The fiasco of the Israeli offensive

The Israeli aggression against Lebanon ended in defeat. None of the objectives set by the Israeli Government were attained. The position of the Israeli ruling class has been weakened at home and abroad. The result of the conflict is also a setback for American Imperialism – as well as for French Imperialism – and has strengthened the position of the Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

The Israeli aggression against Lebanon ended in defeat. None of the objectives set by the Israeli Government were attained. The position of the Israeli ruling class has been weakened at home and abroad. The result of the conflict is also a setback for American Imperialism - as well as for French Imperialism - and has strengthened the position of the Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

Before the start of the war, differences of opinion on the viability of this operation were already apparent at the top of the Israeli State. Today, after the debacle, members of the government and of the Israeli General Staff are openly engaged in mutual recriminations. As we explained in our article Israel prepares to invade Lebanon (22 July 2006), the fundamental problem underpinning these disagreements is that Israel's main objective (apart from the pretext of the captured Israeli Soldiers) - the elimination of the military capability of Hezbollah - could not be realised by the means available to Israel. Certainly, Israel is a regional superpower, but just as the military power of the United States has shown its limits in Iraq and in Afghanistan, those of Israel were to be shown in the war against Lebanon.

Israeli Imperialism wanted to avoid a new occupation of South Lebanon. It fears, quite justifiably, that in doing so it would face a similar situation to that in Iraq. The occupation forces would be the  target of incessant attacks from the Shiite militia which, as a result of the previous Israeli occupation, now has mass support within Lebanon. Hezbollah is now better organised and better armed than in the past.

There was also the problem of Syria. A military offensive that stopped at the Syrian frontier would never be able to defeat Hezbollah. And yet Israel could not allow itself to be bogged down in a war against the insurgents of Lebanon, and at the same time carry out operations against Syria.

Consequently, the Israeli generals opted for an offensive that was intended to be both rapid and powerful. Their idea was to sweep away all that they found in their path, clean up any remaining pockets of resistance and then pull back. To facilitate the ground offensive they subjected Lebanon to an air and sea blockade, while aircraft  bombarded bridges and roads to isolate the enemy, sowing death and destruction in the towns and villages of South Lebanon, and devastating the southern suburbs of the Capital.

But Tel-Aviv underestimated its enemy. The aerial campaign massacred hundreds of Lebanese civilians, especially among children, women, the old and the infirm. But did not seriously reduced the operational capacity of the Hezbollah fighters. Not only did they continue to fire rockets into Israel, but the rocket campaign increased in intensity up to the final day. At the same time, the land incursions of Israeli units met with a resistance of ferocity and efficiency not expected by the Israeli commanders, incurring unusually heavy losses among the Israeli troops.

At no time during the offensive could Israel claim to have "secured" a significant part of Lebanese territory, even within the narrow strip of territory separating the Litani River from the Israeli-Lebanese border. Shaken by their lack of success, the military chiefs and the Israeli government hesitated between prolonging the phase of the aerial campaign and limited incursions, with the risk of further losses for little gain, and the option of staging a large scale ground offensive. A large scale offensive would mean moving into the Bekaa Valley - where the resistance of Hezbollah would be even more deadly than in the frontier zone - and then on to Beirut, without which the invasion would come to nothing, leaving aside the increasing risk of drawing Syria into the war.

The "grand" offensive was finally ordered. But in fact, it looked more like a final punitive raid, to save face, than a real invasion. Its scope and duration were very limited. The attack did not reach any further than various points along the Litani River and - quite exceptionally in military history - its launch coincided with the declaration of a cease-fire within 48 hours !

The conditions of the cease fire, vaguely outlined in UN Resolution 1701, provided for the occupation of Southern Lebanon by the Lebanese Army, with the assistance of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon). But at the time when this resolution was being drawn up by the United States and France, neither Bush nor Chirac expected the Israeli offensive to end in defeat. Bush expected that the Israeli armed forces would carry off a relatively easy victory in Lebanon - and this shows to what extent he has learnt the lessons of Iraq. He had seen the deployment of an International force as a means of helping Israel to take advantage of its victory, in order to contain and disarm Hezbollah and reduce the influence of Iran and Syria in the region. Chirac, unlike Bush, would have preferred to avoid an Israeli intervention. As we noted in our previous article, he had courteously invited the Lebanese Government to launch its army against Hezbollah, in the hope that this would dissuade the Israeli government from launching a ground offensive. But as it became clear that nothing would stop Israel, Chirac had also expected that the operation would inflict serious damage on the Hezbollah. His proposal to reinforce the French presence within UNIFIL was made with the aim of strengthening the France's position within Lebanon and throughout the region.

For several decades, French imperialism has been losing ground on the international stage, be it in Asia, Central Africa or North Africa. The American invasion of Iraq led to a further weakening of France in the Middle East. The retreat of the Syrian army from Lebanon in 2005 seemed to provide French Imperialism with an opportunity  to recover a role for itself in the Near East.

