Revolution #56, Posted August 1, 2006
Received from A World to Win News Service
The interests behind Israel’s attack on Lebanon, and the interests of the people
24 July 2006. A World to Win News Service. Israel’s attack on Lebanon is causing horrendous death and destruction. The future may hold even worse. Israel has staged two major invasions and countless incursions into its northern neighbour before. But this time the war is taking place within the context of and in the service of something new and even more terrifying. There is every reason to fear that it is part of a US campaign to prepare for a broader and even more murderous war.
While millions around the world watch the television footage of mounting civilian casualties in horror – the UN’s Jan Egeland says that a third of the dead are children – the US has openly defied any notion of human decency. It has gone so far as to brazenly block the UN from calling for a ceasefire. George Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice justified this by dividing the globe into those who want this war, on the one side, and on the other the “snakes”, “terrorists”, “subhuman” Middle Easterners, wishy-washy Europeans and worse who oppose it. Rice unashamedly declared that the war must continue until Israel has achieved its objectives – that peace would only help “the terrorists” by allowing them to escape Israel’s wrath and to rearm. As the US conducted a “diplomacy” dedicated to shutting up the clamour for peace, in the military realm it rushed through a shipment of more hi-tech, high-explosive bombs for Israel. What kind of world has this become when “Save the children!” is a pro-“terrorist” position and killing children is considered acceptable if they are the offspring of “snakes”, and thus potential “snakes” themselves?
The Bush regime declares that we are witnessing the widening ripples of September 11, 2001. This is the truth – turned upside down. The events surrounding Israel’s attack on Lebanon have little to do with the World Trade Center attack, that continuing pretext for a phoney “war on terrorism”. Instead, they are truly reflective of “the post-911 world” in another way: they are the consequences of the Bush regime’s decision to seek undisputed American control of the entire Greater Middle East. This campaign began with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and now threatens war against Iran, a major target of today’s US-sponsored Israeli attack on Lebanon. Israel’s actions can’t be understood without taking this context into account.
Bush and his ilk have tried to tie Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran into a single package. There are connections, but they are not at all what the US government claims. These regimes and organizations are not tied together by religion, and still less by any desire to wage war on the US. In fact, their interests are often contradictory, and they don’t really want to be tied together at all. What they have in common is that the Bush regime considers them obstacles to the realization of its vision of an American Middle East. Pro-American and Israeli critics have complained that Israeli’s naked cruelty only inspires more hatred among the region’s people. But this is not at all in conflict with what the US and Israel are trying to do with this war now. With the broadening of the attacks that have until now been centred in Palestine, the US is using Israel to deal pre-emptive blows. The aim is to weaken and split perceived enemies, prevent them from taking advantage of the hatred of Israeli crimes that inflames people more every day, and impose “shock and awe” to dishearten any organized opposition in advance.
In one sense, the situation is very easy to understand. Many millions of people all over the world are becoming more furious about this war every time they watch the news. But at the same time it’s complicated because there are many different kinds of contradictions working on different levels that are influencing one another. There are very real, distinct contradictions working at the local level, each with their own particular logic, and they in turn are embedded in layers of broader regional and global contradictions that shape them.
Hamas and the Palestinians
The contradiction between Israel and the Palestinians continues to be a driving force in this situation, even with much of the world’s attention focused on Lebanon. It was not Iran or Syria but Israel itself that set off the chain of detonations, not only by taking away the Palestinian people’s national rights over decades, but also by deliberately escalating its humiliation and oppression of the Palestinians right now. Hamas, it should be recalled, had maintained a ceasefire with Israel. That ceasefire came to an end in June after a series of Israeli kidnappings of Hamas leaders in Gaza and at least three massacres of civilians by Israeli rocket attacks. Those who would like to claim that Israel’s “security” was in danger want to ignore the fact that it was not until after these events that Hamas resumed firing its small homemade missiles at Israel and conducted the operation resulting in the capture of an Israeli soldier.
Despite the Hamas-elected government’s efforts to come to terms with Israel, Israel clearly took the decision to crush it instead. On another level, especially after the events of the last weeks, it seems that Israel’s decision to seek to eliminate Hamas now was linked to wider strategic considerations, as we’ll see.
Hezbollah and Lebanon
The Lebanese organization Hezbollah chose the moment of Israel’s attacks on the Palestinians to launch a cross-border operation into Israel from the north, attacking a patrol and capturing two more Israeli soldiers. Although this conflict overlaps with the Palestinian question, it mainly involves a different issue.
