The failure of the Israeli aggression against Lebanon was a major setback not only for the Israeli state but for all the Western Powers - particularly the United States and France. This failure will further aggravate the difficulties US imperialism faces in the Middle East. The intervention of the French army in Lebanon took place under very different conditions to those imagined by Bush and Chirac before the war.
Since the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon in April 2005, Israeli imperialism and the strategists in the Pentagon believed they would be able to deal a decisive blow to the militias of Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon, and at the same time weaken the position of Syria and Iran in the region. The interests of French imperialism largely coincided with those of Israel and the United States in this respect. France had everything to gain from a weakening of Syria and Iran and a "readjustment" of power in favour of the pro-Western Lebanese capitalists who, in the past, formed the social and political base of the influence of French imperialism in the country.
At the same time, France and the United States are rival powers. Chirac's initial reluctance in regard to the Israeli invasion was not motivated by a "traditional" fondness for "dialogue instead of war" as he claims. Historically, French capitalism built its position in the world on the basis of bloodshed and colonization by force. In terms of massacres and destruction in the pursuit of their interests, the French imperialists are no different from their American counterparts, as we have seen over the last few years in Africa. When Israel began its aggression against Lebanon, the more "moderate" line of French imperialism, in comparison with the White House or Tel-Aviv, had the same origin as its opposition to the US invasion of Iraq, that is to say its weakness in relation to the United States, and the fear of seeing a further decline of what little influence it still has in the region.
Aims of the imperialists
The foreign policy of France is a very important question for us as communists as it is for the whole of the labour movement. Too often, the leadership of the PCF (French Communist Party), while challenging the policies of the right wing at home, gives support to their foreign policy. This was the case with the war in Iraq and it is the case today with the French intervention in Lebanon. However, home and foreign policy are inseparable. They necessarily pursue the same goals. The constant attacks against the rights and the social conquests of the working class in France correspond to the entirely reactionary policies of French imperialism abroad. The role of the PCF should not be to blindly line up behind the "French position", whether it be in relation to the opposition of French imperialism to the war in Iraq or the French military intervention in Lebanon, this time with the blessing of US imperialism. The PCF must demand the withdrawal of French troops from Lebanon, just as they demand the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Our duty is to systematically expose the "pacifist" and "humanitarian" lies of all the imperialists - beginning with French imperialism - behind which they conceal the real objectives of their operations.
We must remember that in the period before the war in Iraq, French oil companies signed contracts giving them priority access to the Iraqi oilfields if and when the embargo was lifted. At the time of the first Gulf War, France supported the embargo, which had disastrous consequences for the Iraqi people. However, the French imperialists later put pressure for an end to the embargo, in exchange for lucrative oil contracts. Chirac knew that the US invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would mean the end of this project. Even if France had participated in the invasion, the US companies would have had priority, given the weakness of France in relation to the United States and the poor military resources that France could have contributed to the operation. Chirac was convinced that the US invasion meant that France was being pushed aside and isolated. He was not wrong. The invasion completely destroyed the influence of French imperialism in Iraq. The "French position" defended by Chirac was not at all progressive or pacifist, and the task of communists is to say things as they are, exposing the class interests which lie behind the "pacifist" posturing of French imperialism.
In Lebanon, while sharing the strategic objectives of the United States, Chirac attempted - once again in vain - to avoid an attack by Israel, which, in the event of success, would have consolidated the position of Israel and the United States to the detriment of French ambitions. This explains why French diplomacy strove to be part of the international force to be installed in Lebanon after the expected success of the Israeli attack. The presence of the French army under these conditions would have been useful in furthering the aims of French imperialism. The Bush administration, for its part, not having the available troops because of Iraq and Afghanistan and confident of the possibility of exercising influence in Lebanon through its relationship with Israel, was prepared to grant a certain role to France. What is more, the US soldiers would have been a priority target for the Lebanese militias. This was the background to the "Franco-American" UN resolution 1701.
However, the failure of the Israeli aggression created a radically different situation to the one Washington and Paris were expecting. Instead of reaping the fruits of victory, the French military would now be intervening in a territory which was more than ever under the control of the Lebanese resistance. Suddenly, French diplomats were not so enthusiastic about the application of the UN resolution. Their mission to Lebanon now appeared to be "poorly defined" and "unacceptable in its current terms". Chirac could not completely retract his previous commitment without losing face, so he proposed limiting the participation of the French army to just 200 additional troops. At the end of the day, under pressure from the United States, and due to competition from Italy, the French contingent was elevated to 2000 troops, which is still a modest force in regard to the military, social and political instability which exists in Lebanon.
