Lebanon: Israeli defeat ushers in a new middle east
The most recent 34-day war between Israel, backed to the hilt by Anglo-US imperialism, and the Lebanese resistance, Hizbollah, concluded with an uneasy and fragile truce on 14 August following a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. This war has been a most humiliating defeat for Israeli Zionism and its chief backers, US and British imperialism, and put paid to their schemes for control and domination of the entire Middle East region and beyond. It has redrawn the political map of the Middle East and prepared the conditions for the emergence of a new Middle East free from imperialist bullying and brigandage, free from Zionist aggression and free from the vice-like grip of the barbarously medieval autocracies and unaccountable dictatorial regimes – a Middle East of democracies which utilises the enormous wealth of the region for the welfare and prosperity of its peoples rather than allow it to be looted by imperialism and its local puppets and stooges. In view of this, its significance, it is worth looking closely at this war, the devastation brought by it upon the people of Lebanon (and Palestine), the aims of the warring parties and the policy pursued by them during the course of the war, the results achieved by each of the antagonist, and the likely future course of events.
During this war, thousands of round-the-clock sorties flown by the Israeli air force attacked everything in sight for 34 days – from12 July to 14 August. From Hizbollah rocket launch sites to hospitals, power stations, bridges, roads, residential districts, schools, petrol stations and fuel depots, factories, farms, telecommunications, ports and Beirut airport, food warehouses and a milk plant, farms, construction sites, water and sewerage facilities and infrastructure, were targeted and destroyed in the Nazi-style indiscriminate bombing by the Israeli air force. Every moving vehicle, every relief convoy and every ambulance was a target of the present-day Nazis. Even funeral processions were not exempt. Supply routes were cut and roads dug up by the massive Israeli bombing. Entire villages and towns were razed. Southern Beirut, Nabatiyeh, Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon and Baalbek, among other places, were specially targeted by the Israeli air force. Ancient Roman temples in Baalbek were badly damaged in the Israeli bombing. Even the UN observer post was not spared: ignoring all warnings, the Israeli air force bombed a Unifil post, killing four of its personnel, obliging UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan, a mild-mannered stooge of imperialism, to accurse Israel of “deliberately” targeting the UN. “This co-ordinated artillery and aerial attack on long-established and clearly marked UN post at Khiam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by prime minister Ehud Olmert that UN position would be spared Israeli fire”, he said.
The EU condemned the attack as unacceptable. These “…so-called precision attacks seem to be mainly targeting everyone else except the Hizbollah”, said Erkki Tuomioja, foreign minister of Finland, which holds the EU Presidency (see Financial Times, 27 July 2006).
Israel’s massive bombardment of Lebanon by land, sea and air was nothing short of a total and indiscriminate war against the people of Lebanon, making no distinction between military and civilian targets, obliging Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader, to say that if “…the enemy’s aggression is without limits and Red lines, our resistance shall also be without limits and Red lines”. Dan Halutz, Israel’s fascistic chief of staff, made the chilling threat to “turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years” – the only palpable result achieved by the Israeli armed forces and their imperialist backers, which shall cover them in eternal ignominy and mark them out as the war criminals of the Hitlerite mould. Such was the scale of Israeli bombardment, devastation and killing in Lebanon (as well as in Palestine) that even the UN human rights chief, Louise Arbour, was compelled to say that these actions “…could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control”. The duty to protect civilians during hostilities, she said, was clearly laid down in international criminal law “which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity” (see Financial Times, 20 July 2006).
