Lebanon: A kind of a ceasefire

Immediately following the ceasefire the government of Israel attempted to convince the Israeli population, and its friends abroad, that Israel had ‘won the war'. Now they are forced to beat a hasty retreat from such declarations, as no-one in Israel is stupid enough to swallow them.

Last night [August 21] the Israeli army shot three Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon as the ceasefire that began on August 13, after 34 days of fighting, entered its second week. This is not the worst incident of the Israeli violation of the fragile ceasefire. Last weekend an Israeli special commando unit tried to kidnap Sheik Mohammed Yazbeck, a senior Hezbollah official in the Bekaa.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV reported that an Israeli commando force landed before dawn and was driving into Boudai when it was intercepted by guerrillas who forced it to retreat under the cover of warplanes' heavy fire. The Israeli army had to admit that it sent such a unit headed by its commander, a lieutenant general, but claimed that this was not a violation of the ceasefire as the Special Forces operation aim was "to prevent and interfere with terror activity against Israel, especially the smuggling of arms from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah." Such clear violations of the ceasefire are a message to the imperialists that brings to mind the threats of a child facing a stronger child: "please hold me, otherwise I will kill him". In this case the desperate Israeli ruling class says to the UN "please send in the imperialist international force or risk a renewal of the war."  However, it is more likely that this will have the opposite effect as the European ruling classes will be more reluctant to send troops and to risk lives in light of the strong opposition in Europe to such a new imperialist adventure.

Senior officials at UN headquarters stated yesterday that "the reinforcement of UNIFIL and deployment of the international force in South Lebanon are on the verge of collapse, unless European member states immediately declare their participation and the extent of troops and equipment they mean to contribute."

Also yesterday, U.S. President George Bush (who during the war for weeks prevented any ceasefire, hoping beyond hope that the Israeli army would simply win), at a White House press conference stated the urgency of the situation: "The international community must now designate the leadership of this new international force, give it robust rules of engagement and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace".

Bush, who remembers the last time the USA sent the Marines to Lebanon, added that the U.S. would do its part for the force. While it will not send troops, it will provide logistic support, command and control help, and intelligence.

France's President, Jacques Chirac, has so far sent just 200 army engineers and even under pressure from the other sharks, the French government has only committed itself to double this contingent. The so-called International Force, according to UN resolution 1701, is supposed to consist of 15,000 troops. If you know anyone who would like to commit suicide please inform Chirac and Bush!

While the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said on Monday that Italy was ready to lead the multinational imperialist force (the so-called  peacekeeping force), and would be prepared to send 3,000 soldiers - the largest contingent any imperialist state has committed - today he is singing and dancing to another tune.

"Italy, will be unable to send troops if Israel keeps shooting," Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said.

"From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire," D'Alema added. "It's fair to expect that Hezbollah put down their weapons, but we cannot send our troops to Lebanon if the [Israeli] army keeps shooting."

The great victory of the Israeli generals

Immediately following the ceasefire the government of Israel attempted to convince the Israeli population, and its friends abroad, that Israel had ‘won the war'. Now they are forced to beat a hasty retreat from such declarations, as no-one in Israel is stupid enough to swallow them.

Many Israelis demand a public investigation headed by a Supreme Court judge into the failure of the government and the generals. The government's attempts to sell the population something short of this is simply pouring more oil onto the flames of their anger. Reservists from the Paratroop Brigade even sent an open letter that was published last week in the Haaretz newspaper. Hundreds of soldiers signed the document that demands a broad state inquiry into the actions of the government leaders and senior military figures.

Others understand that such an investigation will be another whitewash. In a protest reminiscent of the demonstrations that ultimately brought down the Golda Meir government following the war of 1973, 300 people, many of them reservists, expressed their anger on the streets of Jerusalem. The demonstrators set up a protest tent in a park opposite the government offices calling on Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Amir Peretz, the Defence Minister, to resign.

