Lebanon: The Next War Won’t Be Just a Civil War

CWO Introduction

We are publishing here an article by our comrades in Battaglia Comunista analysing last summer’s war between Israel and Lebanon. Since it was written, the crisis in Lebanon has taken a new turn. During the war against Israel, the various Lebanese factions of the bourgeoisie rallied to each other in resistance to Israel - unlike in 1982 during the first invasion, when Christian militias were unleashed by Sharon’s Israeli Defence Force on the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila.

But, as in 1982, the war against Israel has become a precursor of what appears at first sight to be just a mcivil war. In 1982, the Shia militias of Amal eventually went on the offensive against the Palestinians and began the process of driving the Palestinians from Lebanon. Today the battle lines are even more complex. The main beneficiaries of the Lebanese resistance to Israel was Hezbollah, whose fighters did the dying and inflicted the most casualties on the Israelis since the Lebanese Army was in no condition to fight. Riding high on their “victory”, Hezbollah demanded a greater say in the coalition Government of Fouad Siniora. When Siniora refused, their ministers resigned from the Government and together with Christian allies under the leadership of General Aoun they have begun a campaign of strikes and demonstrations to bring down the Siniora Government.

But this is not just a Lebanese conflict. As the article below says, and as our statement issued during the war “Two Levels of the Lebanese Crisis” stated, this is also an imperialist war of position in the Middle East which involves outside powers. Behind Hezbollah and its Christian allies stands Iran and Syria. Behind Siniora (a Sunni Muslim) and his Christian allies stand the USA and the EU. With Lebanon’s post-war debts at a “crippling” £26 billion pounds (i.e., 180% of GDP), and much of the infrastructure in ruins after Israeli bombing, the West organised a donor conference in Paris on January 25th which pledged $7.6 billion to the Siniora Government. This money will come from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states (which support a Sunni regime against the Shia of Iran), the IMF, the European Investment Bank as well as direct aid from the EU and the USA.

However, the aid is linked to support for the Siniora Government’s economic reforms which are rejected by Hezbollah. It is also unlikely that the money can be paid in the present chaos which has hit Beirut. This may be the calculation behind Hezbollah’s campaign to overthrow the Siniora Government and get new elections which they believe would give them more than the 40% of vote which they now have. They may be right. Contrary to Western propaganda, Hezbollah is a politically sophisticated operation which acts as the social support of Shia Muslims in South Lebanon. In a state where there is no such support this is a priceless asset (and was the same strategy as that of the Mullahs in Iran under the Shah).

In the violence on Thursday January 25th the four killed were all from Hezbollah as were many of the 200 wounded. Some were shot by the Christian militia of the famously murderous Samir Geagea, who also turned his fire on the pro-Syrian Christian supporters of General Michel Aoun as they attempted to set up roadblocks in support of the strike. Predictably, the USA ignored this evidence and denounced Hezbollah as the authors of the violence. Such denunciations only served to boost Hezbollah support. As Lebanon stands on brink of a new civil war (the last one from 1975-90 cost 150 000 lives), there is not one force with which the proletariat can identify. All of the factions in the field are bourgeois and equally so. And these factions, whatever independent aims they may have, are no free agents either but dependent on the support of one or other imperialist state. The fire that is consuming every state from Lebanon to India does not just have local causes and the article which follows provides the backdrop to explain this continuing world disorder.

The Second Invasion of Lebanon

From Prometeo, Series VI, no 14, December 2006

Now the war is over, the cost is being counted. Entire villages in Southern Lebanon have been razed to the ground. 1500 are dead, of which 1200 were civilians, 420 are dead in the Gaza Strip which has partly been militarily re-occupied. The ostensible cause of the fighting, Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers, still remains. Israel’s second invasion of Lebanon, however, is the result of a much more complicated scenario. It was prepared well in advance and orchestrated with the strategic collaboration of American imperialism.

There were three principal objectives for this nth Israeli military operation.

The encirclement syndrome

Much against its will, the Olmert Government found itself in the uncomfortable and, according to some, dangerous position of being present at the political rise of Hamas in the occupied territories, and of Hizbollah in Lebanon. The fact that the two political forces have arrived at power, or hold political weight in their respective governments, through the electoral process, doesn’t only change things but makes them more serious because the elections have not only shown the anger of the Palestinians, but a part of the Lebanese electorate have also seen in the Party of God their only (even if this is not true) hope in the confrontation with the arrogance of the Tel Aviv government.

