Israel and Lebanon: What next?

The Israeli government and military failed in their declared objectives in the recent conflict in Lebanon. Israeli society is under shock as a result. Now while they say a new war needs to prepared, the government is preparing vicious attacks on social spending. This will inevitably prepare class conflict at some stage. Meanwhile on the Arab street the desire for a genuine left alternative is becoming evident.

The ruling class in Israel is in deep crisis at all levels: politically, militarily and economically. The majority of the Israelis feel very confused. Their "world view", imposed on them by the ruling class, has been shattered. What is missing is a working class mass movement struggling to overthrow this rotten system. At some stage the working will intervene, but because of the complications of the national question it will take some time before the workers and the poor come decisively. In the meantime what we can expect is a growing social instability and sharp shifts to the left and to the right.

The crisis of the state

It is not a mere incident that Israel's President Moshe Katsav ‑ the head of the Israeli capitalist state, the symbol of Zionism ‑ is under police investigation because of allegations that he raped a former employee. After a few days of investigations, police sources have stated that he has been unable to refute this accusation. This fact should not surprise us at all. He is after all the head of the Israeli state, a state that has raped the Palestinian people for many years. Here rape is not merely an expression of sexual desire but a form of physical domination.

Katsav is refusing to resign from his position. He doesn't want to lose the nice salary and every thing else that goes with the job, including the female employees. He is now claiming that he is being hounded by Parliament and the mass media that are trying to assassinate his good character. The funny side of this story is that it was Katsav himself who began this investigation when he told the Attorney General Menachem Mazuz that a woman known so far as "A" was blackmailing him. How could she blackmail him unless she had some thing very serious on him? The fact that he complained about the blackmail in a country run by corrupt politicians may have been the last straw for Mazuz. A President that is stupid is bad enough, but one that informs on himself is just too much. If today he informs on himself, what will he do tomorrow?

However, Katsav may be right on one point. Had the Israeli generals not been defeated in Lebanon the whole story may not have reached this stage. But now the ruling class needs some scapegoats, it needs some heads of corrupt politicians to roll in order to save the ruling class as a whole. In any case, his Excellency can comfort himself with the fact that he is in good company, as every day another investigation is being opened up against other corrupt politicians. The former Minister of Justice, Ramon has already been charged with sexual harassment. Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima), is to stand on trial. He is charged with breach of trust and making a false statement to the state comptroller.

Yesterday, the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss published a report on political appointments in the Israeli Small and Medium Enterprises Authority. According to the report, the administration of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour - headed at the time by minister Ehud Olmert and his director general Raanan Dinur - created fictional new projects and hired "project managers". These managers were members of the Likud, Olmert's party at the time, and this was there only qualification.

The crisis of the government

The war came as a shock for the citizens of Israel, and as many try to rebuild their lives they are discovering that another war has been launched against the workers, small businesses and the poor Arabs and Jews. This is because the government, representing the interests of the rich, wants the ordinary people to pay for the cost of the war of the ruling class.

This however, is turning out to be more difficult than they had expected, even before the workers have begun to fight back. For the fourth time now the coalition's financial committee has not been able to approve the NIS 2 billion cuts in social services and thus give the generals the money they want. The army budget for this year has been so far NIS 46 billion. The heads of the army are seeking an additional NIS 30 billion, mostly for 2007 and 2008 to re-equip themselves and acquire new expensive systems in preparation for the new war they say they need to start as soon as possible and also, of course, to maintain their nice lifestyle that actually consumes 20% of the budget according to different reports. If the demands of the generals are approved, as Haaretz reported on August 28, 2006, " ‘Israel will return to the ‘Lost Decade', the government economists said Saturday, referring to 1974-85 after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when defense budgets dwarfed civil budgets and hyperinflation ran to triple digits and would push Israel 20 to 30 years back economically, including a sharp drop in the standard of living".

Already the number of people living below the poverty line in Israel is 25% of the population and in the coming months this number will grow significantly.

To the surprise of Olmert and Peretz they are finding resistance to these cuts within the Labour party itself. The "rebels", Members of Parliament Avishai Braverman, Shelly Yachimovich and Orit Noked, who supported the war and who are members of the government's financial committee, now oppose the cuts.

Peretz and his loyalists who promised social reforms for the benefit of the workers and poor, but instead joined the coalition with Kadima, a bourgeois party, and have brought the Israelis a new war that turned out to be a disaster for them, want to replace the rebels with MKs fully loyal to the government. However Peretz himself is in trouble. As public criticism against the country's leadership is growing Amir Peretz is having to fight to keep his hold over the Labour party much earlier than the primaries scheduled for May 2007.

