't use CONPLAN 8022 in limited scenarios against Russian and Chinese targets."

In response to the military build-up of the US and NATO, Iran has begun to make its own preparations, including the conducting of extensive war games throughout its territory in the summer. Syria has deployed its military on the borders with Lebanon and Israel.

What is also not mentioned much in the press are the military preparations of Russia and China, who conducted military exercises and war games in Central Asia in the summer as well. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO - a post-Soviet security alliance which includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), conducted operations in August just before those conducted by the Iranian military, as did China and Kazakhstan (as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Iran is an observer member).

As Chossudovsky points out, "The US military agenda is not limited to gaining control over Iran's oil and gas reserves, (using the "campaign against international terrorism" as a pretext). Reminiscent of the Cold War era, the objective of US military intervention also consists in weakening and ultimately displacing China and Russia from playing a significant role in Central Asia."

This is evidenced in the growth of NATO and its expansion into areas which are within Moscow's traditional sphere of influence. Tensions are rising in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The latter have basically become de facto US protectorates. Georgia hopes to secure the speedy withdrawal of Russian troops from its territory in its efforts to join NATO. This encroachment of NATO into Russia's sphere of influence is causing tensions between the US and Russia. Moscow recently warned NATO that it would take "appropriate measures" if Poland were to deploy "elements of the missile defence systems of the United States or NATO on its territory." (Interfax News Agency, October 4, 2006).

Lebanon

Since the end of the cease-fire in Lebanon many people are asking: who won the war in Lebanon, mighty Israel or Hezbollah, the small guerrilla fighters?

A study conducted by the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) at the University of Jordan shows that 84 percent of the Lebanese population believes that the war was an attempt by the United States and Israel to impose a new order in the Middle East. The same study shows that 70 percent of Shiites, the poorest group and the group most affected by the violence, believe that the Hezbollah militia came out as the victor, while only 36 percent of Sunnis and 19 percent of Christians believed Hezbollah won. Among the Druze, 82 percent believed Lebanon was the biggest loser. Christians follow closely behind at 73 percent. Taken as a whole, half of all respondents believed that Lebanon came out as the biggest loser and 37 percent say Israel emerged defeated. At the same time, 78 percent believe that the war would have happened whether Hezbollah captured the Israeli soldiers or not. (Poll information taken from Haaretz, 12/10/2006). If such a study had been made immediately after the cease-fire, the results would have been much different. Most Lebanese would believe that Hezbollah had won the war. Two months are a very long time in the Middle East.

In that space of time, the streets of Dahiya, heavily bombed by Israel, have not been cleared of rubble. Mattresses, furniture and debris are still strewn across the streets. Al Jazeera reports that 86,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed. Furthermore, reconstruction work is underway, but is not being carried out by the Lebanese government or by international donors, but by Hezbollah.

There are some 6,000 people involved in Hezbollah's reconstruction efforts across Lebanon, many working as unpaid volunteers. They are on their own as the Siniora government is doing its best to show that Hezbollah cannot help the victims of US and Israeli barbarism. The US is also doing its best to prevent money from reaching Hezbollah. The US Treasury Department has issued an order blocking all transactions from the US to Bank Saderat, one of the largest Iranian state-owned banks. The US government accuses this bank of transferring money to terrorist organisations, including, Hezbollah, Hamas, the PFLP-GC and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The US has also taken action against two financial companies based in Iran, accused of functioning as "Hezbollah's unofficial treasury".

Qassim Aliq, head of Hezbollah's reconstruction efforts told Al Jazeera that, "The US could be pressuring the government not to move faster in its own rebuilding effort... We hope that they (the government) will do it, but we cannot wait for them... Our government has close relations with the US and that could be the reason they have not begun their work."

The New York Times recently reported that more than $900 million in international aid remains untouched by the Lebanese government. Apparently, the Lebanese government has asked the state of Qatar to undermine the influence of Hezbollah by offering grants to the residents of the town of Bint Jbeil in Southern Lebanon.

Further measures have been taken against Hezbollah. On October 11, for the first time, the Lebanese Army confiscated arms apparently belonging to Hezbollah.

