Tension rising in Middle East: Could Israel attack Iran and why?

On August 21 the Bushehr nuclear power plant was officially launched. This marked a new stage in Iran's disputed nuclear programme. In the days preceding this event, former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was quoted around the world as saying: "Israel has days to strike Bushehr" and further "diplomatically" hinted, “If Israel was right to destroy the Osiraq reactor [Iraqi nuclear reactor bombed by Israel in 1981], is it right to allow this one to continue? You can’t have it both ways.”

[Note: The recent Wikileaks were released after this article was written but confirm the analysis in all important aspects.]

Shortly after American/Israeli Jeffry Goldberg – one of the most influential journalists on matters of Israel – wrote an article in The Atlantic called "The Point of No Return". In his article he also highlights the unavailability of an Israeli strike against Iran.

Temperature rising

"Whether Mr Obama is trying to solve the conflict or simply to manage it is hard to say, since the secret of ‘managing’ is to maintain the pretence that the peace process will indeed one day produce." (The Economist)

Amidst the so called Middle-East "peace negotiations" – a pathetic and hopeless attempt to divide the Palestinian territories between different rulers and their stooges – tension is rising in the Middle East. We are living in a period of great instability on a global level. In the Middle East this is especially reflected in the inability of US imperialism to be able to control the situation.

Out of this crisis Iran is presently emerging as a more powerful player in the Middle East. At the same time Israel is feeling pressure both strategically in the region but also to an increasing degree from its masses who have started to become numb to the hysterical military propaganda. Contradictions are building up in the Middle East and sooner or later they will have to be solved in one way or another. One thing is clear, the turbulence and instability seen hitherto is nothing compared with what is being prepared for the future.

Destruction of "equilibrium" in the Middle East

"...Nature abhors a vacuum..." – Hegel

In 2003 US president George Bush started the war in Iraq. A hopelessly short-sighted adventure, that was supposed to put an end to “terrorism”, “restore democracy” and consolidate and manifest the domination of US imperialism in the region and globally. Instead, what the war in Iraq managed was to further destabilise the whole region bringing with it nothing but further misery for the downtrodden masses. The US army immediately revealed itself to be nothing but an occupation force, swiftly alienating the mass of the population. At the same time the offensive displayed the limits of US imperialism.

The War in Iraq could never have been won. Simply to maintain a most fragile “stability” the Americans needed the help of Iran and Syria who have considerable influence in the country. At the same time the once powerful Iraqi military apparatus, the only counterweight to the Iranian army, has been completely shattered.

With the dismantling of Saddam’s army, a vacuum was opened not only within Iraq itself but in the whole of the Middle East. In 2006 the 1.5m-strong armed forces of Iran were described, by General John Abizaid, chief of the US Central Command, to be "the most powerful military force in the region, except for the United States of America, [and Israel]". This situation poses a serious imbalance of forces in the Middle East, an imbalance that is acquiring a logic of its own.

But now Iraq itself is beyond its control. Huge sectarian rifts have opened up and are widening. The withdrawal of US combat forces in August has further increased this instability, but the US did not have any other options. The presence of US forces in Iraq was draining the US treasury of more than 2 billion dollars a week. In a crisis situation with millions losing their jobs in the US, this drain enormously increased the general alienation of US workers and youth to the war. There was no way any government could endure such an immense drain of resources for so long, neither from a political nor an economic point of view. (However, although “combat forces” have been withdrawn, some 50,000 US troops still remain in Iraq and are planned to stay until the end of 2011 to “advise” Iraqi forces and “protect” US interests.)

But to withdraw fully the US needs the cooperation of Iran (and Syria) who control important militia forces in Iraq and who through these could cause great chaos and instability. On top of this Iran has also displayed several times how it could even use regular Iranian ground forces to intervene in Iraq. Last December Iranian troops temporarily occupied well No 4 at the al Fakkah oil field, about 320km south-east of Baghdad. Although the troops withdrew shortly after the occupation – they only withdrew from the well, but remain on official Iraqi soil to this day – they met no resistance either from US or Iraqi troops. Also in the north there have been several incidents of Iranian troops moving into Iraqi soil ("in chase of terrorists") without Iraqi officials being able to seriously challenge their actions, because through its involvement in Iraqi politics and with its control over important sectarian armed forces Iran could create further chaos and instability. Herein lies the dilemma of the US.