As part of this total war on the Lebanese people, Israel imposed a complete blockade on the country by sea, air and land – a blockade which continues to exist despite the UN-dictated ceasefire. By the time the ceasefire came into effect on the morning of 14 August (5 a.m. GMT), 1,200 Lebanese – overwhelmingly civilian and a third of them children – lay dead, 4,000 suffered injuries. In addition, Lebanon’s economy and infrastructure lay in ruins – with 130,000 houses destroyed, 80 bridges blown up and a million Lebanese, accounting for a quarter of the population, rendered homeless. Lebanon was expecting 1.6 million tourists, who contribute 12.5% to the Lebanese GDP. The war has put paid to this source of Lebanese revenues. It is also likely to hurt capital inflows from the Gulf’s Arab states which reached $2 billion (£1.1 billion) last year. All in all, it is reliably estimated that Lebanon’s economic losses would be of the order of $9 billion.
And yet, for all this destruction, and the attacks on Shia, Christian and Sunni areas as well, Israelis “… still barely laid a glove on Hizbollah” (Financial Times, 22 July 2006). When Israel ordered the entire population of south Lebanon up to the Litani river to vacate the area and declared the entire area to be a free fire zone, the Financial Times was alarmed to say that these Israeli actions could only further boost support for Hizbollah, as had happened following the 1982 Israeli invasion. “The Shia militia will also welcome a rematch with the Israelis on the mountainous guerrilla terrain where it beat them before”, said the Financial Times, adding that “Israel is therefore well on the way to defeating its aims, as well as dragging the sullied reputation of its American ally through the Lebanese mud” (Leading article, 22 July 2006).
On 30 July, the Israeli bombardment flattened a 3-storey building in Qana, massacring 56 civilians, 37 of them children – all buried alive. The massacre caused an outrage throughout the world and stiffened the spine of the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, who publicly praised Hizbollah and informed the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, that he was no longer prepared to conduct negotiations before a ceasefire, forcing Ms Rice to cancel a trip to Beirut and return to Washington, her attempts to force some sort of humiliating deal on Lebanon in ruins. “There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres,” said Mr Siniora, adding by way of grateful thanks to Hassan Nasrallah and his Hizbollah fighters, “I also thank all those who sacrifice their lives for the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon” (see Financial Times, 31 July).
Hizbollah fighters put up heroic resistance against the Israeli air, land and sea assault – the kind of resistance which, although expected, the Israeli military and political leadership in their racist arrogance had not bargained for. The Lebanese resistance answered wanton Israeli bombardment by launching Katyusha rockets across the border into Israel, hitting many Israeli towns, especially Haifa, the third largest Israeli town, forcing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to flee the area and obliging a million of them to spend their nights in bunkers and air raid shelters – thus giving the Zionists a taste of the conditions of existence to which they regularly subject the Lebanese and Palestinian people. On Sunday 16 July, a rocket attack on Haifa claimed the lives of 8 Israelis. During the war, every day, Hizbollah fighters fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, firing the most (in excess of 250) on the last day of the war. In total, they unleashed over 3,000 Katyushas into Israel. The Israeli army, with all its sophisticated weaponry, electronic surveillance and intelligence gathering, proved powerless to stop these attacks.
Knowing full well that Israel, with US backing, was preparing this war (of this more further anon), Hizbollah had made thorough preparations to resist Israeli aggression. It had built up a store of weapons which would allow it to sustain the flow of its missile attacks on Israel for at least several months. Its stockpile of Katyushas is reliably estimated to amount to 13,000. In addition, it demonstrated its increasing sophistication in the use of this weaponry, particularly in the use of C-802 silkworm cruise missiles, which are equipped with an anti-jamming capacity and can be fired from land or sea. It was one of these missiles which, to the shock of the Israeli army, hit and destroyed an Israeli warship off Beirut on 14 July. The lethal attack on the Israeli corvette blockading Beirut, in which 4 Israeli sailors were killed and the ship was set ablaze, was a stark proof of the military capabilities and sophistication of the Hizbollah resistance movement. Nearly a month into the war, the Financial Times wrote that “…Hizbollah rockets [are] striking northern Israel with undiminished intensity four weeks after Israel launched its war in Lebanon” (Financial Times, 8 August 2006).