The French army, along with its other counterparts in the UNIFIL, will not be able to disarm Hezbollah. UNIFIL will never be able to do what the Israeli army was incapable of doing. Sending a few Leclerc tanks there - in spite of all the pompous propaganda around the issue - will not change anything. The tanks of the Israeli army, which were just as powerful and which were sent in greater numbers, were shown to be completely powerless faced with the Lebanese resistance. The slightest attempt to disarm Hezbollah on the part of France or any other country in the international force will immediately trigger a new armed conflict, and UNIFIL will find itself in a similar situation to the one the US finds itself in Iraq. It was precisely in order to avoid such a situation that Israel ruled out from the outset a new occupation of Lebanon, even in the event of a successful offensive. The Lebanese army is also completely incapable of disarming the resistance. If it were sent in against the resistance it would immediately break up almost immediately.
It is completely ridiculous to claim that France and Italy are "keeping the peace" in Lebanon. If the Israeli state does not launch a fresh attack on Lebanon it is simply because they are incapable of doing so. Israel has just suffered a stinging defeat, which has resulted in a profound crisis of the government, the military leadership and the whole of the ruling class. In these conditions, a new Israeli operation against Lebanon would result in an even more severe defeat that the previous one. This, and only this, is what is "keeping the peace".
As far as Hezbollah is concerned, its military capability is clearly intact. The losses it suffered during the offensive are being rapidly repaired. If the leadership of Hezbollah now decided to launch fresh rocket attacks on Israel, who could stop them? At the moment, far from being disarmed, the Hezbollah militia is rearming in order to be able to respond not only to eventual incursions or episodic attacks by Israel, but also to respond to any attempt on the part of the armed forces of France or Italy to reduce their military capability. France is not maintaining peace in Lebanon. "Peace" in Lebanon, amid massive destruction and ruin, rests not on the presence of French or Italian troops, but simply on the defeat of the Israeli army.
The current balance of forces is extremely unstable, and will not last indefinitely. In Israel, and above all in Lebanon, the social and economic consequences of the war are very serious. On both sides of the border, the capitalists, speculators and wealthy will make appropriate arrangements - flight of capital, relocations, restructuring, stock market deals, etc. - while the workers, the youth, the unemployed and the poor will bear the brunt of the economic consequences of the war.
Repercussions of the military failure in Israel
For several decades, the Israeli capitalists and the state have striven - more or less successfully - to dragoon workers and youth behind their imperialist and militarist policies, presenting themselves as the guardians of a besieged fortress. This strategy was helped by the nationalist and reactionary character of the regimes in power in the surrounding countries. If the Israeli workers had heard a fraternal, socialist and internationalist appeal from the Arab world, they would have more easily freed themselves from the grip of Israeli nationalism. But in the absence of such an appeal, the Israeli ruling class had no difficulty in presenting Arab anti-Jew nationalism as a permanent and deadly threat against Israel. The reality of this threat, confirmed in the consciousness of the Israeli workers by countless terrorist attacks against innocent and defenceless citizens, served as a justification for the imperialist policy of annexation and repression against the Palestinians.
In the absence of a socialist and revolutionary overturn in the Arab-Muslim world, the Israeli ruling class could pose as the protector of the entire nation, and a certain equilibrium was thus established in the relations between the classes. Seen from the outside, in particular, Israeli society appeared to many as a bloc of classes against the external threat, in spite of the inequality, declining living standards and the increasing intensity of the exploitation of the workers, the youth, and the poorest sections of society. But as we have always maintained against those who, particularly on the extreme left in France, considered the Israelis as being a single reactionary mass, this conception is completely false. Today, under the impact of the defeat in Lebanon, the class character of Israeli society is there for all to see. Israeli society has been shaken from top to bottom. The generals, engaged in financial speculation and sexual adventures while soldiers were falling under the fire of the Lebanese resistance, are discredited. Millions of Israelis can see that the militarist "protectors" are in fact protecting their own interests above all else. The Israeli capitalists are putting the economic burden of the war onto the shoulders of the workers and youth, which will only serve to heighten the tension between the classes. The precarious equilibrium of class relations is now being broken down. The economic, social, and political repercussions of the military débâcle will cast a dark shadow over of the subsequent history of the country.