Apart from its influence in Iraq, other factors are also acting as an insurance policy against an attack for Iran. Firstly Iran through the Qods forces of the IRGC controls many groups internationally that could put pressure on the US and its allies through terrorist actions and open warfare. The most important are the Hezbollah forces in Lebanon who control vast areas of that small but strategically important country. They have the capability of striking inside Israel, a close ally of the US and also hitherto a (if not the) dominant force in the Middle East.

Last but not least Iran has a large influence in the Persian Gulf and could, potentially, temporarily block the strait of Hormuz where more than 40% of the world’s crude oil has to pass in order to reach the world markets. Such an action, even for a short period, would have a very negative effect on the world economy that is already in a fragile state. Stratfor – the US-based strategic intelligence institute – claims that even in a best case scenario it would take at least one month to remove such a block. Besides bringing the world economy to its knees, such a block would also be a big threat against all the Gulf states, many of whom have already been severely hurt by the world economic crisis, and who all depend heavily on oil sales.

Before the US invaded Iraq the Iraqi army was acting as a counterweight to Iran and a guarantee against the threats that Iran posed, but now with the disintegration of Iraqi society the counterweight is hard to see.

The nuclear programme

It is in this context that Iran's nuclear programme acquires even more significance. For years Iran have been finalising the first phases of its nuclear facilities. Despite Ahmadinejad’s denials of the fact, it is clear to all that Iran's nuclear programme is not solely for civilian use. It would be probable and wise for the regime not to choose to completely finish this process, but to leave the project at an almost finished stage like in Japan and thus using all the strategic benefits and concessions of nuclear armament without paying the high price of protecting the bomb from hostile elements.

The history of nuclear weapons has shown that, besides allowing their owners to force concessions out of their neighbours, they also drastically complicate an attack on the nations who own them. As well as reducing the chance of other countries meddling and trying to dictate their internal affairs. The fact that the US has not yet been able to challenge the weak and rotten state apparatus in South Korea is partly a proof of this.

Of course, all the US cries against a nuclear Iran are purely hysterical and hypocritical in nature. For years Israel has used the strategic advantages of nuclear weapons to bully many Middle Eastern countries without any complaints from the US. Until now Israel has had the only nuclear arsenal in the region, but if Iran were to change the nuclear balance of forces the whole situation in the Middle East would further tilt to Iran's favour. It would weaken Israeli imperialism and strengthen Iran's position.

In this sense the opening of the Bushehr nuclear reactor on 21 August was a big provocation to Israel (and indirectly to all the countries of the Middle East and the US who is further threatened to lose influence and domination over these.)

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, and a former CIA man with considerable diplomatic experience, recently put it like this:

“Israel now faces the biggest-ever challenge to its monopoly on the bomb in the Middle East from Iran. For Israel, Tehran is a dangerous opponent, close and threatening. There is a virtually unanimous consensus in Israel that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. From left to right, Israelis see an existential threat to their very survival. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum in Jerusalem in 2007 that Iran is a “crazy,” even suicidal, state that will be prepared to sacrifice millions of its own citizens in a nuclear exchange with Israel.

“Though other Israeli leaders are more cautious, even they are strongly determined to keep Israel’s monopoly on nuclear weapons. Ephraim Sneh, former deputy defense minister and a much-decorated retired general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), notes that ‘the most salient strategic threat to Israel’s existence is Iran.’ They fear Israel’s strategic room for maneuver in the region would be constrained by an Iranian nuclear deterrent. The success of Hezbollah and Hamas in the last few years has only added to Israeli concern. (The National Interest - August 24, 2010)

The Iranian dilemma

It is clear that as far as the general balance of power goes in the Middle East Iran has emerged strengthened. But the Iranian regime is not in full control of this process. The regime is actually forced to be more aggressive in foreign politics as it attempts to regain a social base by diverting the attention of the masses towards an external enemy and thus uniting the many factions within the state.The provocations of Messrs Ahmadinejad and others also flow from a strong necessity.