Lebanon has never been a unitary state. France originally created it by carving out a coastal slice of Syria and, in typical colonial fashion, favouring various ethnic groups over one another. The term “Lebanonization” has come to describe any country where the rivalries between ethnic and religious-based forces make a stable national government impossible. For decades Israel and Syria, sometimes in unity and often in conflict, tried to dictate Lebanese life. In 1976, when the armed Palestinian national liberation organizations and Lebanese groups were on the verge of defeating forces originally put into power by France and by then tied to the US and Israel, Syria invaded Lebanon to save the existing political set-up – at American urging. Then, in 1982, Israel invaded to crush the Palestinian movement based among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in camps there, and the revolutionary ferment that attracted people to Beirut from throughout the region and beyond. History will never forget the massacres in the camps of Sabra and Shatila carried out by Israel’s local allies under the supervision of Ariel Sharon, then the leader of the Zionist army.
Armed and trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards with help from Syria, Hezbollah came into existence and grew rapidly because it was the only force fighting the Israeli occupiers after the Palestinians were no longer a major political factor in Lebanon. Ironically, although it is not only based among the Shia, one of the country’s half-dozen major religious communities, but a vociferous exponent of Shia Islamic ideology, Hezbollah’s reputation as a national liberation organization is a major factor making it popular among Lebanese of all ethnic groups and religions, including leftists and other secular people.
For several years now Hezbollah’s leadership has been signalling its willingness to achieve a stable relationship with Israel and the US and leave the Palestinian question unresolved. (Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah said this to American journalist Seymour Hersh in an interview in the July 28, 2003 New Yorker magazine.) Controlling southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has actually prevented Palestinian refugees from attacking Israel across the border. For a decade, even during the hide tide of the Palestinian intifada, both sides of the border have been very quiet, except for minor Hezbollah/Israel clashes in the Shebaa Farms area still under Israeli occupation. Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on Israel show that they are a much better armed and more formidable military force than any of the Palestinian groups. Yet these rockets were kept in storage until after Israel started bombing and attacking Hezbollah.
Hezbollah had captured Israeli soldiers and traded them for its own prisoners several times in recent years, even after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2005, but this time Israel reacted by unleashing a war. This shows that Israel’s aims had changed. Had Hezbollah’s? Some observers, such as the progressive American expert Juan Cole, have said that in deciding to show support for the Palestinians in this symbolic way (after all, they could have fired their Katyushas), Hezbollah was reacting to the situation in Lebanon itself, basically trying to preserve and expand its power within the Lebanese government in the face of rising Israeli and US pressure. That, Israel felt, was unacceptable. But again, even those who consider Israel’s existence legitimate cannot present facts to argue that the Zionist state’s “security” was endangered by this act. Among similar media accounts, the San Francisco Chronicle (21 July) reported that Israel’s armed forces had been planning and even rehearsing this attack for at least a year. Israeli aggressive air incursions into Lebanon over the last months seem to have been meant to prepare as well as perhaps provoke a war.
Again, here we have to shift our gaze to see the contradictions on a higher level that this particular contradiction is embedded in. Syria was at its most powerful when it was a Soviet client state. Its young president Bashar Assad would like to come in from the cold war and find a place in the new US-dominated world, but his requests have so far been rejected, as Assad complained to Hersh. Assad’s eagerness to reach an agreement with the US and Israel appears to be confirmed by the indisputable fact that Syria has kept quiet about the continuing Israeli occupation of the militarily strategic Golan Heights seized in 1967.
The Syrian and US secret services worked together very closely after 2001, when Assad believed that he could hand the US intelligence about Al-Qaeda as a means to a broader arrangement. According to Hersh, former CIA head George Tenet protected the Assad regime against Bush regime figures who wanted to attack it. But when Assad refused to endorse the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, unlike his father who supported the 1991 US invasion, the US put the Syrian regime on its target list. Even so, while Assad may have felt that an open endorsement of the American occupation of Iraq might mean the end of his regime, Syria seems to have implicitly accepted the occupation. For instance, when the US armed forces crossed over into Syria in June 2003 and wiped out a convoy of vehicles – civilians unrelated to the Saddam Hussein regime figures the US claimed it was perusing – Assad held his tongue.
Here, too, claims that Israel is “protecting” itself are a lie. Israeli sent fighters to buzz Assad’s presidential palace in June, saying that they did so to demonstrate their ability to kill him whenever they want to. This was before the Hezbollah cross-border operation Bush wants to blame on Syria.
Israel’s aims in Lebanon and beyond
When France turned against Syria and joined with the US in demanding that country’s withdrawal from Lebanon, the weakened and much chastened Assad regime complied. This led to the so-called “Cedar revolution”, the formation of a new Lebanese government Bush hailed last year as an example of how the US is spreading “democracy”.