When, in preparation for a wider ground offensive, the Israeli army attacked the predominantly Christian town of Marjayoun, east of the Litani river, Hizbollah guerrillas waged fierce battles outside Marjayoun and Khiam, destroying 13 Israeli tanks in the process. On Wednesday 9 August, Israel suffered its biggest losses of the conflict when 15 of its soldiers were killed, mostly by anti-tank missile fire. This followed the deaths of 15 Israelis on Sunday 6 August, through Katyusha rockets falling on Haifa. Twelve of those killed were Israeli reservists. The Israeli army encountered tough resistance when it tried on 26 July to capture the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail, just 4 km inside Lebanon and reported “contained” by the Israeli army the previous day. In the course of the fierce fighting over the control of this town, 9 Israeli soldiers were killed and another 27 wounded. Nasrallah told al-Arabiya television: “We fight a guerrilla warfare … the important thing is what losses we inflict on the Israeli enemy.”
Far-sighted Zionists could see that the war was nothing short of a disaster for Israel. Ran Cohen of the Meretz Party was reported by the Israeli media as telling Ehud Olmert in a closed committee meeting that the Israeli Defence Forces were “drowning in blood” under the direction of Nasrallah; adding that “He [Nasrallah] is directing you, exactly like he determined the quality and timetable of the provocation, and is pulling you and the IDF further and further north into military collisions, for which we will pay with so much blood” (reported in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, see Financial Times, 27 July 2006).
By the time the ceasefire came into effect, 118 Israeli soldiers and 43 civilians had paid with their lives in this imperialist-Zionist carnage. On top of human losses there have been losses of war materiel, with two navy warships badly damaged, two helicopter gunships and two warplanes downed, and 47 tanks and 12 armoured vehicles destroyed.
Strategic and historic victory
As the ceasefire began, in a televised address, Nasrallah told his supporters and the wider Lebanese and Arab masses that Lebanon had achieved a “strategic and historic victory” in a type of war in which big Arab armies had been previously defeated. He went on to say that Hizbollah would start rebuilding damaged and demolished houses as early as this (15 August) morning. Hiabollah activists, meanwhile, handed out flyers to the returning refugees stuck in heavy traffic jams. A huge number of vehicles flew yellow Hizbollah flags with their logo of an upraised Kalashnikov rifle.
Hizbollah’s victory is remarkable in view of the disparity between the armaments of the combatants – Israel and Hizbollah – and the numbers of armed fighters at the disposal of each side – see Table below. What Hizbollah lack in the way of latest machines of war, they make up by the fact that they have the support of the Lebanese population and they are fighting in their own country to defend its honour, independence and sovereignty. By their victorious struggle, the Hizbollah are writing a new glorious chapter in the history of the Arab people’s struggle against colonialism and imperialism. They are clearly indicating to the Arab peoples the road by marching along which a weak people can defeat powerful aggressors, namely, the road of people’s war.
Disproportionate use of force and war crimes
In addition to Louise Arbour, referred to above, authoritative organisations and individuals, with impeccable bourgeois credentials, have condemned Israel’s excessive and disproportionate use of force; some of them have correctly levelled the charge of war crimes against Israel and called for an investigation into its conduct during the war. Jan Egeland, UN emergency relief co-ordinator, accused Israel of violating humanitarian law: “This is destruction of block after block of mainly residential areas. I would say it seems to be an excessive use of force in an area with so many citizens,”, he said in an understatement of the wholesale destruction of residential districts wrought by the barbarous Israeli bombardment (see Financial Times, 24 July, 2006).
Kim Howells, a senior Foreign Office minister, with responsibility for the Middle East, accused Israel of destroying the entire Lebanese nation. Far from subjecting Hizbollah to surgical strikes, he said, Israel was killing Lebanese children. Pointedly he added: “I very much hope that the Americans understand what’s happening to Lebanon. The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people, these have not been surgical strikes.