Perspective of Civil War in Lebanon
In Lebanon, the Israeli offensive has laid the country to waste. Large areas of the towns and many villages have been practically wiped off the map. The collapse of the economy, worsening unemployment, sickness and poverty, combined with the destruction of roads, bridges, and public amenities, are creating a potentially explosive situation, especially among the Shia population, which was the hardest hit by the destructive power of the invaders.
In spite of the presence of the UNIFIL and a few detachments of the Lebanese Army, the south of the country is still under the control of the Hezbollah. However, Hezbollah can never resolve the social and economic problems which exist. It offers no alternative to capitalism. Linked to repressive regimes in Syria and Iran, it can never hope to extend its influence among the Sunni, the Druzes, and Christian communities. The Shia represent only about 30% of the Lebanese population. No improvement on their living conditions is to be expected on the basis of capitalism. For the workers and the poor of Lebanon, the fruits of the "victory" will have a very bitter taste.
Social tensions are increasing within the country. American imperialism, whose agents are very active in Lebanon, are trying to increase these tensions, setting the communities against one another. The Israeli state is also at work in Lebanon, supplying arms and money to the Phalangist extremists. Given the failure of the invasion, it will redouble efforts to destabilise the country from within. The extreme right is waging a vigourous campaign of agitation, holding the Shia community responsible for the war and its terrible social and economic consequences. At the same time, French imperialism, which needs a strong counterweight to the Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian forces, is strengthening its contacts with reactionary fascist elements such as Samir Geagea - brought straight from his Syrian prison cell over to France, with the blessing of Jacques Chirac in July 2005 - who is the former leader of the Forces Libanaises which carried out the horrific massacres in Sabra and Chatila, in 1982. Syria also has strategic and economic interests to defend in Lebanon, and might well decide to re-occupy the north in order to defend them. The rivalry between the United States, France, Israel, Syria and Iran, combined with the collapse in the living standards of the majority of the population, is preparing the conditions for a new civil war in Lebanon.
Socialism and Internationalism
The only means of cutting across the perspective of a new bloodbath is through the emergence of a revolutionary movement capable of uniting the workers and youth of all the communities around a program to put an end to capitalism in Lebanon and - through an internationalist appeal to all the workers and exploited of the neighbouring countries, including Israel - the creation of a socialist federation in the region. On the basis of this program, the Lebanese Communist Party could develop mass support among the workers of the country, irrespective of their religion. The media fix public attention on Hezbollah, but this was not the only force involved in the fight against the Israeli invasion. The Communist Party actively participated in the resistance, while maintaining political and organisational independence in relation to the Hezbollah leadership. We must do whatever we can in order to help the Lebanese communists in their struggle against foreign imperialism and Lebanese capitalism, and establish a dialogue to develop a common understanding of the social, economic, and political situation in the country.
American and Israeli imperialism, together with the European powers and the despotic regimes in Syria and Iran, offer no future to the peoples of the region. Whether in Israel, in Jordan, on the West Bank, in Lebanon, in Syria or Iran, capitalism holds out no other perspective to workers and youth than one of permanent instability, fratricidal wars, economic decline, poverty and repression.
This dramatic reality poses an historic challenge to the working class of all countries. The pressure of nationalist ideas and racial hatred fostered by decades of conflict and bloodshed, Stalinism, reformism, and the cynical manipulation of religious beliefs - all these elements have created considerable confusion. But in spite of these difficulties, we are convinced that among the most conscious layers of the youth and the workers will be found the living forces which will at last raise the banner of socialist internationalism, of Marxism, of a revolutionary program and action. For it is along this road, and only along this road, that it will be possible to finally put an end to oppression and war.
- Israel-Lebanon: The illusions of peace under imperialist order by Yossi Schwartz (September 25, 2006)
- The fiasco of the Israeli offensive by Greg Oxley (August 23, 2006)
- Lebanon: A kind of a ceasefire by Yossi Schwartz (August 23, 2006)
- War in Lebanon: the first cracks in the Israeli ruling class by Yossi Schwartz (August 11, 2006)
- The past of Lebanon weighs heavily on what is happening today by Yossi Schwartz (August 4, 2006)
- Ground offensive in Lebanon - Israeli ruling class faces dilemma by Yossi Schwartz (August 3, 2006)
- Israel prepares to invade Lebanon by Greg Oxley (July 19, 2006)
- Notes from Yossi Schwartz in Haifa, Israel (July 17, 2006)
- The barbarism of the Israeli ruling class by Fred Weston (July 13, 2006)
- The Middle East - The Explosion Has Come by Alon Lessel (July 13, 2006)