Chirac had envisaged the cease-fire in quite different conditions to those which exist at the present time. He did declare that he didn't believe in a "military solution", but clearly expected Hezbollah to be considerably weakened by the Israeli intervention. In an interview published in Le Monde on July 27, he said that in his eyes the cease-fire had to "comprise two demands. On the one hand, the security of Israel that has to be secured, and on the other hand the real implementation on the ground of resolution 1559 of the United Nations." Resolution 1559 stipulates, amongst other things, that Hezbollah should be disarmed.

According to Chirac, the mandate of the international force should contribute to the "recovery by the official Lebanese government of the full sovereignty over the whole of its territory" and "enable the Lebanese forces, restructured and with assistance, to deploy itself in the whole of Lebanon." The outcome of the conflict has reduced this project to dust. UNIFIL will be impotent and its deployment will be take place in extremely difficult conditions from the point of view of the interests of the United States, Israel and France.

This explains why the French government now wonders whether the sending of a multinational force was really such a good idea. French imperialism would have very much liked to reinforce its position in a Lebanon purged of Hezbollah, but it is certainly not very keen to find itself in precisely the position that Israel wanted to avoid, namely that of an army of foreign occupation, surrounded by a hostile population in a zone still under the effective control of Shiite militias. Hence the flurry of complaints about the "ill-defined" mission of the multinational force. Hence also the ridiculous number of French soldiers in UNIFIL. The French intend to increase their contingent from 200 to 400 troops.

The French government says it is ready to "support" the Lebanese army, while making it clear that it is this same army that must disarm the Hezbollah. However, in reality, the French government knows perfectly well that this is impossible. The Lebanese army is a small force. Officially, it has 70,000 troops, but only some 20,000 of these could be said to be operational. This numerical weakness means that the Lebanese army is incapable of taking covering the south of the country, let alone of launching operations against the Hezbollah. Furthermore, a significant fraction of the soldiers, being Shiite  and no doubt sympathetic to the Hezbollah, would refuse to participate in such operations. Lebanon has just suffered a devastating attack from Israel. Its towns have been bombarded, its roads and infrastructures destroyed. At the present time, families returning to their flattened homes are finding the bodies of relations, neighbours and friends under the rubble. And yet, from the beginning of the war, the Lebanese army did not fire a single bullet against the invaders. Its commanders stood aside, without offering the slightest resistance. This passive complicity on the part of the Lebanese generals staff is considered as nothing short of betrayal by a significant section of Lebanese society. And now Chirac pretends to believe - and the idiot Bush probably really believes - that this same army is now going to succeed where the Israeli forces failed, disarm the only force which fought against the invasion, and thus leave the country completely defenceless against Israeli imperialism.

In practice, at the present time, nobody is capable of disarming the Hezbollah. The Shiite militia has come out of this war with the enormous prestige of a « victor » which has shown to the entire world - and especially to the oppressed masses of the Muslim world - that Israel is not invincible.  Any attempt to use the Lebanese army against the Hezbollah would amount to provoking a civil war which, under present circumstances, would lead to the disintegration of the army and the overthrow of the present government.

In the meantime, the cease-fire will not hold. The Israeli army will carry out sporadic operations within Lebanon, and the military capability of the Hezbollah is still intact. Hezbollah losses in fighters and arms will be rapidly overcome. It is to be expected that Hezbollah will not hesitate to demonstrate its operational capability by further rocket strikes in Israel, and United Nations troops will not be able to prevent this.

The collapse of the Israeli offensive will have important consequences within Israel itself. As Clausewitz explained, war is the continuation of politics by other means. It is not for nothing that imperialist wars often prepare the ground for revolutions. The ruling class never fights its own wars. In order to mobilise workers and youth in the pursuit of imperialist aims, it must necessarily present the war as being in the vital interests of the entire "nation". But the class character of the war finally penetrates the consciousness of the masses, especially in the event of defeat. Today, in Israel, the macabre reality of the offensive is being brought to light. In the press, in petitions and protests, the workers and youth sent into Lebanon point an accusing finger at the generals and the government.  Soldiers blame the high death toll in their ranks on the incompetence and indecision of the government and the military authorities. While the troops on the ground lacked water, food, ammunition and basic equipment, they learned that the wealthy Chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, sold his shares on the stock exchange on the morning the offensive, in a bid to avoid. The sale created a scare in capitalist circles and an 8% fall on the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange over the following days.

This war will mark a turning point in the social and political history of the country. Israeli society is a class society, with its capitalists and exploiters on one side, and its workers, unemployed, and poor on the other. However, by constantly brandishing the "external threat", the Israeli ruling class has been able to obtain the support of an important part of the population. Nationalism, and the idea of being in a besieged fortress, has served over many years as a means of attenuating the class struggle. The anger of workers in the face of social inequality, unemployment and attacks on living standards was diverted against external enemies. It must be said that the senseless suicide bombings against Israeli civilians greatly helped the Israeli capitalists in this respect. While locking the Palestinians, like in so many cages, into the poverty and desperation of the scattered « territories », completely unviable economically and constantly under threat of bombings and raids on the part of the Israeli armed forces,  capitalism in Israel has shown its complete inability to meet the needs of the vast majority of the Israeli population. Against this background, and under the impact of this defeat, the internal equilibrium of Israeli society is finally breaking down.

19th August 2006


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