The public polls held over the weekend, show that the Labour party have lost half of its support. According to Haaretz sources, "when Amir Peretz scores a single percent on the question whether he is suitable to be prime minister, his public career is over."

While the government is working out how to cut funds for health and education some of the more open racists in Israel have their own ideas. "We have to make a distinction and ensure that the Arab communities in the north do not get all the money for the educational plan," Kadima Environment Minister, Gideon Ezra said Sunday. (Haaretz, 28.8.2006)

If he could he would use the same methods the Crusaders used on their way to the "Holy Land", sacking Jewish communities like the one in York in England, or the method the Zionists used in 1947-8 when they expelled the Palestinians and robbed their property.

The reservist movement

As the ceasefire was declared a new protest movement appeared, that of the reservists who feel that they had been used by the generals and the government without being provided with proper weapons, ammunition or training ‑ and even water ‑ for such a war. However, from the very beginning it was clear that this movement is being used by the right wing, including the settlers, many of whom serve in the army, in an attempt to replace the "centre-left" government with a right-wing government. They have not raised the question of who this war served? Neither have they raised the question of how we can prevent a new war, nor have they expressed any criticism of the war crimes committed by the Israeli generals against the Lebanese civilians. All they have done is make it clear that they want a different leadership that will win next time.

The public feel that this is no more than manipulation by the right wing. Very few have actually joined this movement and neither can it be said that they are all supporters of the right wing, and for this reason in spite of their small numbers they cannot unite.

"Peace Now" director Yariv Oppenheimer has characterized them in the following way: "They want to bring down the government, but refuse to say what their option is. It's a nationalist movement that talks only about winning the next war and not how to prevent it. If they succeed, in the end Lieberman and Netanyahu will come to power".

On the other end Baruch Itam, one of the few "leftist" reservists says that some of the members are "leftist", and that his goal is to infuse the leadership with values "and call on the left to join in larger numbers to balance out the picture." He opposes the repression of the Palestinians and says that in the Territories, Israel is fighting people who seek their own freedom; in Lebanon, however, it fought "an organization whose clear goal is Israel's liquidation..."

It would be a completely different story if there were Marxists serving in the army, organizing the soldiers and exposing the real nature of this war as an imperialist war, the same war that is being carried out against the Palestinians. This could influence the outlook of people like Baruch Itam. Unfortunately, the so-called "true leftists" in Israel refuse to serve in the army. If they did not have this position they would be able to organize the rank and file soldiers against the command and around the issues that concern them. Because of this vacuum on the lefty, under the existing circumstances even the few right-wingers are used by the right wing.

Because of its nature, this movement is weak and unattractive to the ordinary people who are very aware of the fact that a right-wing government means cuts and more cuts. They have seen Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who only two days ago, when he was afraid that this movement might become a mass movement, said that he supported a state commission of inquiry, but is now speaking of establishing committees without any power, not even a government commission of inquiry with less power than a state commission.

As Haaretz on 29 August wrote: "Instead he will create all kinds of ‘home-made' committees of an internal nature, with members who come even from outside the system. Even if such committees were granted some type of investigative powers, the government's control of the appointment of their members and of the publication of their reports makes the probe a national farce."

Not surprisingly Olmert nominated Nahum Admoni, the head of the Mosad at the time of the massacres of the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps during the 1982 war, as the head of the inquiry commission. The massacre was carried out by the Phalangists with the assistance of the Israeli army that blocked the exits and provided light for the murderers to see what they were doing and the Mosad had close connections with the Phalangists.

A new period

We have entered a new period in Israel, a period of extreme instability that will be characterized by sharp shifts to the left and the right. It is possible that the Olmert-Peretz government will survive for a while. However, it is not certain, as the rift between the Labour party and Kadima is growing. On Monday senior officials in the Labour Party, openly expressed opposition to the prime minister's announced intention to appoint a number of investigative committees rather than a full state inquiry into the conduct of the war.

Two Labour cabinet ministers said late on Monday that they would vote against the prime minister's decision. Clearly the right-wing leadership of the Labour party is beginning to think of how to save their own heads. It remains to be seen whether they will maintain this position.

The way things are going it is even possible that a right-wing government will replace Olmert-Peretz within a few weeks or months. However, one thing is clear: whether the Olmert-Peretz government remains in power or is replaced by Netanyahu or Lieberman, they will all attack the workers and the poor Jews and Arabs and force an open class struggle in Israel .The best thing from the workers' point of view would be a Labour party in opposition and forced to act as such. In these conditions, under pressure from below we might see a genuine left-wing reformist wing emerging within the Labour party.

In the meantime many ordinary Israelis are joking that they wished Nasrallah were the new Minister of Defence of Israel. A journalist writing in Haaretz, Bradley Burston, expressed this mood today, with an article titled "Nasrallah for Prime Minister - of Israel."