“It’s very, very difficult to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they’re chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation” (Sunday Telegraph, 23 July 2006).
Howell’s correct and to the point observations proved highly embarrassing for his war-mongering prime minister, Tony Blair, who with characteristic imperialist cynicism has blamed the Lebanese resistance for Israeli war crimes. Hypocritically bemoaning the “tragic and terrible” events in Lebanon, Blair said that “If it is to stop, it has to stop by undoing how it started, and it started with the kidnap of Israeli soldiers,” adding that it was “… unhelpful to give succour to those elements applauding Hizbollah’s actions by making injudicious statements publicly”. This bloodthirsty spokesman of British imperialism ‘forgot’ to add that there are dozens of Lebanese patriots, in addition to the 10,000 Palestinians, rotting in Israeli jails – some of them having been there for nearly 30 years.
Mark Mazower, a Columbia University professor, writing in the Financial Times of 17 July, accused Israel of violating the Fourth Geneva Convention which outlaws collective punishment and reprisals against non-combatants. He said: “First in Gaza and now in southern Lebanon, the Israeli army has abandoned Geneva’s restraints, retaliating against the kidnapping of its soldiers by blowing up power plants, oil refineries, airports and roads”.
In a report released on 23 August, Amnesty International accused Israel of war crimes, as the destruction of 130,000 Lebanese homes and its basic infrastructure “was an integral part of the military strategy” and asked the UN to open a “comprehensive, independent and impartial inquiry” about the 34-day war. The losses inflicted by Israeli forces were not just “collateral damage” under the accepted rules of war, it said.
Israel made use of cluster bombs on an excessive scale. Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief coordinator, described their use as an outrage, saying that there were 100,000 unexploded bombs, which are now likely to be trodden on by children, women, civilians, shopkeepers and farmers. Their use by Israel, he said, was “shocking and immoral”, adding that 90% of the cluster bomb strikes took place in the last 72 hours of the conflict. Clearly the idea behind it was to inflict further collective punishment on the Lebanese people. Already at least 9 civilians have been killed by unexploded ordinance and 61 people have been wounded, says the UN centre. And at least 5 Lebanese soldiers have also been killed clearing munitions. Farmers in many areas are suffering as well.
Why Hizbollah captured Israeli soldiers
Following Israeli violations of the ceasefire with Hamas, and the killing of dozens of Palestinians, especially the massacre on 9 June of the Ghalia family while picnicking on a Gaza beach, the Palestinian resistance attacked the border post of Karem Shalom on 25 June, killing two Israeli soldiers and capturing one – Corporal Gilad Shalit. Israel responded by a massive assault and re-invasion of Gaza. It destroyed a power station, reducing electricity supplies to no more than 8 hours a day and clean water supplies to 2 hours a day – in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, 78% of whose people live in poverty. In the 10 weeks up to 15 August, Israel has done to death more than 200 Palestinians, conducted 274 air raids, and done damage worth $30 million.
While all this was going on, not a single Arab state lifted a finger. As Israel stepped up its offensive in Gaza, the same day Hizbollah fighters opened a new front in the Middle East by launching one of their most daring attacks, killing 8 Israeli soldiers and capturing an additional 2 in a raid and the clashes following it. The timing and the scale of the attack clearly indicate that it was aimed at reducing pressure on the Palestinians by forcing Israel to fight on two fronts simultaneously. While Israel blamed the Lebanese government for Hizbollah’s attack, and the Lebanese government denied all responsibility for an action of which it had no prior knowledge and which it had not endorsed, the masses of people in Lebanon and other Arab countries reacted with enthusiasm and jubilation. Fed up with, and revolted by, the impotence of the Arab governments and the latter’s inability to come to the aid of the beleaguered Palestinians, the masses in the Arab streets cheered Hizbollah for stepping forward to redress the balance of power.