Now that the war is finished Hezbollah is losing popularity. The war solved none of the problems facing the masses and in fact has only made their situation worse. These problems cannot be solved on the basis of capitalism. Due to its limited vision as a populist/fundamentalist movement whose ideas and programme do not go beyond the limits of capitalism, Hezbollah hesitates to take control of the bourgeois state in Lebanon. Hezbollah is probably aware that if they took power, they would be in a similar position to Hamas, isolated and under siege. If a revolutionary Marxist organisation existed in Lebanon with the support that Hezbollah enjoys, it would have been possible to mobilise the masses to take power with the end of hostilities. Instead of a weak capitalist state, a workers' state could have been established and a call made to the workers and poor of the whole of the Middle East, including Iran, Turkey and Israel to do the same. Instead, Hezbollah loses strength with every passing day. They are also running out of time, as the government of Lebanon prepares a new civil war.

Unless the workers and poor of Lebanon take power, Lebanon could end up looking a lot more like Iraq, where it was recently reported in The Lancet that 655,000 people have died as a result of the war.

Syria

On October 2, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a BBC interview that he was ready to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. He denied that Hezbollah was a terrorist organization, however. He also said that his government would help to ensure that the Lebanese resistance movement did not acquire new weapons.

He also explained that Syria and Israel could live side-by-side in peace, adding that Damascus was ready to negotiate. To be sure, the real meaning of a "peace" agreement in the context of the Middle East is that Syria will get back the entire Golan Heights and stand aside (as it did in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of 1982) while Israel attacks Iran and Hezbollah.

The short-sighted Bush administration is not all that interested in preventing a military clash between Israel and Syria. It is only interested in toppling the regime in Syria and installing a puppet government. The rulers of the United States and Israel accuse Syria of backing the resistance in Iraq and of supplying weapons to Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. These are organisations that have officially been labelled as terrorist organisations in Washington.

As a result, Miri Eisin, a spokesman from Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's office claimed that, "Bashar al-Assad has no interest in peace... He is worried about world reaction to his involvement in funding and backing and safe-havening terrorism".

To ensure that Assad understands that Israel is not interested in coming to any sort of agreement with Syria, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres invited President Assad to visit Jerusalem. In the Middle East, an Arab president that visits Jerusalem immediately brings the visit of Field Marshal Muhammad Anwar al Sadat to mind. He visited Jerusalem in November 1977 and spoke before the Knesset where he spoke about a comprehensive peace which included the full implementation of U.N. Resolution 242 and Resolution 338. Most Arabs were outraged by the visit, and many understood it as a simple sell-out to Israel and the US. The Muslim Brotherhood assassinated him in October 1981. Thus the invitation was not only an invitation to Jerusalem, but an invitation to die.

Not surprisingly, the Syrian government rejected this nice gesture, explaining that the Israeli offer reflected the weak position Israel found itself in after the war with Lebanon. The rejection was carried in a front page editorial in the ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper which said: "Israel knows that no Syrian citizen would ever accept this invitation."

Gaza

The Israeli government is determined to remove the elected government of Hamas. This determination takes shape in two different ways. On the one hand Israel directly attacks Gaza, putting brute pressure on the government. On the other hand, Israel uses Fatah forces loyal to Abu Mazen, driving the situation towards civil war - a situation which is inflamed by the horrible living conditions of the people in Gaza who are living in a state of siege.

On October 1st, there was an outbreak of bloody clashes between Fatah and Hamas that lasted for two days in which 14 Palestinians were killed and dozens were injured. Recently, at least two Palestinians were killed and seven injured in an Israel Air Force missile strike on the Gaza City home of a Hamas leader, Sharaf Farwana. Farwana survived the attack, but the strike killed his 25-year old brother and a 10-year-old girl. The latest strike came after six Palestinians were killed in a clash between the Israeli army and militants in southern Gaza earlier in the day. Five of the dead were members of the same family.

As can be expected Hamas has vowed revenge. True to its nationalist political nature, Hamas does not distinguish between the criminal rulers of Israel and the workers and poor. This can be clearly seen in their response to the attacks: "In light of the ugly crimes in Khan Yunis and the northern Gaza Strip, we will bombard and strike in every place, north and south. The response will be powerful and will cause the earth to tremble. The enemy must now wait patiently for our actions."

While Hamas is politically similar to Hezbollah and suffers from the same limitations, it must also be said that it is not Hezbollah - most of its weapons are ineffective. Following the killing in Kahn Yunis two Qassam rockets were fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. They ended up landing in open fields in the western Negev. There were no injuries in either incident, but some farmland was destroyed in one of the blasts.

