The Israeli air strikes against Lebanon raises the spectre of a new full-scale war in the Middle East. Israeli troops are already operating within Lebanon. Bridges, roads, airports and port facilities, electrical installations and civilian targets in Lebanon are being destroyed by the Israeli armed forces. The nature of these targets - in particular the attempt to cut off lines of retreat over the border into Syria - clearly indicate that these are not simply intended as "retaliatory strikes" in response to rockets fired into Israel by Hezbollah militias. Nor do they bear any relation to the military hostages held by the latter. The scale of the military build-up near the Lebanese border indicates that a major overland offensive is being prepared.
Although it is still not certain that this offensive will actually take place, it is undoubtedly the main option being considered by the Israeli government and military leaders at the present time. While the international media are concentrating their attention on various "diplomatic solutions", considerable numbers of troops, tanks, and artillery are being moved into position. It cannot be excluded that Israel will launch an invasion of Lebanon in the very near future.
The generals who are preparing the offensive claim that it would be a short campaign, and would not necessarily involve a new occupation. However, the principal aim which they have set themselves - the disarming of the Hezbollah militias - could not be achieved in any other way. It is for this reason that, as far as we can tell, opinion appears to be divided at government level and in the army over the viability of this strategy.
In the meantime, the air strikes against Lebanon continue, as do the rockets being fired on Israel. The responsibility for the bloodshed and suffering of this new conflict lies first and foremost with the Israeli ruling class, whose rapacious brutality has earned it the hatred of millions of workers and youth throughout the Arab world, in Iran, and beyond.
The Israeli army occupied part of Lebanon from 1978 to 2000, but proved incapable of defeating the Lebanese resistance. This failure, combined with the growing hostility to the occupation within Israel itself, finally led to their withdrawal. All that was achieved by that occupation, and by the atrocities and massacres which it inevitably entailed, was to instil in the minds of the Lebanese people - and in particular among the poorest and mainly Shiite section of society - a deeply ingrained hatred and distrust of Israel and provide the Hezbollah with a firmly established mass base of support not only in the South, but also among the poorest and most oppressed sections of society in the capital.
Therefore, any attempt to launch another invasion would take place in considerably less favourable conditions than the previous one from the Israeli standpoint. The Hezbollah militia is more numerous, much better armed, trained and equipped than was the case before, and, we repeat, for this is a decisive point, enjoys what can only be described as mass support on the part of the Shiite population and indeed from other sections of society. One angry Christian man in Beirut shouted into the microphone of a television reporter: "Where is Hezbollah? There are no Hezbollah here! They are over on the other side of the city. But look at this death and destruction! This is a Christian area, but I will tell you something: we are all Hezbollah now!"
And yet, unless there is a last minute change in plan, the Israeli ruling class are clearly intending to invade Lebanon once again. Watching the news bulletins on western TV and reading through press reports, one is struck by the sense of bewilderment, which runs through most of the commentaries. The most intelligent representatives of American Imperialism (who do not include blockheads like Mr. Bush) look to the prospect of a new conflagration in the Middle East with foreboding. The same is true of the European governments. Bush seems to favour an invasion or at least continual bombing and harassment of Hezbollah positions, which he sees as a means of exerting pressure on Syria and Iran. If ever the invasion were to go ahead, it would have major consequences throughout the region. It would further destabilise the fragile economies of all the small, artificial states of the region - including that of Israel - and would bring about profound changes in the psychology of the masses throughout the Middle East, adding to the social and political turmoil provoked by the conflict in Iraq and the desperate situation of the Palestinian workers and youth in the West Bank and in Gaza.
Permanent instability in the Middle East
On a capitalist basis, in spite of its economically dominant position, Israel, no more than any of the artificial states carved out of the region by imperialism in the course of the 20th century, is not a viable entity. The division of the region into small rival states - which can only be resolved on the basis of socialism - holds back the development of the region and is a permanent source of tensions and conflict. Israeli policy in relation to all the surrounding states amounts to permanent intimidation and threats of invasion and war, when it is not actually carrying out those threats.