From Lebanon Hezbollah is always poking at Israel. In early August Lt-Col Harariof of the Israeli army was killed during a small episode of gun-fighting on the border between Lebanon and Israel.

The question of Iran is explosive. Illustration: LatuffThe question of Iran is explosive. Illustration: Latuff At the same time in recent years the Ahmadinejad regime has increasingly tried to spread influence in the Middle East and the African continent.

Last year, former parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq Nori said, that Bahrain was Iran’s 14th province. A statement that displays the ambitions and also the influence of the regime in regard to Bahrain, one of the leading financial centres of the Middle East.

Last year Mr Ahmadinejad visited mainly Christian Kenya, being joyously welcomed in the port of Mombasa, on the Muslim-inhabited coast. He struck a deal to export 4million tonnes of crude oil to Kenya a year, to open direct flights between Tehran and Nairobi, the two capitals, and to grant scholarships for study in Iran. Wherever Iran has embassies it also sets up cultural centres. Iran has also been trying to use its oil to get into Uganda. Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has also been courted, along with sub-Saharan Africa’s diplomatic and economic giant, South Africa. South Africa has been one of Iran’s doughtiest supporters at the UN, abstaining on a resolution to condemn Iran’s human rights violations and arguing against further embargoes and sanctions over Iran’s nuclear plans.

Of course the amount of “aid” that Iran gives Africa – and the amount of influence it consequently has – is still small compared with the sums Americans and Europeans give out, let alone China. But the important fact lies in the constant attacks against the political and economic influence of other countries, including Israel – especially in an economic situation where the markets all over the world have shrunk and where room for economic manoeuvrability is narrowing.

As a side note we should remember that, as a result of Iran’s African activity, Israel has been trying to push its way back into the continent. In September Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, made Israel’s first high level mission to Africa for decades, visiting Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Countering Iran’s influence was plainly one reason behind the trip.

On top of this there are of course the constant verbal and demagogic attacks of Ahmadinejad against Israel. These acts are indeed seen as a threat by the monstrous military state apparatus of Israeli that has based its legitimacy increasingly on its ability to crush the smallest obstacles with brute military force.

But the question is also as to whether the Ahmadinejad regime has any other choice. The revolutionary situation that opened up last year between the elections and Ashura has destabilised the regime which is now increasingly splitting. Although the splits between the reformists and hardliners are still present, the most important splits at present are opening up within the camp of the hardliners.

There is not one day that goes by without new splits and contradictions surfacing within this faction. The monstrous bureaucratic machine is devouring itself from within with factional infighting and corridor "back-stabbing". There is only one thing that these factions within the faction can agree upon, and that is the need for unity, as any serious crack in the higher echelons may give more room for the mass struggle to develop. But in the current situation a lasting unity within the regime is not possible. At the same time no faction or layer is strong enough to consolidate its power. Centrifugal forces are ripping the whole fabric of the apparatus apart. In this context Ahmadinejad’s demagogic (and hypocritical) so called anti-imperialism is a powerful tool, used to divert the attention of the masses, creating/preserving a social base and pushing for unity within his own ranks. Especially in a situation where war is on the agenda it could become an even more powerful tool.

This situation is also the source of a massive drain of support from key layers that used to back the regime but who are now beginning to move into opposition. This is perfectly exemplified with the latest strike in the Bazaar and the continuing defections of diplomats.

At the same time there are the economic factors pushing the regime. The Iranian economy is under enormous pressure. Although trustworthy figures are almost impossible to find, it is clear to everyone that the Iranian economy is in a deep crisis. The claims by the administration, that Iran has miraculously become self-sufficient in any major industry, should at best be seen as a joke.

Iran is not close to being self-sufficient. According to Professor at Northeastern University, U.S, Kamran Dadkhah, Iran needs investments worth $46.5 billion to build new refineries and increase production of oil products. So far, Iran has invested $8.2 billion in this sector within the fourth development programme. Over $6.3 billion is required to maintain and expand existing production. Over $2.1 billion has been invested. Of course Dadkhah could be exaggerating in order to serve other interests, but his estimates are still more accurate than the claims that Iran does not need to import gasoline.