Israel had no doubts. Furnishing the usual justification of the struggle against Islamic terrorism, good sauce for all the faithful, it aimed to take Hezbollah off the streets in South Lebanon, force the Siniora Government to collaborate in ethnic cleansing, create economic and political problems for the Hamas Government, all in order to remove dangerous forces from its own borders which could have endangered Israel’s immediate and strategic objectives. The plans certainly included the aim of creating a new security zone in South Lebanon, to turn the neighbouring country into a sort of politico-military protectorate to use as a bank of encirclement around Syria and Palestine.

In contrast to the invasion of the Spring of 1982, the operation had greater scope and even more pressing necessity. We are not just talking about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine fighters, the unwelcome guests of the Gemayel Government, and creating a security zone dozens of kilometres deep, but of physically destroying all the Arab forces in Lebanon, Palestine and any other country which represented an immediate or future danger. At the same time it was also to send a warning to Syria and Iran to end all form of hostilities, and to stop all forms of financial and military aid to the terrorist Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Occupied Territories

The profound crises created by this second invasion of Lebanon allowed Israel to achieve some important objectives,. In the first place, it has hidden the virtual military reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. The overlapping of these military actions has allowed it to move to a new level now that a second front has been opened. The Israeli military operations are also aimed at the physical elimination of the Palestinian Government. There have been at least 200 civilian victims in the Gaza Strip, all the finances to the civil and administrative structures of the new government have been blocked, creating a tragic crisis situation amongst the Palestinian population, whilst Gaza has witnessed the return of the armoured cars of the Tel Aviv army. The undeclared objective was the economic annihilation of the Hamas Government in order to give new life to the asthmatic rule of Fatah, and its most trustworthy and acceptable representative, Abu Mazen.

The regional crisis which would follow an invasion of Lebanon would either postpone, or immediately cancel, the agreements already signed on the restoration of the occupied territories.. On many occasions, the Olmert Government before, during and after the military operation declared that there would be no restitution of territory, and no negotiations, on the same grounds they always resort to: that one does not talk to terrorists and, especially not to Hamas, which does not even recognise the right of Israel to exist. It was a chance that couldn’t be missed, an opportunity to be exploited to the utmost. Leaving aside the wall, built for the use and consumption of the settlers and those strategists of a Zionist state, in case they had to give back something to the Palestinians, the distancing of the restitution of the West Bank to Biblical times, or more precisely its non-restitution, leaving the question at the usual undecided status quo, would have been a great masterpiece of the diplomacy of force.

Amongst the territories that would not be given back were the Golan Heights - taken from Syria as long ago as 1967. This territory is of vital importance for Israel’s strategic defence because on it depends the security of the border with Syria, and because it is rich in water, the control of which allows Israel to irrigate the areas near the border, as well as those further down the valley.

The oil question

It’s well known that Israel does not have a drop of oil beneath its soil. After the restoration of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, required as a condition of the Camp David Accords, the only oil wells it had for free exploitation were restored to their rightful owners. From then on Israel has depended 100% on foreign oil for its energy needs, both for civilian enterprises, and for its military. It has racked its brains to find a better solution to the serious and increasingly urgent problem of supply. Before the invasion of Iraq - when American expectations of a rapid solution to the conflict gave US imperialism hope of better managing existing, and yet to be discovered, oil sources - Israel had requested that the oil pipeline which carried oil from Northern Iraq to Palestine, and which was closed at the birth of the Zionist state in 1948, be reopened. This would have been the solution to all its problems. An Iraq under US control would mean a guaranteed energy supply, the possibility of low cost oil exploitation and security of supply under the domination of its powerful ally. These expectations were, however, to be disappointed. The USA is still sunk in the sand by the Iraqi opposition groups, the oil extracted is less than that which Saddam Hussein was pumping from the wells under sanctions, and, for Israel the option of the reopening of the pipeline still remains a desirable objective, but it is not on now, and will be practically difficult for the immediate future.