The fundamental reason which pushes Israel into this policy is that the Israeli state can only maintain itself as a regional imperialist on the basis of constant economic and military pressure on neighbouring states and territories, setting one section of their populations against another whenever this is possible, even to the extent of provoking civil wars. Without this, Israel would very quickly lose its own internal equilibrium, since capitalism is incapable of satisfying the needs of the majority of the Israeli population. There can be no "peace" and no "stability" under these conditions. The grinding poverty and desperation of the Palestinians, caged like animals in a patchwork of enclaves divided by checkpoints, walls and barbed wire, has resulted in seething anger and hatred against the Israeli State, just as the indiscriminate killings in occupied Lebanon left an indelible mark of hostility towards Israel in the impoverished communities which suffered from such atrocities.
Western governments and professional commentators never tire of lamenting the existence of violence, terrorism, and "Islamic militias" in Palestine and Lebanon. But can they seriously expect anything else? To ask for peace, in the midst of this living hell, is to ask for peaceful submission to exploitation, hunger, disease, and class and national oppression. It is completely utopian. In Palestine, the attempt to use Arafat and the Palestinian Authority as a means of disarming the militias and protecting Israel from attacks was a total failure. It backfired on Israel, undermined the position of the Palestinian Authority itself and paved the way for the victory of Hamas. Israel has lost control of the situation in the territories to an even greater extent that in the past.
In a similar fashion, Israeli oppression in Lebanon created the conditions for the emergence of the Hezbollah as a mass force. This is now a factor, which must be taken into account. For the Israeli army to enter the Lebanon under these conditions will lead to very serious complications for the invading army. The Hezbollah probably have a standing force of anything up to 6000 armed fighters. But behind this force is a massive reserve of tens of thousands of Lebanese workers and youth who would consider it an honour to fight and die in the struggle against Israel. Every man woman and child - especially among the Shiites, will offer them money, shelter, support and assistance to the militias. Such a force cannot be defeated, for the same reasons that the resistance in Iraq cannot be defeated. These people, like the Palestinian youth, are not afraid of death. And there is a very good reason for this. Although great many lengthy books have been written to try to explain this "complicated" phenomenon, the people themselves often explain it - in very few words. They say that they cannot live constant oppression and humiliation. That this is not life, but a living death, and that they would rather die than live in this way. Life and death amount to the same thing. Of course, this revolt is usually expressed in religious terms, and is often enveloped in all kinds of reactionary rhetoric. But it must be understood that in the minds of oppressed and downtrodden people, religious fervour is most often the expression of a burning hatred of oppression, a desire for liberation, for a better life, either in this world, or else, as they see it, in the next.
Possible consequences of invasion
It would of course be a serious mistake to underestimate the deadly efficiency of the Israeli armed forces. Nonetheless, as we saw in relation to the invasion of Iraq, it is one thing to launch an offensive into enemy territory, but quite another to establish control over the freshly captured territory. The Israeli forces would very soon find themselves in a similar position to that of the foreign armies in Iraq. The military propaganda about destroying the "bases" of the Hezbollah forces is just phrase mongering. Where are the Hezbollah bases? Their "base" is in society itself - and in Beirut. In effect, any serious attempt at destroying Hezbollah bases would entail laying the greater part of the Lebanese capital to waste.
There are other possible "bases" of the Hezbollah too - on the other side of the Syrian border. The Israeli state does not want to provoke a war with Syria at this stage, for fear of having to fight on too many fronts. The Syrian regime does not want to get involved either. But military campaigns have logic of their own which rarely correspond to the preconceived plans of commanders and strategists. As a matter of fact, if the offensive into Lebanon were not followed up by an attack on Hezbollah bases within Syria, the offensive itself would be a failure. It must also be said that however reticent Damascus might be about getting involved in a war with Israel, it could not allow itself to stand aside and allow the Hezbollah to be defeated, or even seriously weakened, by Israeli forces. Syria would be next on the list. That is why Syria has officially declared that it with give support to the Hezbollah in the event of an invasion.
War against Lebanon could go spiralling out of control in any number of ways. It would further undermine the corrupt and pro-western monarchies in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It would set the masses in motion throughout the Arab world. Huge demonstrations have already taken place in Cairo, Damascus, Palestine and elsewhere. It would heighten tensions in relation to Iran. It is therefore not surprising that there are serious misgivings in Tel Aviv about the advisability of such an adventure. The military power of the United States has shown its limits in Iraq and Afghanistan, where their forces are suffering a slow and agonising defeat. Israeli military power also has its limits, as shown by the loss of Sinai in 1979 and the more recent withdrawal from Lebanon.