Far form shying away from Hizbollah’s responsibility, its leader, Nasrallah, claimed that his movement had acted in defence of Lebanon. At a news conference in Beirut, he stated that his fighters had driven Israeli forces out of Lebanon in 2000 and could kick them out again. He went on to say that the capture of the 2 Israeli soldiers was designed to draw attention to the plight of Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli concentration camps, adding that “…the prisoners in our hands will not return to Israel except through indirect negotiations and the exchange of prisoners” (Financial Times, 13 July).
Further, since the withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon a year ago, the pro-western Lebanese government, at the behest of US imperialism, has been putting pressure on Hizbollah to disarm. The conflict with Israel has put paid to that pressure, for Hizbollah is the only shield protecting Lebanese sovereignty against Israeli brigandage.
Israel’s refusal to engage in negotiations for the exchange of prisoners (something which it has done several times before, most recently in 2004), and its opting instead to engage in a brutal war of destruction, suggests that the decision to wage this war had been made months earlier, in close consultation with the US authorities.
The real reason
With the full backing and prior knowledge of US imperialism, Israel went on to wage an all-out war of destruction against Lebanon. While the pretext for this war was the capture of 2 Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah on 12 July and the freeing of these soldiers was given as the casus belli, the real reason for this war – which had been meticulously prepared jointly by the US and Israel months in advance of the capture of the Israeli soldiers, was to crush the Hizbollah resistance movement and disarm it, to impose a US-Israeli peace on the Lebanese government, as a prelude to the intimidation of, and possibly a military attack on, Syria or Iran, or both. With the departure of the Syrian troops from Iraq last year, following the US-orchestrated so-called cedar revolution, the US believed that the ground had been well prepared. All it was waiting for was a pretext to move in. This pretext presented itself with the capture by Hizbollah of the two Israeli soldiers. What is more, it was the belief of the US-Israeli planners that a devastating war of genocidal proportions would turn the Lebanese against Hizbollah by making them blame the latter for its alleged provocation and thus bringing the miseries and destruction of war on them. This accomplished, so the US thinking went, the road was wide open to redrawing the map of the Middle East to suit the interests of US domination of the region. But, as the old saying has it, man proposes, God disposes. Everything has turned out to be just the opposite of what was intended b the criminal architects of this war – US and Israel.
US imperialism allowed this devastating carnage by the Israeli air force to continue for 2 whole weeks before Condoleezza Rice condescended to visit Beirut, Jerusalem and Ramallah. On reaching Lebanon, she stubbornly refused to back the call for an immediate ceasefire, ruling out ‘temporary solutions’ and insisting that a ceasefire must result in an “enduring peace”. It was obviously the hope and expectation of US imperialism that Israeli air power, missile attacks on the centres of Lebanese population and commando raids would crush Hizbollah’s resistance. Having deluded itself thus, US imperialism was happy to let the slaughter continue, believing that time was on its side. Precisely for this reason, the 26 July meeting of the foreign ministers of the US, the EU and some Arab countries failed to agree on the call for an immediate ceasefire in the face of US opposition to such a course of action.
As could be foreseen by any reasonably intelligent person, the US was cruelly deluding itself. Events since then have served to expose this delusion. As early as the third day of the war, the Financial Times in its leading article stated the obvious thus:
“The international community [a bourgeois expression denoting a handful of imperialist bloodsuckers] led by a US that had forfeited all legitimacy in the Arab and Muslim world, has allowed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to slide towards a fait accompli in Israel’s favour – a land-grab that will guarantee bloodshed for generations to come.
“And now, a weak Israeli government is allowing the country to be sucked back, or rather suckered back into asymmetric warfare by weaker but wily opponents” (14 July, 2006).
All reactionaries are fools. They lift a rock only to drop it on their own feet. The logic of the system of exploitation almost paralyses their thinking, preventing them from learning from past historical experience. Confining ourselves to Lebanon, in 1978 Israel moved up to the Litani river in Operation Peace for Galilee. Many casualties later, the Israelis had to withdraw “with their tails between their legs after an adverse United Nations resolution” (Gerald Kaufman, The Mail on Sunday, 23 July 2006).