The article is worth quoting at length as it says:

"Now it's official. Israel is a country without a prime minister.

"This had been no more than an educated suspicion until Monday night, when Ehud Olmert effectively made the announcement. Not in so many words, of course. Instead, in a long-awaited television address to the nation, Olmert took Israel's last remaining expectations of him and kicking them in the teeth, by ducking a full-out probe into his handling of the war.

"If nature abhors a vacuum, imagine how it feels at this point about Israel's senior leadership.

"The titular head of state, our model for probity, is looking down the barrel of rape charges. The army chief of staff, our model for dedication and sacrifice, took a break for a bit of financial planning just as the nation's leaders were deciding whether the military was ready, plans, supplies, training and all, to go to war.

"The justice minister might have helped Olmert this week, had he not resigned over suspicions that he forced a French kiss on an unwilling young woman soldier.

"And then there is Olmert himself, the man who acted as prime minister from January 4, when Ariel Sharon suffered a devastating stroke, until July 12, when Olmert suffered a debilitating, evidently permanent lapse of responsibility.

"After nearly six decades of existence, Israel has found itself a practical experiment in Anarcho-Zionism. Unlike its neighbor the Palestinian Authority, which is a government lacking an independent state (and a number of officials jailed by Israel), Israel has become an independent state lacking a government.

"Israel is now run not by its leaders, but despite them. (...)

"So it is only right and proper that Israelis have begun to think about a replacement. We have exhumed Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, but polls show them to be non-starters. In an effort to think outside the box, we have mooted Avishai Braverman and a host of others, many of them impressive, none of them proven.

"At this point in Olmert's career, about the only thing that could save Olmert's head, is that of Hassan Nasrallah.

"Maybe that's our answer. If assassinating or abducting the Hezbollah leader is still on the agenda, as Israeli officials maintain, why not put Nasrallah to useful purpose

"Look at the issues. Consider his record. Here is a man who is both strong and wise on security issues. He saw to it that his troops were well-prepared, well-trained, well-supplied, and well-protected.

"Nasrallah would be a new sort of Israeli leader. One who gets things done.

"Here is a man who addresses social welfare needs head-on. He doesn't wait to help home-owners rebuild residences destroyed by aerial attacks. He hands out literal lump-sums, immediately, in cash.

"Here is a man who delivers medical care to the needy, affordable housing to the homeless, food and even clothing to society's disadvantaged.

"Here is a man who cares deeply about, and puts major emphasis on, education and youth...

"Moreover, as he proved this week in admitting to having miscalculated the Israeli response in Lebanon, Nasrallah, as opposed to, say, Olmert, is a leader who, when he's made an error in judgment, can openly admit to it..

"The right and the left are closer than they have been at any time since June, 1967. The right, having already lost Gaza, has seen its Greater Israel dream shattered. The left, having been rocketed by Hamas, the Jihad, and Hezbollah, has seen its bedrock ideology - End War by Ending Occupation - reduced to rubble..." (Haaretz, 29.8.2006)

Lebanon

Meanwhile, secret diplomatic manoeuvres are being conducted behind our backs. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has confirmed time and again that he loyally serves the imperialists, after a visit to Lebanon came to Israel. He has said that he believes that the kidnapped Israeli soldiers are still alive, and that he would do everything he could to gain their release.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, visiting Damascus, Beirut and Jerusalem at the head of a delegation of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish clergy, said in an interview that he had been informed that the Israeli soldiers, POWs, were alive.

So where is the problem in exchange them for prisoners held in Israeli prisons? The problem is that the Israeli government that went to war supposedly because of the kidnapped soldiers does not want to pay the price. We can see this in the case of Shalit held by Hamas. "A source involved in negotiations for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit has told Haaretz that Israel was the one holding up the implementation of a deal that could lead to his release." (Haaretz, August 30, 2006).

Where is Hezbollah going?

In the meantime the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced the start of negotiations for a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah. He said in an interview with Lebanon's New TV station that he would not have ordered the capture of two Israeli soldiers had he known that it would trigger such a war.

He also added that he does not think Israel is preparing for a second round of conflict. "If the Israelis intended a second round, then they should reinforce their positions and presence (in south Lebanon)... not withdraw them. Their displaced people are going back and they have started to rebuild the north. Someone who acts like that doesn't seem to be going to war. We are not heading to a second round."