The present character of the world economic crisis more than anything reveals how interconnected all economies are and how deep the international division of labour has developed within capitalism. The tax hikes and attacks on state subsidised basic consumer goods in the last years are signs of this contraction in the economy.

The regime is increasingly running out of options. It has to go on the offensive, either against its own people or beyond its borders. The crisis and the sanctions are having a big impact on the Iranian economy and Iran is forced to turn outwards in search of markets and supplies where possible. And even when it finds these, in China for instance, it will have to pay more for the same commodities and services.

The regime does not have a united line or a plan for the situation. There are some parts of the regime that pull towards accommodation with US imperialism while others argue that they should search for new markets. This conflict is not just between the “reformist” and the “hardline” factions, but also within both these factions. This was clearly displayed a month ago when the administration tried to open up negotiations with the US and Khamenei attacked them saying there would be no negotiations.

The Israeli dilemma

At the same time tensions are also rising within Israel. For years the question of growing poverty and misery has been leading to internal tensions. The Israeli elite have used the question of Palestine as a big diversion and to some extent this has worked. But the result has been that, 1) the state and military apparatus have placed their legitimacy on the might of their military and 2) sections of the masses are becoming numb to the constant warmongering.

Israel was created, supposedly, to provide a safe haven for Jews. The ideology of the state is Zionism, which attempts to bind together all Jews living in Israel across class lines. The state has justified its existence on the grounds that it is the sole protector of the people of Israel. On this basis the regime has demanded loyalty and has been able to suppress internal criticism. In this respect Iran’s nuclear programme is a great provocation, especially after the humiliating defeat in Lebanon in 2006 and the failure to destroy Hamas with the massive military campaign in Gaza in 2008.

In 2009 Israel had military expenditure to the tune of $14.3 billion. That is 7% of GDP - a ratio that is even higher than that of the US and fifth globally. On top of this massive drain of resources the country has been in an almost constant state of war mobilisation and two monstrous wars have been waged with no victory, leaving only a massive trail of blood behind it.

Netanyahu and Obama. Photo: Barack ObamaNetanyahu and Obama. Photo: Barack Obama Especially the lack of any real victory is playing a big role. It is no secret to anyone that Hamas and Hezbollah have not come out of these wars weakened, on the contrary. In fact, increasingly, Israel is forced to lift the economic blockade on Gaza in order to offset the activities that go on through the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

Also the constant provocations of Ahmadinejad are playing a very undermining role – especially for the powerful military establishment. The Israeli masses have started to become tired of this caste that cannot succeed in any of its own aims and aspirations, let alone help the masses succeed in theirs. Although this process is still at an embryonic state it is nonetheless significant and, most importantly, it is narrowing the room for the regime to manoeuvre. The class divide is widening and class struggle will take a sharper character in the future.

In a March poll, published in The Times, Israelis were asked to name the "most urgent problem" facing Israel. Just 8% of Israeli Jews cited the conflict with the Palestinians, putting it fifth behind education, crime, national security and poverty.

According to the OECD, poverty in Israel is more widespread than in any other OECD country. Almost one in five people in Israel live in poverty – i.e. in a household with income less than half of the national average. A number of factors are behind this, but one of the most important is that many people in Israel don’t have jobs: about 40% of people of working age have no jobs, compared to about 33% in OECD countries. 23% of all elderly are currently living below the poverty line and according to Haaretz, at the end of 2008, in Jerusalem, 48 percent of Jewish and 74 percent of non-Jewish children where defined as poor.

Also, according to a special report on healthcare spending published by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the burden of family spending on healthcare has increased sharply in the last 10 years, while government investment pulled back. From 2000 to 2009, a family's average outlay on healthcare shot up from NIS 339 a month to NIS 633.

These figures are even more striking – especially in the eyes of dissatisfied Israelis – when they are compared to economic growth which is now at 4.1% (almost at the 4.7% level of the pre-crisis period).

The pressures flowing from this polarisation of society are also increasingly being reflected as tensions at the top. Although still small, serious divisions are taking shape within the ruling circles of Israel, within Mossad, the Knesset and even within the government.