Now that the fight has started, with regular bombing raids in Lebanon and scores of rockets being fired back into Israel, the Israeli state either has to go ahead and launch the invasion, or else find some face-saving alternative. In and of themselves, the bombing raids in Lebanon will solve nothing. The Hezbollah cannot be dislodged from up in the sky. In a situation such as this, air strikes only acquire military significance as a prelude to a general offensive. Those sections of the Israeli ruling class and for the foreign powers that fear the consequences of an invasion have yet to find any viable alternative.
Now an almost insignificant player in the middle-eastern "Great Game", French imperialism saw the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon in April 2005 as an opportunity to recover something of its "historic" position in the region. The missiles raining down on the Lebanese capital are dealing a devastating blow to French ambitions, and Chirac understands that invasion, guerrilla war in the south and the possible military involvement of Syria would make matters considerably worse. And so Chirac has made a friendly suggestion to the Lebanese government. He has advised it to use the Lebanese army to disarm the Hezbollah and in this way, relieve the Israelis of undertaking the task.
This amounts to calling for civil war in the Lebanon. The Lebanese army has been barely reconstructed since the departure of the Syrians. It amounts to a small force of some 70,000 men, many of whom are Shiites. If the Lebanese government tries to use this force to destroy the Hezbollah - that is to say the only serious fighting force between the southern border and the capital - this would be seen by the mass of the population, and no doubt by the majority of the Lebanese soldiers themselves, as an act of betrayal in the face of a foreign threat. It would mean a civil war in which the present pro-imperialist Lebanese government would find itself on the losing side.
Then there is the idea of sending a United Nations "peace-keeping" force into southern Lebanon, to create a so-called "buffer zone" to the north of the border. But how would this prevent Hezbollah rockets from striking targets in Israel, unless the "peacekeepers" get involved in a war against the militias? All that would happen, in the event that such a force was to be deployed, is that the Hezbollah would move slightly to the north. From a military and strategic point of view, the occupation of southern Lebanon by United Nations forces would probably hamper Israeli capabilities and options on the ground more than it would damage the Hezbollah.
So the "diplomatic" options are no less dangerous, and their possible repercussions, no less unpredictable, than that of invasion by Israel. It is possible that those representatives of the Israeli ruling class who are reticent about the invasion would see the presence of a UN force as a convenient face-saving device. However, there are also important internal reasons as to why the most reactionary military leaders and political parties favour an offensive. It would lead to a shift in the balance of power in their favour on the internal political front. The military leaders would occupy the political stage to a greater degree. Money would flow into their coffers, as it would into those of the capitalists who make huge profits from militarism and war. The chauvinism and racial hatred they could whip up will marginalise those elements within Israeli society who oppose their reactionary policies, and the war will provide a pretext to impose further sacrifices upon workers and their families and to cut spending on education, health and social services. The internal situation in Israel, in which the capitalists are conducting an offensive against the interests of the workers, is closely linked to the foreign policy of the Israeli state. Foreign policy is an extension of home policy.
It is difficult to say with any certainty exactly what will happen over the next days and weeks, because in the extremely explosive situation which exists in the Middle East, whatever course of action is taken by Israel and the major imperialist powers could have repercussions least expected by themselves. The whole region is so unstable that what has been planned as a short, hard-hitting campaign against the Hezbollah could turn into a major conflagration involving several countries. Clearly, no answer to the problems of poverty and exploitation, to the trampling of national and religious freedom, and to the interminable tensions, conflicts and wars in the Middle East can be found on the basis of capitalism. Only the road of international socialism, the eradication of capitalism, and the establishment of a free and equal association of peoples and states within a socialist federation of the Middle East, can offer a future to the peoples of the region. We must do whatever we can to help them find this road.
Paris, 19th July 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)
- Gaza: a turning point in Israel's post-1967 history by Yossi Schwartz (July 10, 2006)
- Israeli ruling class - two weights and two measures by Fred Weston (July 10, 2006)
- Editorial Statement: Pull troops out of Gaza now! (June 28, 2006)
- Crisis over kidnapped Israeli soldier brings Israel-Palestine to the brink of war by Yossi Schwartz (June 27, 2006)
- Gaza beach killings highlight need for revolutionary change by Yossi Schwartz (June 12, 2006)
- Bush and Olmert endanger life on this planet by Yossi Schwartz (May 29, 2006)