Israel-Lebanon: The illusions of peace under imperialist order

In spite of the claims of Israeli government ministers and top army generals, Israel did not win the recent war in Lebanon. It is Hezbollah that has emerged enormously strengthened, as the 800,000 strong rally the other amply proved. All this is forcing the imperialists to rethink their strategy in the region.

If one were to believe the government of Israel, one would also have to believe that the Israeli army won the war in Lebanon. The prove his point the Prime Minister Olmert quotes the fact that the weak Lebanese army is now in the South of Lebanon, the Hezbollah fighters do not carry weapons openly, the so-called International Forces ‑ whose role is to defend Israel - have been deployed in Lebanon, and finally that Nasrallah does not dare show himself in public because Israel has threatened to kill him.

But to believe what the Israeli government says is like believing in Grimm's fairy tales. Last week Hezbollah called a rally to celebrate its victory in the war. That rally is the real living proof of the strength of Hezbollah. Had it been a small rally it would have served to prove Olmert's claim.

Because it was too embarrassing for him, Ehud Olmert, made no mention of this real test of Hezbollah's strength. Instead, very arrogantly, he refused to say whether the Hezbollah leader would be attacked if he appeared at the rally: "And you think, that if he was, I would tell you ‑ and tell him?" he told Israel's Channel 10 television on Thursday.

It is no wonder that Olmert expresses such arrogance. This rally was called in a country where as result of the Israeli bombardment 1,191 civilians died, 974,184 people were displaced, 4,405 were injured and 30,000 homes were destroyed. (Source: Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, 26/07/2006). This must be a source of a pride for the barbarian Prime Minister of Israel.

On August 23, Amnesty International presented its report on the Israeli policy of deliberate destruction of the civilian infrastructure. According to this report:

Israel destroyed or damaged in south Lebanon 1489 buildings, 21 of 29 bridges over the Litani River, 535 sections of road and 545 cultivated fields during its 34-day military offensive.

In Beirut, 326 residential buildings were either damaged or destroyed in the southern suburbs, of which 269 were located in the Haret Horaik area.

All runways of Beirut airport and six strategic highway sections were severely damaged. The Red Cross reported on September: "During the conflict the majority of people affected were civilians and two thirds of them were women and children."

The oil spill, caused by an Israeli strike on the power station in Jeyyeh, threatened the entire 105-mile long coastline. It could take up to 10 years for the affected area to recover. Crisis talks by various international bodies were scheduled to take place in Greece, but Israel was unhelpful, as their blockade was preventing the clean-up operations. Environmentalists were prevented from getting detailed information on the areas affected and direction the oil spill was moving in. Much of the ancient civilian heritage was damaged by both the oil spill and the bombing.

The Israeli Armed Forces caused far more damage to Lebanon than Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israel. It is sufficient to compare the two to see this. While the Israel army deliberately killed more than 1000 civilians, most of them women and children, Hezbollah with its rockets attacks on Israel killed 43 civilians and 119 solders.

Another report by Amnesty International said the armed wing of the Lebanese political party, Hezbollah, had committed a "serious violation of humanitarian law". As Marxists we do not condone the killing of innocent civilians. We understand the sorrow of the families of the civilians who died from the rocket attacks. However, the killing and the damage done inside Israel cannot be compared to the huge damage inflicted on Lebanon. The killing of 43 civilians in Israel compared to the more than 1000 civilians in Lebanon is a ratio of 25 to 1.

Not less shocking, however, is the fact that Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev responded to the Amnesty report at the time by saying that Israel's actions during the war were "in accordance with recognized norms of behaviour during conflicts and with relevant international law".

There is another reason for Olmert's arrogance. Lebanon is facing an economic slump this year According to the IMF World Economic Outlook: "The Lebanese economy is expected to contract by 3.2 percent in 2006, after 1.0 percent growth in 2005 and a 6.0 percent expansion in 2004."