Avigdor Lieberman (Minister of Foreign Affairs) and his populist and right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party are heavily openly promoting an aggressive non-conciliatory policy towards Palestine – that is, to use brute force to beat the people of Palestine into submission – and Ehud Barak (Minister of Defence) from the Labour Party, reflecting the interests of the US, is supporting the opposite policy of "dialogue" – that is, to strike a deal with Fatah and maybe even Hamas to beat the people of Palestine into submission for them. This conflict has been the source of some trouble for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has had to balance to a certain degree between the two parties. Splits and divisions like these have a tendency to undermine the legitimacy and authority of a government.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf

But it is not only the Israeli regime that is facing new trouble. George Friedman from Stratfor writes the following:

“The country most concerned about Iran is not Israel, but Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recall the result of the last strategic imbalance in the region, when Iraq, following its armistice with Iran, proceeded to invade Kuwait, opening the possibility that its next intention was to seize the northeastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In that case, the United States intervened. Given that the United States is now withdrawing from Iraq, intervention following withdrawal would be politically difficult unless the threat to the United States was clear. More important, the Iranians might not give the Saudis the present Saddam Hussein gave them by seizing Kuwait and then halting. They might continue. They certainly have the military capacity to try.

“In a real sense, the Iranians would not have to execute such a military operation in order to gain the benefits. The simple imbalance of forces would compel the Saudis and others in the Persian Gulf to seek a political accommodation with the Iranians. Strategic domination of the Persian Gulf does not necessarily require military occupation — as the Americans have abundantly demonstrated over the past 40 years. It merely requires the ability to carry out those operations."

Although Stratfor has a tendency to overestimate pure military capacity, i.e. amount of arms, men etc., as opposed to internal economic, social and political contradictions, there are certainly many truths in the above lines.

The position of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries has become more precarious since the fall of Saddam. Subsequently an unheard of arms race has started in the Gulf. Military expenditure is rising exponentially. Of the top 12 countries in the world using the largest percentages of their GDP on military spending, 8 are in the Middle East (and most of those around the Gulf).

In the last few weeks the US has initiated an arms deal worth $60 billion. This is the largest US arms deal ever. The Israeli government, which has often sought to block arms transactions with Arab states in the past (and just recently objected to a new Russian sale of cruise missiles to Syria), has yet to utter a peep of protest.

The situation is the same in the Gulf countries where US arms sales have escalated.US defence sales to the Gulf region more than doubled, from $US19 billion in 2001-04 to $US40 billion in 2005-08. There is no reason to think that this process has weakened since 2008.

The pressure on all these states is mounting, both economically and socially. Since the beginning of the economic crisis these countries have been in a very weak situation spilling over into the beginnings of political crisis. The room for concessions to external players is very little. In August for instance there was an, albeit small, demonstration of 200 against unemployment in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – a very significant development in this country, considering the lack of genuine democratic rights, and also a reflection of the rising unemployment, that is estimated to be around 20% of the native population.

Could there be an attack against Iran?

From all the above we can see that tensions are rising across the Middle East. The balance of power is shifting in Iran’s direction, but the other regimes in the region cannot simply accept this growing strength of Iran. It is clear that the contradictions must be solved at some point; it is in this context that a layer within the US and Israeli elite is contemplating an attack. Again George Friedman from Stratfor writes:

“...an Israeli strike against Iran without U.S. involvement difficult to imagine....(...)[there are] three counters [to an attack against Iran]. One [is] Hezbollah, which is the least potent of the three from the American perspective. The other two are Iraq and Hormuz. If the Iraqis were able to form a government that boxed in pro-Iranian factions in a manner similar to how Hezbollah is being tentatively contained, then the second Iranian counter would be weakened. That would ‘just’ leave the major issue — Hormuz.

“The problem with Hormuz is that the United States cannot tolerate any risk there. The only way to control that risk is to destroy Iranian naval capability before airstrikes on nuclear targets take place. Since many of the Iranian mine layers would be small boats, this would mean an extensive air campaign and special operations forces raids against Iranian ports designed to destroy anything that could lay mines, along with any and all potential mine-storage facilities, anti-ship missile emplacements, submarines and aircraft. Put simply, any piece of infrastructure within a few miles of any port would need to be eliminated. The risk to Hormuz cannot be eliminated after the attack on nuclear sites. It must be eliminated before an attack on the nuclear sites. And the damage must be overwhelming. (...)