The other option, which in some way concerns the war in Lebanon, is the coming on stream in July this year of the Baku pipeline which carries oil to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It is a multinational pipeline with BP leading the line-up which includes all the major petroleum companies, including ENI (Italy) and a couple of US companies. The Israeli project would be to build an underwater link from Ceyhan directly to Israel, and thus bypassing Syria and Lebanon. If the objective were practicable in the short-term, the second peace operation in Galilee would sound a warning to the coastal governments not to interfere in the construction of the link, and to prepare for the Israeli fleet to patrol that arm of the sea, once construction is complete. It would therefore deter those hostile or untrustworthy countries from putting obstacles in the way of the oil policy of the Olmert Government. Obviously the game hasn’t yet started but Israel has already selected the table and the cards which have to be dealt out. As usual it has done this through military force aiming to hit three targets with one shot. Israel’s US ally is in the game, both to please the one sure friend it has in the region, and because the crisis created by the Lebanese war revives US imperialist ambitions in the area, above all against Iran.

A chance US imperialism could not miss

Since the Khomeinist Revolution of 1979, Iran has been permanently in the black book of US imperialism. The question of Islamic fundamentalism has never been the issue. In losing Iran, the Washington Government lost a key and trustworthy anti-Soviet ally in Central Asia, as well as easy access to a secure supply of oil. Secular, democratic and “progressive” governments which had nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism have also ended up in the USA’s black book, and under its iron heel, for similar economic and strategic interests.

Two examples stand out. When, in 1953, Mossadeq came to power in Iran and began to distance it from the USA, he nationalised the oil enterprises, stating that the US “seven sisters” would get the same treatment as the other international oil companies in regard to prices and contracts. The CIA organised a coup d’etat against him, bringing back to power the absolute monarchy of the Pahlavi family. Twenty years later, in Chile, oil wasn’t involved but the economic interests of ITT were, especially with regard to the proposed nationalisation of the copper mines by the offending Allende Government. As a potential partner for the USSR the same thing happened to him. Today it’s the same with the Ahmadinejad Government in the sights of Bush’s regime, not because it is characterised as fundamentalist, nor even because the current Iranian President is pursuing the nuclear road. Iran is in the gunsights of US imperialism for a whole series of complex reasons which go from the failure of the recent campaigns in Afghanistan and in Iraq, to the ever precarious role of the dollar, that universal coefficient of all international transactions, oil included, to the dynamic of the recomposition of international imperialist alliances, which are most significant in Central Asia. Iran is geographically and economically at the centre of this international nexus which bourgeois analysts have euphemistically defined as “the great game”. What has all this got to do with the war in Lebanon? There is a link, even if the threads which join these complicated international scenarios are almost invisible.

The invasion of Lebanon was not planned by Washington and Tel Aviv just to satisfy the needs of the mini-imperialist Zionist state. American endorsement was not granted simply to please its Middle Eastern ally. The Bush Government calculated that the Israeli military operation, carried out in the name of opposition to Islamic terrorism and fundamentalism, would provide a further opportunity to resume their aggressive policy against the nuclear fundamentalist, Ahmadinejad. In this role-play, the Lebanese crisis served to support both Israeli perspectives for the Middle East and the troubled pursuit of American objectives in Central Asia.

After the disastrous failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has become the main strategic priority. For American imperialism things are getting worse on all sides. Its total debt ($35 billion) continues to rise. Not a single item of its economic activity is in the black. Its energy needs (oil and natural gas) from abroad are around 70% of the total. Russia and China are concluding agreements on oil, military matters, and trade with the Central Asian countries and thus progressively undermining the US presence in the area. Venezuela, Iran, Libya, China, and Russia itself, prefer to exchange their oil and military goods in euros and no longer in dollars. Iran and Venezuela announced in a joint declaration in March 2006 to quote the price of oil in euros in their respective stock exchanges. Sven Arild Andersen, director of the Norwegian Stock Exchange, has proposed a feasibility study to do the same thing in Norway. Furthermore the two Asian giants have begun to diversify their foreign exchange holdings by selling dollars for euros. Saudi Arabia has done the same. The Gulf States also sell dollars in order to buy European goods. The Governor of the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates, Sultan al Suweidi, announced last March that he was converting its exchange holdings by selling 10% of its dollars for euros. Finally, the Asian Bank for Development considered it timely to warn its clients of danger of an imminent collapse of the dollar and that they many be forced to diversify dollar holdings by adopting a local currency, the Acu, based on the European experience of the euro.