Political polarisation in Lebanon is sharper now than at any time since the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005. On the one hand there are the rich and the supporters of the imperialists led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose role as an American puppet has not escaped the masses, and on the other the poor and the workers, most of whom at the present see Hezbollah as their leadership.

The Lebanese Finance Minister Jihad Azour, has been openly speaking of "grave political and social consequences" if the donor states do not help reduce the country's public debt which will reach the staggering figure $41 billion by the end of this year.

The cease-fire agreement and the deployment of international imperialist forces have increased the feeling of insecurity among the people in South Lebanon who prefer to rely on Hezbollah fighters. They are very aware of the situation that exists in Iraq, a country that bleeding under the occupation of foreign imperialist armies.

They trust only in Hezbollah. In spite of the war damage it has suffered during the bombings it has come out stronger politically and possibly even militarily. Thus what we have in Lebanon is a kind of dual power. On the one hand the power of a pro-imperialist government protected by foreign troops and on the other hand Hezbollah supported by the poor.

Proof of this facts came last week on Thursday (September 21), when thousands of poor people were seen marching from all over South Lebanon towards Beirut. On Friday the roads leading to Beirut were full of cars and buses waving Hezbollah flags as they were coming to the rally.

At the site where the rally was to take place in south Beirut, workers set up tens of thousands of white plastic chairs facing the podium and organisers prepared tens of thousands of banners and flags. Two hours before the rally was to start, thousands of people had already arrived at the site on foot, in buses and in cars, chanting Nasrallah's name and waving Lebanese and Hezbollah flags. The final turnout was really huge, with 800,000 at the rally! The atmosphere at the rally was said to be happy and festive.

Aljazeera reporters interviewed some supporters in the crowd. Muhammed Hajj Hussein, 50, said: "Today is a holiday for Lebanon and I have never felt happier. I am very happy for the victory of the resistance." Hasan Slyman said: "This is a victory for Lebanon and the Islamic world. I'm very proud and hope the international community will now act against Israeli violations and incursions into our airspace." Ali Sahhar said: "Everyone thought the Israeli army was unbeatable, this wasn't true and today we are declaring the victory the resistance achieved."

The huge turnout in a country of just four million was not only an act of defiance to Israel but also a clear challenge to the U.S.-puppet government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose army did not participate in the war to defend Lebanon even though it was attacked more than once by the Israeli air force.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah appearing before this immense cheering crowd said that Hezbollah would not hand over its weapons until a new government was established in Lebanon. "The existing government is unable to protect Lebanon, nor to rebuild Lebanon neither to unify it" he said. And he called for a "new government of national unity."

Giving up weapons now "under this government... means leaving Lebanon exposed before Israel to kill and detain and bomb whoever they want, and clearly we will not accept that...No army in the world would be able to disarm Hezbollah" he said.

Nasrallah further added that Hezbollah has emerged from the war stronger than it had been before it. "It has recovered all its organizational and military capabilities," he said. "It is stronger than it was before July 12. It has now more than 20,000 rockets".

In response to the show of strength that contradict the Israeli government's claims, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev said Hezbollah, "is not only challenging the government of Lebanon, but the entire international community and as a matter of fact is spitting in the face of the international community by refusing to disarm and should not have any rockets."

In Lebanon, echoing his master's voice, Butros Harb, an MP who supports Siniora's government, said Hezbollah's refusal to disarm was unacceptable and expressed concern about the rally. "We can't have an illegal army at the heart of our state, all weapons must be held by the Lebanese government," he said.

These comments should be taken as a warning to Nasarllah, as no state will tolerate for ever a state within a state, as the PLO experience in Jordan in 1970 proves. Either Hezbollah will take power or sooner or later the Lebanese government with the support of the imperialists, including Israel, will smash it. And as to a government of "national unity", Hezbollah can learn much from the experience of the Palestinians. The imperialists will not allow such government unless it serves their interests. Hezbollah is not a Marxist revolutionary organistaion that can overthrow the capitalist state and establish a workers' state as part of the revolutionary transformation of the entire region. If it comes to power within the existing state it will face the same problems the Hamas government is facing. It will be blamed for the suffering of the population under imperialist siege.

