The Widening Conflict in the Middle East

We are reproducing here the statement issued by the Bureau during the latest Israeli attack on Lebanon which represented another step in the direction of a much wider war and not only in the Middle East. The blue helmets of the UN may now be gradually replacing the Israeli invaders and the rocketing of civilians by Hezbollah may have stopped, but this is a truce not a peace. It is a pause whilst both sides regroup and manoeuvre for position.

Our original statement called the war in Lebanon a crisis on two levels but suggested that the local and the international struggle were deeply intertwined. The ferocity of the Israeli response to the capture of two of its soldiers was understandably not expected by Hezbollah. After all, Israel had entered into negotiations about such captures in the past. What made this different was that the attack on Lebanon could not have come about without the tacit collusion of the US. It suited the US to open up a new front in its struggle for domination of the Middle East. Mired in an increasingly desperate campaign in Iraq and even seeing the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, an attack on Lebanon by its proxy, Israel, would help to increase the pressure on Iran and Syria as well as divert attention from the disaster in Iraq. The US Secretary of State hardly hid this aim when she announced that the Israeli destruction offered a new beginning for the Middle East. By refusing to allow a resolution to bring about a ceasefire in the UN for nearly a month the US (along with its loyal British ally) gave the Israeli campaign the greatest opportunity to succeed in wiping out Hezbollah.

The only mealy mouthed understatment that was offered as criticism was that the Israeli use of force was “disproportional”. No doubt the thousands of innocent Lebanese who died were much comforted by this. Israel took the opportunity to try to remove the Hezbollah infrastructure and openly announced that it was cutting any route to Syria. Indeed Israeli propaganda throughout the campaign kept to the message that it was Syria and Iran who were behind Hezbollah. If there is a new phase in the Middle East conflict it will be one in which the conflict will widen. Given the current hostility between the US and Iran over the nuclear issue this could be sooner rather than later. But then there are even more interested parties beyond Iran. Both China and Russia have, at different times reached commercial agreements on oil with Iran and both are seeking to obtain more oil from the Caspian region. In the struggle for oil the game of chess continues. The US and the West have constructed a pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey’s port of Ceyhan. In the course of building it US influence in the Caucasus has increased, and Russia has had to watch as it loses influence on its own backdoor. Turkey and Israel have now signed agreements to take this pipeline under the sea along the Lebanese coast to Ashkalon in Israel. In almost direct response to this Syria has allowed the Russians to construct a naval base at Tartus. The age old dream of the Tsars of a warm water port beyond the Bosphorus has been realised. Even the former USSR during the Cold War could not achieve such a strategic step forward. For Syria, of course, it is useful because it means that the Russians will deploy their S-300 missiles as air defences from which Syria will benefit in the event of further threats from Israel and the USA (the latter still calls the Assad regime in Damascus a “state sponsor of terror”).

As it is, Israel’s failure to destroy Hezbollah has backfired. If the Israeli military thought Hezbollah was like all the other Arab forces they have destroyed in the past they were soon disabused. It is not just the massive financial and material support that Hezbollah gets from Syria and Iran but also the fact that it is a real force in Lebanese society. Whilst all the other factions in Lebanon concentrated on defending their own clan interests, the Party of God (Hezbollah) have looked after the material interests of the Lebanese poor in South Beirut and throughout the country. In this way they have used their Iranian finance wisely so that 40% of the population (including non-Muslims) backed them in the last election. Now that they have been seen to stand up to Israel they are seen as the real national party of Lebanon and will have much greater control over the policy of the Lebanese state. This was another Israeli aim which backfired as the Israelis not Hezbollah were blamed for the butchery.

Now Syria and Iran have new confidence in the face of US pressure. China and Russia are becoming more open in their support for these regimes. As both sides in Lebanon lick their material and political wounds they are already preparing the next round in this contest...

The Two Levels of the Lebanese Crisis

Each day the news brings to light the devastations spread by capitalism in crisis. The evermore frantic quest for sufficiently lucrative profit rates imposes on the one hand greater levels of exploitation of the working class, unemployment, lack of job security, generalized misery, and on the other hand an always more frequent resort to war. Yesterday Afghanistan and Iraq, today Lebanon. This permits us to predict tomorrow’s imperialist war fronts. Only the revolutionary class struggle can end this barbarity.

The Internal Scenario

Even though it has not yet been officially declared, Israel and Lebanon are at war. Presently, it has already caused hundreds of deaths amongst civilians, more than 500,000 refugees and an alarming humanitarian crisis throughout the whole region. The Israeli mini-imperialism and the American mega-imperialism on one side and Hezbollah and Hamas on the other have voluntarily reignited tensions in the Middle-East. With the new military occupation of the Gaza Strip and the aggression on the Lebanese border, the Israelis hope to attain a series of strategic objectives.