To confirm that there is no peace in Galilee today, one has only to ask the inhabitants of Tiberias hit by Hizbollah’s rockets, as were the citizens of Nazareth, Nhariya, Safed, Hadera and Haifa.
Then, using the attempt by Palestinian gunmen on the life of its ambassador in London as a pretext, Israel launched a full-scale invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to crush the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The results of this invasion, which claimed the lives of at least 19,000 Lebanese men, women and children, were just the opposite of those intended by Israel and the US, with whose blessing Israel had launched its predatory war. Instead of crushing the PLO, the Israeli invasion became the occasion for the birth and growth of Hizbollah. Israel lost the war, and its brutality during this war served further to expose the hideous features of Zionism.
Again in 1996, Israel invaded Lebanon – this time to crush Hizbollah. Instead, the latter emerged much strengthened from this war, while Israel’s image was further besmirched by the savagery of its operations, especially the massacre of refugees at the UN base at Qana. In the end, Israel was humiliatingly driven out of Lebanon in May2000 as a result of a long and heroic guerrilla war waged by Hizbollah.
Yet again, Israel has embarked on a predatory war against Lebanon, using the pretext of the capture of two of its soldiers by Hizbollah on 12 July. That the results this time will be no better for Israel is already clear. Notwithstanding the disproportionality and illegitimacy of its attacks under international law, which prohibits the collective punishment of entire populations, it is patently clear that Israel has lost this latest war, out of which Hizbollah has emerged victorious, its prestige much enhanced throughout the Middle East and beyond. The Financial Times, in a leading article as early as 19 July characterised as a “vain endeavour” the attempt by Israel, backed by the US, to resist UN involvement with the aim of gaining extra time to crush Hizbollah. Today, Israel is in far greater jeopardy, notwithstanding its armed might and, since the building of the apartheid wall, it has managed to confine the Israeli population “within a do-it-yourself ghetto”, as Mr Kaufman puts it most appositely.
Disturbed by the behaviour of the Israeli ruling elite, Mr Kaufman says that the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, “…is either too belligerent or too stupid to face the facts” in Palestine as well as Lebanon. “So others must make him see sense”, adding that the “United States, which subsidises and arms Israel, is best placed to make him see sense”.
He goes on to say that: “Even though he is damagingly influenced by bigoted neo-Conservative advisers and fundamentalism Christians, George W Bush must surely soon realise that his own country’s interests are at stake if this tragedy is allowed to continue” (The Mail on Sunday, 23 July, ‘As a Jew I am grieved to ask the question, but must: will Israel never learn?’).
Mr Kaufman is either unwilling, or unable, to realise that in invading Lebanon this time, as on past occasions, Israel was only doing the US’s bidding in the latter’s attempt to expand and consolidate its domination of the entire region. Indeed, Israel was engaged in a proxy war for US imperialism. The time may come, indeed it must, when brutal wars of the kind waged by Israel no longer serve the interests of US imperialism. When that happens, the political representatives of US imperialism would without difficulty refuse to sanction such behaviour on Israel’s part. Then even the bigoted neo-Conservatives, fundamental Christians and such other unhinged elements would learn to reconcile themselves to the changed reality. However, that time is still in the future.
At the moment, Israel has the unreserved support of the US, for the former is acting entirely in accordance with the latter’s wishes and desires and, most important, in pursuit of the latter’s imperialist interests. After the 26 July Middle East Crisis Summit in Rome, Haim Ramon, the Israeli justice minister, stated that the Rome meeting had given a practical carte blanche to Israel’s offensive against Lebanon. He said that the conference gave “permission from the world…to continue the operation, this war, until Hizbollah won’t be located in Lebanon and is disarmed” (see Daily Telegraph, 28 July).