“This opening gambit would necessarily attack Iran’s command-and-control, air-defense and offensive air capabilities as well as maritime capabilities. This would sequence with an attack on the nuclear capabilities and could be extended into a prolonged air campaign targeting Iran’s ground forces.

“Far from the less-than-rewarding task of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, going after Iran would be the kind of war the United States excels at fighting. No conventional land invasion, no boots-on-the-ground occupation, just a very thorough bombing campaign."

Added to all the above is the fact that US and Israeli interests do not always overlap.

At present the Obama administration would like to avoid war with Iran, as it needs the Iranian regime on board to help maintain some semblance of stability in Iraq. However, when the chips are down it is Israel that is the most reliable ally of US imperialism in the region and therefore the US could be forced to engage in a mission backing the Israeli generals or, at the very least, tacitly allow Israel to act. Especially if the Israelis chose to attack, leaving the Hormuz strait vulnerable, the US could be forced to support the attack so as to clear the threat to the strait. The point is that the Zionist regime follows its own interests that are based on the situation in Israel and not always on what Washington dictates. For the Israeli regime it is a matter of protecting the legitimacy and strategic position of the regime, while for the US administration it is a matter of protecting US interests, especially in Iraq, by attempting to stabilize the region as a whole, which means lowering the level of armed conflict.

Apart from these revealing considerations there have also been reports of Saudi Arabia having conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But no matter how and by whom such an attack would be carried out, it should be noted that this is not a new method in the Middle East. In 1981 Israel made a surprise air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction in Osirak. Also in 2007 Israel conducted an airstrike on an allegedly secret nuclear installation in Syria.

But an attack is not the only topic on the agenda for US imperialism. The strategists of capital are actually split when it comes to the question as to how to approach Iran. One camp argues that an attack is inevitable, and that preparations should be made immediately. The other camp argues that Iran's new position should be accepted, but that it should be held in check by massively arming Israel (even with the US strengthening Israel’s nuclear arsenal) and the Gulf nations.

The truth is that both camps are right and wrong at the same time. The tensions between the rulers of the Middle East are rising to an unheard of level. At some point one of the players will have to make a move that could spin off into some kind of military confrontation. Especially the trigger-happy Israeli military establishment could be pressured to act – an act that would bring with it catastrophic consequences for the world economy and even more for the masses of the Middle East.

But from this the Iranian regime would probably even recuperate militarily quite fast. In this sense it is not even clear that an attack would be successful from the point of view of any party, but could still happen since none of the regimes can afford to show weakness or back down.

At the same time it is clear that the balance of power has shifted and that Iran - in any state - will play a more prominent role in the future of the Middle East. But to think that such a future is going to be stable, or just more stable than now is utopian. The present massive arms race in the region speaks for itself.

Effects of an attack on the revolutionary process in Iran

Although the mass movement in Iran has presently receded, the regime is still fragile. It has lost huge layers of support. This is in fact the main reason for its constant splitting. An attack from the US or Israel would be seen by the masses as an act to beat the country into submission to US and Israeli imperialism – thus it would cut through the developments that started last year. In this sense the regime would utilise the situation to regain control of the country and maybe even settle some scores.

But this development would only be temporary. Wars tend to bring to the fore all the contradictions that have built up in society. Iran would be no exception. After an initial period of withdrawal the mass movement would come to the fore once more and the deterioration of the regime would increase once more.

In the 1980s Khomeini used the war against Iraq to streamline the regime and to consolidate its power by physically destroying all opposition, but the situation is very different today. Besides the fact that the character of a hypothetical war today would be different in all manners, there is another factor. In the 1980s mass opposition was fragmented and the mass movement was on the ebb. Today the core who led the mass movement, with all its flaws, weaknesses and disorganisation, is the only undivided force in the country and, contrary to the regime, they have not received any decisive blows.

Besides this, the regime is hopelessly tangled up in a thousand wrangling cliques and factions, with a chronic and unsolvable deadlock that is presently dragging down the whole apparatus and that is not going to go away.