Nevertheless, the victory of Hezbollah is a turning point for the Middle East as it has aroused the masses. But Hezbollah cannot offer a way out. It has no real alternative to capitalism. If it were in power in Lebanon it would attempt to run the system and not fundamentally change it. Therefore it would end up applying the same old economic policies that are dictated by capitalism. To finish the job and to end the imperialist order a Marxist revolutionary leadership, fighting for a socialist federation throughout the entire region is required, a leadership that will be able to speak to the workers and poor over the heads of the ruling cliques, including in Israel, and offer them a common future free not only from imperialist domination but also from capitalism.

While the people of Lebanon celebrate, the crisis of the Israeli state deepens while the same government remains in office. In spite of the government's claim that it won the war, very few people in Israel believe it. Yesterday, Israeli Defense Forces Chief Education Officer, Ilan Harari, stated that Israel in actual fact had lost the war. This has led to him being denounced by Chief-of-Staff Dan Halutz.

Harari is not the only high ranking officer who has this opinion. He was simply the first senior officer to state openly what other officers have been saying privately. In an effort to prevent the officers from telling the public what they really think, a month ago Halutz warned the generals that he had ordered printouts of their call logs and knew which journalists they had been calling. In spite of these threats, according to the army's Information Security Department officers have been conducting an average of 460 unauthorized telephone conversations with journalists every day.

At the same time as the 18 richest families in Israel are becoming richer, the attacks on the workers and poor continue. According to the 2005 report of Israel's National Insurance Institute (NII), the government agency responsible for social support payments, pensions and child allowances, the gap between the rich and poor is growing. This growing inequality is despite the economic growth of 5.2 percent in 2005.

The number of Israelis living below the poverty line increased from 1.53 million in 2004 to 1.63 million in 2005. 24.7 percent of all citizens are living below the poverty line. At the same time the percentage of Israeli Arabs living below the poverty line increased from 49.9 percent to 52.1 percent. At the same time the income of the top executives has increased from 2000 to 2005 by 39%. According to the Adva Centre, a social research organization, the incomes of the wealthiest 10 percent of Israelis continue to rise.

Over the past five years, the growing gap between rich and poor has accelerated. In 2003, the top 10 percent of Israeli families received 28 percent of total income, while the bottom 50 percent received just 24 percent.

This growing gap is the result not only of the low salaries at one end of the social ladder but also of a series of income tax and corporate tax cuts on the higher income brackets. The corporate tax rate was 61 percent in 1986; now it stands at 34 percent. (Source: New Israel Fund).

In 2003, the average income of a senior manager in the leading 100 companies was US$700,000, excluding benefits or stock options. In the same year, senior management throughout the entire corporate sector earned salaries 36 times greater than the minimum wage. In 1994 this was 30 times the minimum wage.

These figures do not reflect the real situation following the war in Lebanon that has only increased the inequality. The war cost at least as much as 14.5 billion shekels, according to the Finance Ministry. The workers and the poor rather than the rich, according to the logic of the government, should pay the price of the war of the ruling class. The 2007 budget that was passed recently put a freeze on any spending aimed at helping Israel's poor while the military gained over 8 additional billion shekels.

This growing inequality is nothing less than a war on the workers and the poor and it will increase the instability of Israeli society. Polls have revealed the public is dissatisfied with Olmert and would vote him out of office if elections were held today. The same polls indicated that the popularity of the right wing opposition Likud Party, is on the rise.