As yet it is not very clear what the purpose of this speech is. Is it aimed at the Israeli population who are being told by the Israeli ruling class to prepare for a new war as a means of preventing the outbreak of the class struggle? Is it to demolish the claim that Hezbollah wanted a war to divert attention away from Iran as the rulers of Israel and the US claimed? Is it an apology to the Lebanese people? Is Hezbollah on its way to becoming the next government of Lebanon and acting as a "moderate" and "responsible " force in the eyes of the imperialists? Only time will tell. One thing is clear: Hezbollah has been enormously strengthened by the outcome of the latest conflict and rather than playing less of a role it is destined to be a big player in Lebanese politics.

The growing influence of Hugo Chavez

We must remember, however, that Hezbollah does not have an answer to the problems of the workers in Lebanon or anywhere else in the Middle East. Today many Arabs while they highly respect Nasrallah as a great commander whom they compare to Salah A Din (Saladin), know that he does not have a programme to replace the capitalist order.

There is in fact a huge vacuum on the left in the Arab world. That explains why in the recent period the popularity of Hugo Chavez the president of Venezuela is on the rise.

During the war President Chavez announced that he was withdrawing his most senior diplomat from Israel, the Venezuelan chargé d'affaires in protest against the crimes the rulers of Israel have committed against the Palestinians and the Lebanese.

Today on many Arabic Internet sites one can read comments such as: "I am Palestinian but my president is Chavez, not Abu Mazen." Or: "I don't want to be an Arab. From now on I shall be Venezuelan". In Gaza and Ramallah one can see the posters of Chavez alongside Nasrallah in many places.

Venezuelan flags have been seen in demonstrations in Beirut, next to Lebanese and Palestinian flags, and in many prominent newspapers across the Arab World, journalist ask: why can't Arab leaders do what a Latin American leader dared to do - challenge the imperialist order?

The pro imperialists among the Arabs who express their views on the Internet claim of course that Chavez is a "dictator like Fidel Castro". However, as Al Jazeera has explained, replies flood the website one after the other defending Chavez and insulting those who dare to criticize him.

In Israel Chavez is attacked as a demagogue and even as an Anti-Semite, a friend of Iran whose leader is compared to Hitler, and who opposes the US establishment, the great friend of the Israeli ruling class. However, once the class struggle breaks out in Israel the workers and poor will see him in the same way the Arab masses see him, a courageous anti- imperialist and anti-capitalist leader, en enemy of their class enemy.

Chavez's solidarity with the Arab masses is widely shared not only by most Venezuelans, but also by most Latin Americans, especially the workers and the poor. The Venezuelan revolution is having a strong impact on the working class in Europe and in Asia. On the other hand the enemies of the revolution in Latin America, the Oligarchy, support the Israeli ruling class and American imperialism. The popularity of Chavez is a problem for the Arab leaders, who continue to support US imperialism and none of them have cut or even downgraded their ties with Israel despite all the massacres the Israeli army has committed in Lebanon and the occupied territories. The fact is that most of the Arab rulers secretly hoped Israel would win the war.

This influence of Chavez is very important at a time when opposition to imperialism in the Arab world is linked to Islamic movements such as Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This popularity of the Islamic movements is a reaction to Israeli state terror aimed at submitting the masses to the imperialists and in particular the Americans. It is also a reaction against the collaboration of the Arab rulers with the imperialist masters and their corruption. The political impotency of the reformist left also plays an important role. They tail the imperialist so-called "peace initiatives", rather than fight the capitalist exploitation and the imperialist oppression. The Islamic movements became a real power particularly after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, that ugly caricature of socialism in the hands of the Stalinist bureaucrats.

The media present Chavez as a "dictator" but they conveniently ignore the fact that unlike the Arab puppet regimes such as those in Egypt or Jordan or Saudi Arabia, Chavez is a democratically elected president. He is also an anti-imperialist and has raised the perspective of socialism. He is seen as an inspiring example by the downtrodden masses of the Middle East. This is an important element that will help to open the road for socialist ideas in the Middle East.

There is one problem with Chavez's statements regarding the rulers of Iran and Syria whom he depicts as anti-imperialists rather than using his influence to speak over their heads to the workers and the poor exploited by the capitalists of these countries. The rulers of Iran are not genuine friends of the Venezuelan Revolution. The only true friends of the Venezuelan revolutionary process are the workers of all the countries in the Middle East.

In spite of these weaknesses, the power of the Venezuelan revolution resonates far beyond the borders of Venezuela. The fact that Chavez is becoming popular, that his pictures are carried on demonstrations in the Arab world, demonstrate that there is a deep-seated desire among the masses for genuine social change. In spite of the present domination of Islamic movements in many parts of the Arab world, nothing can remove the desire of the workers for genuine change, which can only be achieved by a struggle for socialism.

In the end this process cannot fail to affect the Israeli workers as well. War can cut across class politics for a period, but only to sharpen even more once it eventually breaks out.


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