But that was last year. The US was happy to see Syria go, but it wants to keep Lebanon Lebanonized, just as it has worked hard to create religious-based “identity politics” in Iraq to gain allies and undermine opposition. Since then, the US and Israel have been pressuring the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah. In fact, that is the central demand of Israel’s current attacks on Lebanon. The amount of hypocrisy involved is stupendous. First of all, Israel demands that Lebanon implement UN Resolution 1559 requiring the disarming of all militias – this from the Zionists who for decades have defied UN resolutions to withdraw from the territories they occupied in 1967. Secondly, Israel is calling for the Lebanese government, which includes Hezbollah, to send out its weak and divided army, many of whose soldiers and officers support Hezbollah, to “disarm” (fight) the country’s only real fighting force capable of putting up resistance to Israel. This would amount to making Lebanon an Israeli protectorate.
Israel’s military actions so far make their political aims unmistakable. Israel openly avows that at least for now, it wants to empty the Shia population of Lebanon south of the Litani River, a well-populated farming area 20 kilometres from the border at some points... Lebanese newspapers report that half a dozen southern villages have been hit with cluster bombs and phosphorous. Israeli planes dropped leaflets on villages warning the population that the entire area was about to be pulverized, but then, when villagers tried to flee, Israel systematically rocketed all moving vehicles. In one of the worst incidents early in the war, a convoy of villagers in pickup trucks headed for the city of Tyre. Israeli gunfire hit the women and children in the back of the lorries. Then an Israeli helicopter came up and fired rockets, killing 23 of the 24 people. The only survivor was a four year-old girl burned on 70 percent of her body. Other, similar incidents include an attack on a crowded minibus, also near Tyre, and countless rocketings of private cars and taxies filled with families.
The bombing raids have also targeted the heavily Shia suburbs on the southern edge of Beirut. An Israeli commander announced that they would destroy ten multi-story buildings in the Shia residential suburb of Dahaya for every rocket fired at the Israeli city of Haifa. Israel boasts that its raids demonstrate that support for Hezbollah means death. When refugees were taken in by mainly Christian villages and neighbourhoods, Israel bombed them as well. Among other aims, this is meant to discourage people from taking in those fleeing the south.
Shias, historically given little place in Lebanon’s imperialist-assigned ethnic government arrangements, are by far the country’s single biggest community and may amount to half its population. (There hasn’t been a census for decades, because it would officially reveal that those groups whose clan leaders are most directly tied to Israel and the West and guaranteed the top posts in the government on the basis of their supposed majority status are in fact a small and shrinking minority.) Israel is attacking not only Hezbollah but Shias in general to make a point: they can’t be allowed to threaten the country’s power arrangements. Israel has also specifically targeted Christian and other communities. For instance, the Israeli army destroyed Lebanon’s Christian and Sunni Moslem-owned television and mobile telephone facilities, claiming that they were being used for “Hezbollah propaganda”. In fact, Israeli’s real target was television news footage of Israeli atrocities riveting and unifying all Lebanese and the communications networks that tie the country together.
While claiming that its goal is for the Lebanese government to send its army to take control of southern Lebanon, Israel has even bombed Lebanese army barracks that have nothing to do with Hezbollah. It has also hit government offices and facilities in general. Perhaps the most telling component of Israel’s bombardment campaign is the targeting of the country’s physical infrastructure and economy. Air strikes against bridges and roads have cut the south off from the rest of the country. They have also hit roads, bridges, the Beirut airport, all the seaports, petroleum storage facilities and factories all over Lebanon, all trucks and other moving machinery, including ambulances. Some 800,000 of the country’s less than four million people have been driven out of their homes. This adds up to a decision to ensure that when Israel is done, the country will be crippled and helpless. When Rice met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (by Lebanese law, that office must be held by a Sunni), she assured him of Bush’s “support” but refused to give him the support he asked for, flatly rejecting his plea for a ceasefire to prevent the country from being torn apart. As other commentators have pointed out, this was a gangster message: cooperate with us or else.
In short, the immediate American-Israeli war aim is to create an entirely subservient Lebanon, indirectly, at least, if not literally through occupation. Israeli commanders have not ruled out occupation, but they clearly fear having to face the kind of long-term resistance that they have been unable to defeat in the past, in Lebanon, and of course the West Bank and Gaza. Those fears have been sharpened by the Israeli army’s dramatic difficulties in the two key ground battles with Hezbollah so far. Israel suffered what army sources called heavy casualties in trying to take a village called Maroun al-Ras, just across the border. It failed in its initial assault on southeastern Lebanon’s major town, Bint Jbeil. Israeli officers complain that their tanks and monster military bulldozers are not effective enough against the tunnel warfare Hezbollah is waging.
Bush’s repeated statements putting the blame on Syria for Hezbollah’s actions has mystified many serious analysts who can’t see much evidence of major Syrian active involvement. In fact, the only specific US charge is that Syria has been a conduit for Iranian supplies for Hezbollah. But rather than a sign that he doesn’t understand what his advisors tell him, Bush’s insistence is a key part of what’s really going on, just as the phoney Bush/Blair claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were not a mistake but part of what can truthfully be called a conspiracy. The aim is to isolate, paralyse and perhaps overturn the Assad regime as a further step in preparing for war with Iran. A well-informed 24 July New York Times analysis said that the US aim was to force Syria to “distance” itself from Iran and cut off Hezbollah supplies. Syria is Iran’s only state ally. The Iranian regime has often said it would consider any attack on Syria as an attack on itself – and that would be very definitely the case.