According to the Dialog poll of 507 people published in the Israeli daily Haaretz, 68 percent of Israelis are unhappy with Olmert, compared to 40 percent in a poll held on August 11 ‑ just days before a cease-fire was declared in the recent war. Just 22 percent of Israelis said they were satisfied with Olmert's performance, compared to 48 percent in the previous poll. The same poll found that if an election were held today, Netanyahu's Likud would double its strength to 24 out of 120 parliament seats, compared to just 16 for Olmert's bourgeois Kadima Party, which currently holds 29 seats. The biggest winner would be Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu faction, which would win 18 seats, up from 11.

A second poll published in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot found that 27 percent of Israelis thought Netanyahu would be the most appropriate prime minister, while just 7 percent felt that way about Olmert.

This mood reflects the fact that this government is perceived as a centre-left government. However we can expect sharp changes of moods and shifts not only to the right but also to the left. Clearly there are two Israels, those who are gaining from the situation and are part of the imperialist order, and the majority who are exploited, becoming poorer and are used as cannon fodder by the local rich and their imperialist friends. Israel is becoming a death trap for them. The only solution for the Israeli majority is to join the masses of the region in an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle, to struggle for a federated Israeli-Palestinian socialist state as part of the socialist federation of the Middle East.

The Hezbollah victory ‑ that is also Iran's victory ‑ has threatened not only the ruling class in Israel that is losing its position as the only regional power, but also the Arab regimes backed by the imperialist powers. This has led Bush's advisors to plan a new strategy to control the Middle East. The idea is to forge an alliance either with the Arab governments, including Syria and Hamas, in order to isolate Iran, or to forge close ties with Iran and help it to become a regional power supporting the US order. The rulers of Israel do not like this development, but Israel is only one of the cards in the hand of the White House and Bush is not playing solo any more but poker as other imperialist powers are competing for influence in the region. This changing reality was not only reflected in Bush's speech to the UN last week, but also in the so-called Arab League peace plan.

In this context Iran's former president, Mohammad Khatami, received a tourist visa to visit the United States, and clearly President George W Bush himself approved the visa request. Then the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, received a visa for the United Nations General Assembly, and also an invitation to appear in New York before the Council on Foreign Relations. At the same time Bush invited a known journalist of the Washington Post, David Ignatius, to interview him in the White House on Iran. The interview indicated an important shift in Bush's approach. He did not threaten military action against Iran; he did not even mention sanctions. He limited himself to saying he had deep concerns over the desire of some of Iran's leaders to develop nuclear weapons and their attitude toward Israel.

America recognizes Iran's role "as an important nation in the Middle East," Bush said. And then added. "I would say to the Iranian people: We respect your history. We respect your culture... I recognize the importance of your sovereignty that you're a proud nation... I understand that you believe it is in your interest, your sovereign interest, and your sovereign right to have nuclear power... I would want to work for a solution to meeting your rightful desires to have civilian nuclear power. I would tell the Iranian people that we have no desire for conflict."

Bush is basically saying that the US will help Iran to develop into a regional power with economic capability if Iran gives up the idea of nuclear weapons. Of course we cannot know whether Iran will give up on the idea of having nuclear weapons, but the Iranians must be aware of the fact that the US does not dare attack North Korea because it has such weapons but it did attack Iraq knowing full well that Saddam Hussein did not posses such weapons on the eve of the war.

We have no way of knowing whether the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will accept the role the US wants him to play. He is aware of the fact that at the same time that Bush has changed his tone the imperialists are working to replace him with a puppet government like the current one in Lebanon. At the moment he appears as a friend of Lebanon and president Chavez of Venezuela. One thing is sure the only real friends of the people of Lebanon and Venezuela are the workers and poor of Iran and not the ruling clique.

At the same time as this game is going on, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in separate interviews with The Associated Press during the meeting of the UN General Assembly, spoke of the urgent need to revive the process which has been bogged down for three years.

At a Security Council meeting on Thursday, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa called for an immediate negotiation between the Arab states and Israel. He said that a final settlement would have to include Israel's full withdrawal from the Palestinian territory, resolving the problem of Palestinian refugees, and the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.