Prime Minister Olmert, who showed up in Kiryat Shmona, a border town hit by more than 900 rockets, faced similar calls from local officials for a state inquiry, which would have powers to question the Prime Minister. Olmert's reply? "I won't be part of this game of self-flagellation. I won't be part of this game of slandering the army as some would like to do." Naturally this just made the residents in the north even angrier.

The only idiot who, at least until a few days ago, still tried to convince his supporters of that Israel had won the war was U.S. President George Bush who, on August 14, said (according to the San Francisco Chronicle):

"Hezbollah attacked Israel, Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis... You know, if I were Hezbollah, I'd be claiming victory, too."

And the Chronicle continues: "Leaving aside the major doubt about the first claim, because the initial reports have Israeli commandos inside Lebanon near Ayta A-Shab; claiming that Hezbollah "started the crisis" strains credulity for anyone who has ever read all the reports from UNIFIL."

Those reports list instance after instance where Israel violated the relevant UN agreements over and over again. In a tit-for-tat for the sonic boom fly-overs and other repressive tactics, Hezbollah responded as Israel expected they would. This is only another arm of Israel's clearly stated policy of "deterrence" by repression and oppression and, of course, continued occupation.

The most important claim is that "Hezbollah suffered a defeat." Hezbollah currently enjoys a cult status in the Arab world that is surpassing the zenith of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The world press and Mid-East experts are practically in concert stating that Hezbollah won.

A whole new generation of people now hate the United States for incessant meddling and unquestioned support of Israeli tactics, no matter how grossly disproportionate, wrong and even criminal. Tony Blair has lost all credibility by letting bombs transit through his country to lay waste to Lebanese civilians in his ongoing puppy love for President Bush.

If most Israelis know that the Zionist war machine has suffered a defeat so too do the Arab masses who have been subjected to Israeli state terror for generations. They see       Nassaralla as the new Salah Adin who defeated the crusaders. Now, fearing the Arab masses, the ruling classes of the Arab states (even those who have crawled for years before their imperialist masters) declare that the Arabs won.

Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, visiting Lebanon, said "the Israelis used to be able to dominate Arabs with military might, but this is no longer possible after what happened in southern Lebanon, that the Lebanese resistance amounted to the first Arab victory against Israel."  In the same breath he added, of course, that this victory could improve prospects for peace in the Middle East. "Following the war ... between Lebanon and Israel, the chance to achieve peace is greater than any other period in the past."

What he means by peace, of course, is the continuation of the shaking imperialist order.

Deals with Syria or Iran?

The victory of Hezbollah has given the Syrian and the Iranian governments, which only a few weeks ago were under tremendous imperialist pressures, more power in the region. For this reason some of Israel's political advisors are asking whether it is possible to make a deal with Syria in order to isolate Hezbollah and the Iranian regime. Some even go so far as asking whether it is possible to make a deal with the ruling group in Iran itself.

Last week Peretz, the leader of the Labor Party, who is still the Minister of War, offered to talk with Syria. However, he is now backtracking from this idea. "At present, conditions are not ripe for it, but I certainly see dialogue with Syria in the future," Peretz announced during a meeting in Jerusalem with United Nations special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen.

What he means by "conditions" is simply the price the Israeli ruling class will have to pay - the Golan Heights occupied in 1967.

Roed-Larsen told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that the two had discussed the need to halt the supply of arms and ammunition to Hezbollah, while lifting Israel's air and sea embargo on Lebanon.

Thus the Israeli government hope that they will be able to make the same deal they did with Egypt in 1979 in preparation for the 1982 war on Lebanon, namely, isolating Hezbollah without paying a price. For this reason the government appointed former Foreign Ministry diplomatic desk chief Yaki Dayan as "special project manager" However, Young Assad insists on his price and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in response: "Some people say Bashar Assad should be embraced. I say clearly: Let's not forget the thousands of missiles that fell here over the past month. They all passed through Damascus"."

Vice Premier Shimon Peres was even more transparent saying:

"First they lay down conditions; and only after the conditions are accepted, will they decide whether to speak to Israel," Peres said. "That is unreasonable. They should stop being shy and meet us in broad daylight without preconditions".