Some pro-Bush political figures openly proclaim it and “everyone” – everyone who seriously studies the situation and doesn’t just swallow propaganda – knows it’s true: the looming threat of a US war with Iran is an enormous and probably decisive factor behind Israel’s actions.
The Iranian regime noisily welcomed the Hezbollah operation. It, too, is sending a message. After decades of on-again, off-again relations with Israel, with the mullahs receiving Zionist weapons during the early years of their reign and maintaining contacts and economic ties even in recent years, the Iranian regime would like to harness the regional hatred for Israel in a desperate bid to ensure its own survival.
This anger at Israel, at the US standing behind it, and at the American protectorates that rule most of the Middle East, has an enormous potential power. Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies are widely understood by their own people to be American neo-colonies. All of these regimes have much to fear if a nationalist fever and a mood of resistance were to sweep the region. At a rare illegal rally in Cairo, demonstrators carried portraits of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah together with those of Gamal Nasser, the Egyptian president considered the symbol of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 60s. Similar incidents have been reported in other countries, including Gaza, where marchers carried portraits of Nasrallah and Yasser Arafat. At this moment in the Middle East, Nasrallah – a “terrorist” for Israel and the US – is many times more popular than any of the darlings of American imperialism. For the Iranian theocrats, the anti-Israel and anti-American sentiments of the people might not be the weapon they want, but they see the potential for harnessing this hatred as the best weapon they can get.
In short, Israel’s attacks on Hamas and Hezbollah are also secondary attacks on Iran, aiming at weakening two groups that could cause trouble in the event of a US-launched war against Iran. It is also possible that the Iranian Islamic Republic welcomes a chance to show the US that it does have armed influence in the region and can fight back.
The “terrorist international united front”
Whatever connections there may be between Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran’s mullahs and, according to a leading US State department official, North Korea (!), they are not mainly about religion or ideology. Hamas is a Sunni organization, an offshoot of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood was financed by Saudi Arabia and encouraged by the US to undermine the nationalist Nasser regime and the communists. Hamas was on the receiving end of many Israeli secret police favours in a campaign against the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It has ties with Iran’s ruling Shia mullahs, but probably not much religious sympathy. The same seems true of Hamas’ relations with Hezbollah. As for Syria, Assad’s father slaughtered thousands of civilians to put down a rising by the Moslem Brotherhood. In Lebanon, Syria allied with Christian reactionaries against the Palestinians. And as for North Korea…
The last country, especially, makes it plain that the main thing all these regimes and groups have in common is worry that their survival is incompatible with the Bush regime’s vision of an American-squashed globe. Tellingly, the weaponry Iran is supposed to have supplied Hezbollah is mainly Soviet-era technology, another indication that the U.S. is trying to overturn a world order that grew out of the existence of the rival Soviet imperialist bloc. When Bush ideologues scream about now being the time to move against “the worldwide terrorist united front”, what they mean is that they can’t wait to wage war on all the organized forces that stand in their way anywhere. In this “all or nothing” logic, since these potential enemies might help each other, it’s best to go after them all at once. (The U.S. former rightwing Congressional leader turned imperial strategist Newt Gingrich seemed to have this in mind when he enthused over the prospects for what he called “world war 3” growing out of Israel’s attack on Lebanon).
The explanation for the cruelty and wild ambitions of Israel’s military campaign cannot be found in Israel alone. Israel is just one more weapon of mass destruction in the American arsenal. The US created, armed, financed and directs Israel for strategic purposes that have little to do with Zionist influence in the United States. What is most basically at stake is what we have already seen in Iraq: the US is determined to make the entire Middle East into a string of American neocolonies, countries formally independent but under its economic, political and militarily control. The ultimate goal is not only to grab the region’s oil and the riches created by its people, but even more to use this control as a central pillar of an American-dominated global political system that can guarantee – against all rivals as well as the people – the conditions of profitability for American capital throughout the world...
The problem is that all of the main actors on this stage, in terms of those playing speaking roles, are reactionaries and will not be able to represent the people’s interests to the end. Their politics reflect the fact that they are exploiters whose interests are necessarily narrow because they are rooted in clan, semi-feudal and imperialist-dependent capitalist relations. At the same time the potential power of the vast Middle Eastern masses who have not been allowed to speak has never been clearer. That is the contradiction that needs to be addressed if the great storm whose rising wind can be so readily felt is going to change things in the people’s favour.
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