It is not just the US administration, nor the Republicans alone, who are supporting Israeli aggression against Lebanon and Palestine. The entire political establishment in the US is solidly behind the Israeli war, which is, after all, a war as much on behalf of US imperialism as in furtherance of Israeli colonial and expansionist aims. In the words of the Daily Telegraph of 28 July:
“Democrats and Republicans, liberal chattering classes and conservative evangelicals are as one on Israel, and even newspapers that have been fiercely critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war in Iraq have fallen into line behind the White House.
“Last week the House of Representatives passed a resolution by 410 votes to eight backing Israel against Hizbollah”.
Without US financial, diplomatic, political and military support, Israel would be in no position to wage endless wars against Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab peoples. Indeed, its very existence as a state would be impossible without such support. According to a recent report by the Arms Trade Centre in New York, the US has supplied Israel with 236 F16 and 89 F15 combat aircraft of the type that led the bombardment of Lebanon. In addition, it supplied Israel with 136 attack helicopters, including 40 Apaches used in targeted assassinations of the leaders of the resistance in Palestine, along with unknown quantities of Hellfire, Walleye and Maverick air-to-ground missiles, as well as air-to-air sparrows and sidewinders.
Since the election of George W Bush in 2001, Israel has received more than £9.4 billion’s worth of military aid and equipment. On top of this, Israel has a powerful arms industry of its own, which employs 50,000 people. It produces, among other military hardware, Merkava tanks, which too have proved vulnerable to attacks by the resistance.
RESULTS OF THE WAR
(a) Hizbollah emerges strengthened
The first result of the war is that the Hizbollah resistance, and as a natural extension of it, the national resistance movement of the entire Middle East against imperialism, is today much stronger than before this war. Hizbollah, through its heroic and successful resistance against the murderous Israeli war machine, has re-drawn the map of the Middle East. It is the first time that the Israeli army has been unable to prevail in an all-out war. Far from being isolated from the Lebanese masses, as was the calculation of US imperialism and Israeli Zionism, Hizbollah has emerged as the principal champion of Lebanese national rights, its independence and sovereignty, rallying around it all Lebanese – be they Shia, Sunni or Christian. More than that, Hizbollah’s successful resistance against the Israeli assault is fomenting militancy in the Arab world, where Hizbollah is rightly perceived as the champion of Arab rights, Arab independence and Arab honour.
The Israeli army, used as it was to defeating the combined armies of several Arab states in short sharp wars lasting only a few days, found itself at a loss in dealing with such skilled fighters as those of Hizbollah, who can easily disperse, replace its fighters, then regroup and improve its ambush techniques. Add to this the fearlessness and courage of its fighters who, in close and organic unity with the masses, are defending their motherland against foreign invaders, and you get an organisation which cannot be beaten by the most powerful of armies in the world equipped with the latest killing machines and backed by the marvels of modern science and technology. Thus it was that to the annoyance and frustration of the Zionists and their US imperialist masters, Hizbollah fighters were nowhere and yet they were everywhere. While Israeli forces could not locate and eliminate them through saturation bombardment of vast areas, they turned up surprisingly out of nowhere, as it were, to give battle to the Israeli ground forces, inflict heavy casualties and melt away.
The Lebanese and other Arab peoples are proud of Hizbollah’s successes in standing up to the most powerful army in the Middle East. “We’re proud…” declared Mohamad, a father of five. “My aluminium plant has been ravaged but we’ve finally lifted the heads of the Arabs. What none of the Arab leaders could do – confront Israel – Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is now doing” (Financial Times, 26 July 2006).