A consolidation of reaction in Iran would only become real after a long historical process with a series of decisive defeats for the masses. The regime could try to use a war to inflict such a defeat, but it is far from certain that it would succeed in the present conditions. Lenin explained that war – after an initial period with disorientation of the masses and the spread of patriotism etc, – at a later stage could become a powerful impulse for revolutionary explosions. Such development would not be unlikely in Iran.

The future only brings more instability

The fact is that American, Israeli, Saudi and Iranian strategists – as well as the many do-gooders – can think from here until eternity of a solution to bring “peace and stability” to the Middle East, but none of their “solutions” will do anything but add to and deepen the already existing instability. As long as the laws of capitalism govern the Middle East, no lasting peace can be reached.

For the rulers of the region this may even be tolerable. Maybe their faces, titles and headwear might change from time to time, but in general they will continue with their luxurious lifestyles as parasites leeching off the masses. But for the masses the situation will only become worse, as they will have to pay for the adventures of their rulers - if they accept at all that this is their destiny!

Unfortunately for the elite there is no evidence that this is the case. Already now most the regimes are hanging by a thread. For years the rulers have used questions of nationality and religion to confuse the masses and keep them in check, but the situation is changing. The fault lines are increasingly transcending national and religious lines and mass movements are taking shape everywhere acquiring a clearer class character.

Of course there is the movement in Iran, that has only temporarily receded, but it is clear that it will resurface on a higher level sooner or later. But also in other countries the class struggle is becoming sharper. In Turkey we saw the impressive struggle of the Tekel factory workers that managed to put immense pressure on the government. In Saudi Arabia as we also noted earlier there is growing discontent – with significant cracks in a hitherto very polished surface. In the West Bank the PFLP have bowed to immense pressure from below and have had to withdraw from the executive of the ruling PLO because of their deals with US and Israeli imperialism. And even in Israel, at some stage, we will see mass opposition to the regime that is exhausting its options to buy social peace with the pretext of "national security."

The most important situation, besides Iran, is developing in Egypt, one of the key countries in the region from the point of view of the class struggle. In the absence of genuine national mass organisations, Mohammad Elbaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and now outsider in the corridors of the Egyptian power struggle, is striving to become a focal point in opposition to the Mubarak regime and gain some kind of momentum, promoting a boycott of the parliamentary elections on a democratic programme aimed at the workers and poor. With all probability he has started something that he will not be able to control in the future.

All these developments will deepen and seriously affect each other in the next period. If Israel or the US attacks Iran it would correctly be seen by the masses as yet another imperialist attempt to beat the Middle East into submission. This would only further enrage the masses that are fed up with US imperialism and their stooges. It would be a further impulse for the masses to cease being used as pawns in the Middle East and enter the game as players. Once this happens no one will be able to resist and all the pathetic manoeuvres and corridor deals of the rotten regimes will be swept away.

The masses of the Middle East have shown time and time again that they are willing to rise and sacrifice everything to break loose from the shackles of capitalism and its never ending horrors. The only solutions to their miseries are to be found in a socialist society where the resources of the region are controlled by the workers and poor. Until that day comes, peace will only be a superficial and volatile concept.

The main problem is not the strength of capitalism, nor the willingness to struggle and sacrifice of the workers and poor. The main problem is the lack of a mass revolutionary leadership, based on the ideas of Marxism. A leadership that is rooted not in the narrow circles of the "left", but that is firmly tied to the mass of workers and poor in all neighbourhoods from Tehran to Cairo and that takes its starting point from the realities that exist on the ground.

The forces of revolutionary Marxism are still too weak to play this role, but there has never been a better time for building our forces than now. All the contradictions of the system are becoming obvious to all with the masses in a state of turmoil. But in order to reap during the revolutionary events of the future we must sow now. We must build a strong nucleus that is able to intervene in the mass movements of the future and give them direction. If we succeed – and we most certainly will – there will be plenty of opportunities to win over the masses and provide that leadership that is required if we are to sweep away the rotten regimes in the region and with them the whole rotten system of capitalism. This would then be replaced with a Socialist Federation of the Middle East where the resources of the region would be used by its peoples to develop society to unprecedented levels and out of the dead end of capitalist wars and savagery.

Website of Iranian Marxists: Mobareze Tabaqati (Iran)

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