  1. With the attack on Lebanon, in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers, Israel has set back any possibility of reopening negotiations for the return of the occupied territories. In fact, the more the Middle East is set ablaze, the more Israel is keeping its colonies on the West Bank.
  2. Since the forced withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon, that country has become the main objective of Israeli expansionism, not as in 1982, just to constitute a security zone along its frontiers, but also to make it some kind of a military protectorate.
  3. This aggression also has as an objective of eliminating from the political scene Hamas and Hezbollah, labelled as terrorists even though they were lawfully elected and participate in their governments. The goal is to have neighbouring states that, if not allies, are at least governed by more docile or easily swayed forces.
  4. By defining Syria and Iran as terrorists - because of their complicity with Hamas and Hezbollah that they arm and finance - Israel has given the United States the pretext to transform the Lebanese question into an occasion to defend its interests in the area.

Hezbollah for its part, by refusing to free the soldiers has forced Israel to react militarily and because of this, to relax the military pressure in the Gaza Strip and on Hamas, exposing the fragility of the Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora whose arrival to power was facilitated by the United States and Israel. Today, Hezbollah represents in the eyes of the Lebanese population what Hamas represents in the Palestinian one: the only force capable of defending it against US and Israeli domination.

The International Scenario

With the difficulties encountered in Afghanistan and the relative loss of influence in the area surrounding the Caspian Sea, the always greater uncertainties about oil supplies from Venezuela and other South-American countries have rendered the control of the Persian Gulf even more important, more vital for American imperialism. It’s for this reason that Iraq was occupied. Henceforth, it’s Iran and Syria- already in his crosshairs for some time- that are causing the tenant of the White House to lose sleep. A few years ago, Iran would have been the object of an immediate military intervention (already largely planned). In the present state of affairs, the US government, despite itself, is limited to act indirectly. The prolongation of the intervention in Afghanistan, the unexpected quagmire in Iraq, the huge growth of the costs of war and the number of casualties, the unpopularity of Bush, the firm opposition of Europe, Russia and China has created a situation unfavourable to direct intervention.

With a direct offensive against Iran being off the table for the time being, the US has opted for a scorched earth strategy at the periphery while attacking those who for diverse reasons are considered its close allies, hoping that this could favour a more or less bloody change of government, which would render less problematic the US presence in the most strategic area in the world. The Lebanese crisis, the struggle against the terrorism of Hezbollah, with its real or supposed Iranian aide in arms, money or military logistics, all this was well adapted to the objective pursued.

In the mean time, the price of a barrel of oil is rising and the 80 dollar threshold is not far off. And the more oil prices rise, the more the oil rent fills the coffers of the oil companies and the American state that badly needs it to be able to finance its twin deficits in a national and international context that has changed in the past few years. First, the American economy, the most indebted in the world (more than 35 000 billion dollars US) has lost its energy self-sufficiency and is dependant on foreign oil for 70% of its needs. The commercial deficit has plummeted to 800 billion dollars. Russia, which in the same period has become the biggest supplier of energy in the world, if we take into account its exports of oil and natural gas, now accepts the Euro as a mode of payment for oil and not only the dollar as in the past. Iran, Venezuela and some African producers have done the same, which renders the appropriation mechanisms of the financial rent - that give the US control of the process of price setting-increasingly problematic and that undermines its most important source of financial supply. Europe has now stabilized its monetary zone, causing a series of problems to the supremacy of the dollar. Syria has officially declared it wants to convert its monetary reserves from dollars to Euros. China has already operated such a diversification to the tune of a few billion dollars. In 2005, even Saudi Arabia, the great ally of the US has also taken this direction and the threat on the dollar is on the agenda even in the South American countries. Thus, the supremacy of the dollar, one of the most important pillars supporting the imperialist power of the United States could collapse.

If we add to this the continuous stagnation of the American economy, the resumption of the fall of profit rates, its weak competitiveness at the international level, we can understand how much these weaknesses are dangerous and the importance of each occasion to get around them, whatever the means or costs. That is why the Lebanese crisis must be analyzed in its Middle-East context, where it started and where it will produce its devastating effects, but also at the international level, with its inter-imperialist confrontations of planetary dimensions. Its precisely the weakening of US imperialism and the acceleration of the recomposition process of alternative imperialist poles, in which Europe, Russia and China are the main actors, that reinforces the tendency towards expansion of the permanent imperialist war to key areas from a strategic and economic point of view. Moreover, today, every war, even when they demonstrate strong local characteristics like the one in Lebanon, are part and parcel of inter-imperialist conflicts. Hezbollah shows this by pursuing its internal political objectives (and not just internal) as long as it has the support of Iran and Syria, that are themselves under the protective wing of China, Russia and even Europe which, thanks to the Rome Conference, has seized the occasion to insert itself fully in the Middle-East intrigue. After Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, tomorrow it could be the Gulf of Guinea, South America or any other area of strategic interest.

More then ever in the present historical phase, capitalism, with its convulsions can only create permanent wars, hunger and growing misery for the great majority of the world’s population. That is why the reconstruction of the revolutionary party is always more necessary and urgent. A party capable of leading the masses of the proletariat away from the influence of bourgeois ideology in general and in the Middle-East context, away from the sirens of nationalism, in whatever forms it presents itself: lay, progressive, Zionist or Islamic fundamentalist. A party which will work towards the revolutionary solution which alone can put a stop to the barbarity of capitalism in crisis.

The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party - August 1st, 2006

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