Since July this year the Israeli army has killed 400 Palestinians, including 95 children. 1500 have been injured, including 500 children, and many scores of civilians, including 31 Palestinian Legislative Council members and 8 ministers, have been kidnapped.

To makes things even worse Pope Benedict XVI's poisonous attack on Islam has increased the sectarian strife between the Muslims and Christians. Christians comprise about 2% of the Palestinian population. Vandals have used the Pope's comments as a pretext for attacks on Christian churches in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel

Israel is never a boring place. Everyday there are new revelations that expose the rottenness of the system. The latest revelation is not the sex abuse scandal involving the President, but the scandal involving senior physicians arrested for conducting illegal medical experiments on elderly patients.

Four senior doctors at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot and the Hartzfeld Geriatric Hospital in Gedera were arrested last week for carrying out hundreds of illegal experiments on thousands of elderly and mentally disturbed patients without their consent. At least one patient is suspected of having died as a direct result of one of the experiments and as many as 12 patients died either during or shortly after one of the experiments. Some of the patients in the experiments were survivors of Nazi concentration camps!

In the meantime the political crisis in Israel continues to grow as a result of the war. Many people are wondering why the war in Lebanon took place and the population in Northern Israel wonder why they were deserted, and why soldiers were used as cannon fodder for aims they cannot understand.

Olmert, who refused to resign or to establish a state inquiry commission, a popular demand reflecting the illusions in a state commission, would like to expand his government by bringing in the far right Yisrael Beiteinu Party, led by Avigdor Lieberman. It is a natural choice for a government engaging in two wars - one against neighbouring states, the other against the workers and poor in Israel itself.

Lieberman's program calls for the transfer of Arab Israeli towns to the Palestinian Authority, as well as for stripping citizenship away from individual Arabs who, according to him, function as a "fifth column". He has also spoken about instituting the death penalty for Arab Members of the Knesset who, he alleges, have committed treason. He also wants to change the system of government from a parliamentary to a presidential one.

This move by Olmert is causing a rift in the Labour Party. Labour Party Chairman Amir Peretz has announced that he is opposed to bringing Lieberman into the coalition. Peretz told Olmert that he could not "see a coalition that includes Yisrael Beiteinu. It is not a matter of the rejection of an individual, but of an entirely different worldview on all issues". Olmert, however, has made it clear that he intends to bring Lieberman into the coalition, and blamed the "rebels" in the Labour Party for the lack of coalition discipline. This could bring about a serious political crisis, as Peretz told Olmert that the majority of Labour MKs oppose the inclusion of Lieberman in the government.

The Labour officials to the right of Peretz, who act as a Trojan horse within the Party, have told Olmert that he will not be able to rely on the Labour Party, because party infighting has escaped Peretz's control. Because of this the right of the party cannot guarantee that Labour's 19 members in the Knesset would support the 2007 state budget.

Olmert has publicly attacked Peretz and the Labour Party, saying that "[He] is unable to bring 19 votes. [Labour] is not a party, it is a militia. So what is the prime minister supposed to do? Go down with them?"

Should Peretz refuse to accept the dictates of Olmert, he may very well be accused of supporting Hezbollah, Iran and Syria. The right wing will accuse him not only of being "Stalin" but of being a supporter of Islamic fascism.

The only place for the Labour Party is outside the coalition of bourgeois parties. Instead of acting as a cover for the attacks on the workers and poor and for a new war, they must act as the left-wing opposition. There is a lot of unrest amongst the workers in Israel, as can been seen in Histadrut's declaration that following the holidays, 200,000 government and municipal employees will strike against the 2007 budget. However, whether the right-wing leadership of the Labour Party, including Peretz, leave the coalition, and whether Histadrut actually launches a strike remains to be seen.

The population is divided in Israel. On the one side are the exploited workers, the foreign workers, the Palestinians and the 1.6 million poor who live below the poverty line. There are also the elderly and those in need of medical care who cannot afford private doctors. Then on the other side are the millionaires, the upper middle class and their politicians. The only way for the workers and poor to get out of this mess and to get rid of war, misery and exploitation is on the road of the socialist revolution. As we can see, the whole region has entered a crisis. Country after country is rocked by political, economic and military crises. The workers and poor of Israel must call upon their brothers and sisters, the workers and poor and of the entire region, to join them as part of the world socialist revolution.


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