Lavrov reflecting the growing role of Russia in the region, on his part said this sentiment is not limited to the Arab countries. Support for such an agreement is also "growing among Russians as well as other power brokers overseeing the peace process, that it must be re-energized to prevent further conflict. Since the end of Israeli-Hezbollah fighting in Lebanon on August 14, the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria have been saying that in order to prevent further conflicts, the time for a new push in the peace process is now."

The Saudi foreign minister said he had been encouraged by the fact that George W. Bush is now showing a "new concentration" on the Middle East peace process. But he added that Washington is not yet viewed as an honest broker within the Arab world. He went on to point out that the US Administration is coming round to the idea that peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis would help its other interests in the region, including fighting terrorism.

The changing reality of the Middle East was reflected by the announcement of the so-called "Quartet" (the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia). This body welcomes the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a government of national unity, in the hope that the platform of such a government would reflect "Quartet principles and allow for early engagement." The Quartet is not demanding that the new government recognize Israel, and Hamas is not even being asked to recognize the Arab League peace initiative!

Thus, the imperialists are ready to recognize Hamas on condition that this movement plays a supportive role in the imperialist order. Hamas is simply being asked not to undermine this order with statements such as "we will never recognize Israel." Under such circumstances the EU would consider renewing its ties with the Palestinian government.

The problem is that to get the leaders of the Palestinians to play the game the imperialists want is easier said than done. It is one thing for the leaders to agree, it is another thing to get this accepted by the Palestinian masses who are suffering daily. For those Palestinian eladers who support the idea of a government of national unity ‑ such as the Hamas leadership and the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas ‑ the Quartet's statement comes as a nice song. At the same time - reflecting the anger of the masses ‑ Yasser Abed Rabbo and Saeb Erakat, members of the PLO Central Committee, are clearly opposed to the idea of a government of national unity, as is also Khaled Meshal, head of the Hamas political office based in Damascus who controls the military wing of Hamas.

The political adviser of Ismail Haniyeh (Palestinian Authority Prime Minister) Ahmed Youssef, told Haaretz that the US government is not interested in a confrontation with the European Union, and also claimed that with the exception of Britain and Germany, all EU states, have agreed to give the idea of a government of national unity a chance.

All this has turned out to be pie in the sky, as Bush ha just reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution, but stressed that the United States could work with a Palestinian government that does not recognize Israel. Abbas in an attempt to patch things up met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in New York and expressed the desire to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Back in Gaza, however, Haniyeh was forced to announce that neither Hamas nor any government of national unity it might head would accept the demand that it recognize Israel. He was forced to add that the Palestinians have a right to resist the occupation even by using armed struggle. Adding emphasis to the contradictory pressures the Hamas government is under, he also stated that he is ready to consider a 10-year cease-fire with Israel.

The destiny of this peace plan, as well as the US attempt to bring Iran on board, is the same as all other attempts to solve the conflicts by the imperialist. It will end up in the same place as all other such plans, in the dustbin.

The rulers of Israel will not allow Palestinian self-rule, not even within the 1967 occupied territories with Jerusalem as a capital; not to speak of the return of the refugees. Nor will it return the Golan Heights. Neither will it quietly accept Iran as a regional power. The same is true for the Arab regimes that will oppose Iran as the major power in the service of imperialism. The imperialists and their servants are very good at creating problems that they cannot solve.

The root of the problem is that the entire imperialist order based on decaying capitalism is an obstacle to the development of the productive forces, an obstacle that keeps the majority of the population in the region in dire poverty. This contradiction id destined to get bigger. The only way out is for the working class to place itself at the head of the masses in the struggle to solve the democratic tasks. Only if the working class takes power into its own hands will there be any hope of a solution. The contradictions within the present socio-economic order to not allow for any long-lasting "peaceful" solution. The underlying contradictions will come to the surface again and again. That is why genuine socialist in the region must join together in a common struggle for socialist transformation of the entire region. And this can only take place as part of the common struggle of workers in all countries for the socialist transformation of the world.