However, the crisis of government and the state is obvious. Unlike Peretz and Olmert, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter continues to insist that in exchange for so-called real peace with Syria, Israel could give up the Golan Heights. This statement was endorsed by Labor Party Education Minister Yuli Tamir who said that unilateral moves had proven a failure, and the time had come to make way for dialogue, a statement that aroused the right wing opposition who are committed to toppling the Syrian regime.

The National Union MK Effi Eitam reacted by saying: "Our conflict with Syria is no longer territorial and therefore withdrawal from the Golan Heights will only endanger Israel's security."

Unlike those who favour a deal with Syria, Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, prefers a deal with Iran. However, if the Israeli government is not ready to pay Syria the price Assad wants, what can they offer Iran? The Iranian government is determined to develop its nuclear weapons and the last thing the ruling class of Israel will agree to is allowing Iran to be armed with such a weapon.

Who will pay the cost?

The latest estimate of Israel's war damage is now NIS 6 billion, double the initial estimates by the treasury. This figure includes direct damages, such as to buildings and property, as well as indirect damages, such as lost wages.

The Finance Ministry now needs to find an additional NIS 2.5 billion for the 2006 budget. It is unlikely to be fully compensated by Bush as he starts to realise that the Israeli ruling class lost the war after all. They do not want to raise the taxes on the rich. Nor will they cut the money for the army.  They can deal with it only in one way. Renege on their promises to small businesses; implement major cuts in particular in health and education; and try to force the working class to pay the cost of this war of the ruling class. Already the Histadrut bureaucrats have agreed that the workers south of Haifa will pay with one day of their wages. However, everyone in Israel knows that this is the first step and if the workers accept it without a struggle then more attacks will follow. Thus, it is only a question of time before the working class in Israel will begin to fight back in spite of the lack of leadership.

Some of the members of the Labor Party are opposing the new changes to the budget and this threatens a split in the coalition. Today for the second time the government has not been able to secure a majority for some NIS 2 billion in budget cuts to finance war damages. Labor MKs Avishai Braverman and Orit Noked announced that they would not support the proposed cuts in the Knesset Finance Committee, in spite of the threats made by Kadima coalition chair Yithaki, who told Radio Israel that "the significance of this is that today there is no coalition in the state of Israel." The planned vote on the budget cuts had to be postponed for the second time since the ceasefire was declared.

For how long will it continue in Gaza?

It seems as if the only thing this government can agree on is escalating their attack on the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as a compensation for their frustration. The Israeli army has repeatedly entered into Gaza over the past six weeks, presumably to rescue a soldier captured by Palestinian fighters, and to stop rocket fire from the strip into Israel!

Today, Israeli troops, backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and armoured personnel carriers, moved into areas near Karni, the main Israel-Gaza cargo crossing, conducting house-to-house searches and arrests. Three Palestinians were killed in North Gaza. The Israeli government claims that they tried to attack Israel. The army attacked civilians in the refugee camps in Jabalya, and Raffa, destroyed cultivated fields, and kidnapped five Palestinians including an 80 year old man. He is the father of a fighter that Israel wants to capture. A Palestinian civilian was lightly wounded, witnesses said. Cameramen filming the operation also said they came under fire, but were not wounded.

These attacks will continue as long as the Palestinians are armed with the poor weapons they posses now. However, there are reports that lately Hezbollah has been sending Hamas new and sophisticated missiles, the kind they used during the war with Israel. Already today an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded by shrapnel from an anti-tank missile fired in Gaza City.

At the crossroads

Clearly the Israelis stand at a crossroads. One direction, led by the ruling class and the generals, leads to the worst death trap Jews have faced since the Second World War. The other road is the road of the socialist revolution in the Middle East, the only road that will allow the Israelis a common future with their Arab neighbours. What the generals can do we know. The only question now is how long it will take the Israeli working class and poor to begin the fight, not only for wages and against cuts, but also for the transformation of this rotten capitalist society into a federated socialist state where the Israelis and the Palestinians each will have territorial autonomy as part of the socialist federation of the Middle East.

August 22, 2006

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