All of this is putting the dollar’s rule, on which the USA has depended for decades for the parasitic expropriation of surplus value to support its huge deficits and to continue to play a hegemonic imperialist role. The imperialist reformation of Europe, Russia and China, though fraught with contradictions, is taking place, and goes from money markets (the key role of the euro against the dollar), through the oil market (Russia has become, for oil and gas taken together, the world’s leading energy producer) and to trade (where China is becoming the first point of reference). In 1999, before the entry of the euro on to the world’s money markets, 92% of goods were traded in dollars. Today that has fallen to 60%. At any other time Iran would have been the object of constant military attention by the US Army (which was in fact planned but has had to be postponed) if it were not bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq and if the opposition of the other imperialist poles was not so determined. Russia and China have not even minimally considered the economic and military sanctions against Iran proposed at the UN several times by the Bush Government. On the contrary they have stepped up trading links and strategies that give Iran a breathing space. For the time being the USA is forced to look on from the sidelines. Its calls for sanctions have the aim of creating problems for the present regime in Tehran in order to help pro-Western opposition forces bring about some internal collapse. Ever in a hurry, and always expecting to hit its immediate target directly, the Bush Government aims to make relations between Iran and the Asian rivals of the US impossible. Faced with its own impotence in achieving its objective, the Bush Government think that the same obstacles also stand in the way of the other imperialist poles and so all the US has to do is wait and see.

The central strategic importance of Iran has recently increased with the results of the latest energy prospects in Afghanistan. In March, the US Geological Survey and the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Industry discovered that Afghanistan’s energy resources are considerable. According to the results the new resources in the North of the country hover between 3.6 and 36.5 thousand billion cubic metres of natural gas, with an average of 15.7 thousand billion cubic metres. The estimates for oil go from 0.4 to 3.6 billion barrels (average 1.6 billion). The estimates for natural gas oscillate between 126 and 1325 millions of barrels (average 562). These new estimates represent a twenty-fold increase in the potential oil reserves and triple those for natural gas. If we take into account that Afghanistan was formerly vital for the US’ energy strategy only as a territory through which pipelines could pass, such as the one from Kazakhstan which would carry oil and natural gas to Pakistan on the Indian Ocean, we can see just how much the economic and strategic importance of Afghanistan in the area has increased. This explains why the Bush Government, although in military difficulties, maintains US personnel on the ground (20 000 men support the Kharzai Government), with the added presence of other NATO troops under US overall command.

What links Iran to the recent energy discoveries in Afghanistan is the struggle between the US and the Asian imperialisms to build and control the major supply and trade routes of oil and natural gas in Central Asia. Amongst the various projects, there is an Iranian one to build a pipeline (IPI), which would go from Iran and through Pakistan to India. If it were built, Iran would be putting itself forward as one of the central players in the export of oil and natural gas. In addition, the Ahmadinejad Government has not fully given up the old project, dating back to the 1990’s, of building a pipeline, if only in a cartel with Russia, to bring oil and gas from Kazakhstan to the Persian Gulf. Russia likes the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) Project so much at this point that Gazprom has proposed to finance its construction. Even China has given its assent. After China signed an accord with the Kazakh Government to build a pipeline to carry oil from the Tenghiz basin to the coast of the Sea of China, the IPI project plans a link which would carry natural gas to Beijing. It would make Iran not only an Asian lynchpin in the control and export of energy resources but also a staunch ally of Russia and China. Further, it would completely exclude American imperialism from the game, and this isn’t a secondary issue as Iran, like its Asian partner, trades in euros and not in dollars, thus threatening the basis of Washington’s parasitism.

The other project, on which the US response is based, is the construction of a pipeline from Turkmenistan carrying natural gas to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan (TAP). The route, as can be seen passes through countries allied to the USA (except Turkmenistan) and would attempt to undermine the Russian monopoly of Asian energy sources and isolate the Iranian enemy, forcing it into a limited, almost domestic activity.

Imperialist regroupment is making great strides. The deep fault lines which imperialism opens occur on all the international markets. One of these fault lines is in Central Asia, where the competition for control and use of the primary energy resources, over the role of foreign exchange, over the control of trade, etc., leads to various pressures on the region’s governments, through corruption when it is opportune, and through war when it is needed.

From the Middle East to the Chinese border, the theatre of conflict is almost continuous. Syria and Iran are at the same time the objects of American aggression and the defensive bulwarks of Russian interests. Russia and China on one side and the USA on the other contend for the favours of India. The two Asian powers are allied together against the US in Central Asia (the military proof of which came in August 2005 when, in conjunction with the other ex-Soviet Republics they put pressure on the US to dismantle the military bases it had established there after September 11th 2001). South America is taking an anti-American turn headed by Venezuela exchanging military supplies for euros. The USA, through its secret services and NATO, undermines Russian influence in Georgia and the Ukraine by supporting civil wars and more or less organised coup d’états.

There runs an almost direct thread between the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the American pressure on Iran. The imperialist scenario is the same, the objectives being pursued at all costs are obvious but the lying justifications based on self-interest which go against all the evidence, are boringly repeated. These wars are the tragic backgrounds against which the manipulations between the old Western looters of the planet, and new imperialisms which are attempting to regroup, are played out. At the centre of it all is an international capitalist crisis which exacerbates competition, imposes ever greater sacrifices on the proletariat and creates death and barbarism in the areas of highest tension at an alarming rate.

Collateral damage

The devastating ferocity of the pursuit of imperialist interests leaves behind butchery, cluster bombs, radioactive waste and hundreds of thousands of civilian victims. Bourgeois commentators euphemistically define these victims, who are all proletarians, directly or indirectly involved in this barbarous warfare, and who daily make up these tragic statistics, as collateral damage. In the current state of things the political condition of the proletariat living within the Islamic areas which are today where imperialism is most active, is completely locked in a conservative, if not reactionary, cage by national political forces.

If the bourgeoisie itself is not directly involved in particular war episode the iron control of the proletariat is carried out in the name of a false secularism or a true theocracy. In some cases things are mixed in form but the repressive nature remains the same. In Syria, the secular republic of Bashir Al Assad is inspired by the Alawi faith and has the proletariat, which has been politically decapitated for so long that it lie politically defenceless, under its iron heel. In Lebanon before the Israeli invasion, the proletariat, like the rest of the population, lived in various political-religious branches of the national bourgeoisie. During the invasion, the proletariat, whether Shi’ite, Sunni, Druse, or even Christian, were drawn towards the fundamentalist nationalism of Hezbollah. In Iraq the proletariat, though combative in the critical sectors of the economy such as oil, chemicals and manufacturing, has been involved in the war according to the demands of the various sectors of the bourgeoisie. The Sunnis are mainly nationalist and partisan against the presence of armies of occupation. The Shi’ites are divided between the collaborationist bourgeoisie and the other element of nationalist resistance to the invaders, but in opposition to the Sunnis. In Iran things are little better, but only because the US has not yet decided on armed intervention and operates only via political and economic pressure. Nevertheless, the Ahmadinejad regime has succeeded in imposing its frame of reference on the proletariat in the name of defending the nation, which has to be defended at any cost, even with their lives.

In all these cases all the proletarian elements remain tied up in a bourgeois straitjacket. In the name of religion of whatever faith, in the name of secularism or the defence of the nation, it is always the bourgeois frame of reference which dominates. The national bourgeoisie, as justification for its necessity to rule, from time to time invokes the ultimate nationalist abuse; the anti-imperialist struggle, thus distinguishing between a good capitalism and a bad capitalism, a capitalism which is an aggressor, and one which has the right to defend itself. Within this schema, they never raise the question of the class struggle and the emancipation of the proletariat, which is the only real response to the barbaric climate created by war. Struggle against imperialism is sacrosanct, but not in the interests of our own bourgeoisie, which always has to be resisted. Nor does the path to the revival of the class struggle pass through a scenario in which tactical support is given to one or other faction of the bourgeoisie. Bourgeois factions are conservative of necessity, and reactionary when the situation demands it, and they are always anti-working class. This is even more true if a bourgeois faction is inspired by any form of religious fundamentalism. If it is true that the class struggle is the only antithesis to bourgeois nationalism and the barbarism of imperialist war, it is also true that the class struggle either must attempt to break the vicious circle of capitalist contradictions which are at the heart of national egoism and imperialist wars of aggression, or these latter forces will develop a new series of massacres in a scenario of unending barbarism.

Fabio Damen

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