The Israeli offensive, far from isolating Hizbollah, merely served to enhance its prestige and confer on its leader, Nasrallah, the status of a hero throughout the entire Arab world and elsewhere. It compelled even his political rivals in Beirut to mobilise against the Israeli onslaught and put aside their annoyance at the party that provided Israel with the pretext for this conflict. To the dismay of the US and Israel, ordinary Lebanese of all denominations have become convinced that Israel, which has a long history of waging bloody wars against Lebanon, is waging war against the whole country – not just the Hizbollah.
Nasrallah, who has enjoyed the status of a hero in the Arab world ever since his fighters drove Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, has soared higher still in the estimation of the Arab masses. Hizbollah’s fighting capacity, its sophistication and tenacity, has won it the enthusiastic approval of its friends and the grudging admiration of its opponents and enemies. It is generally accepted in Lebanese government circles that in the conditions prevailing in the aftermath of the latest war, the disarmament of Hizbollah has become an almost impossible demand. Even the removal of weapons and fighters from a 20 km demilitarised zone north of the Israeli border would prove difficult, unless a face-saving compromise can be worked out. One government official said: “Hizbollah believes it won the war on the ground but now it faces a UN resolution that is aimed at taking away that victory by pushing it out of the south”. Nasrallah has sharply criticised politicians calling for Hizbollah to disarm, accusing them of undermining national unity and lacking respect for those who laid down their lives in defence of Lebanon.
Besides, where are the Hizbollah supporters on the border between Lebanon and Israel supposed to go? “If I am from a village on the border and I’m from Hizbollah, where do you want me to go?” asked Mr Hussein Nabulsi, a Hizbollah official, adding: “we are the children of the south, we are part of the society” (Financial Times, 17 August).
On 14 July, as Hizbollah rockets hit an Israeli battleship blockading Beirut, a defiant Nasrullah made a televised appearance, pledging open war and, in a dramatic moment, calling on people to turn towards the Mediterranean to watch the burning ship. His audience now extends far beyond the borders of tiny Lebanon. By way of reply to harsh Saudi criticism of his ‘reckless adventurism’, Nasrallah stated in a speech that while Arab rulers and governments had failed to move forward the Middle East peace process, the actions of Hizbollah presented a historic opportunity for Arabs to achieve victory against “the Zionist enemy”.
Even rich businessmen, not just the poor from the Shia areas, talk of Hizbollah’s achievements with pride. One business man said: “The sight of two million Israelis driven into bomb shelters in Haifa and elsewhere reminds us of the weeks we spent under curfew and bombardment. People tell me they like Hizbollah because it’s standing up to Israel aggression. At least someone is hitting back” (reported in the Financial Times of 24 July 2006).
Hizbollah’s brave resistance resonates with the occupied and oppressed Palestinian people who extend warm sympathy and wholehearted support to Hizbollah. Wasif Uraiqat, who was Fatah’s artillery commander in Lebanon at the time of the 1982 Israeli invasion aimed at crushing the PLO, and who was wounded 22 times in the battles with the Israeli army, is firmly of the opinion that Hizbollah’s resistance can only benefit the cause of Palestinian resistance: “Anyone who weakens this [Israeli] army”, he says, “benefits everyone and gives a lesson to the Israelis that force will not bring them peace” (Financial Times, 24 July 2006). Indeed, it will be near-impossible for Palestinians, who were at the receiving end of one of the most murderous Israeli assaults in years prior to the latest Lebanese-Israeli war, not to sympathise with Hizbollah.
Writing in the Financial Times of 19 August, Roula Khalef, has this to say in the opening paragraphs of her article on Nasrallah:
“Confronting Israel is a ticket to stardom in the Arab world. Humiliated by repeated military defeats and persistent occupation, and disillusioned by political failures at home, Arabs are hypnotised when someone comes along to challenge the Jewish state and lift their dignity.
“So it should come as no surprise that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s leader, has achieved iconic status across the region over the past month. As his Shia militants eluded Israeli raids, fired rockets deep into Israel and inflicted heavy casualties on the ground, the aura around Mr Nasrallah grew, crossing the sectarian Sunni Shia divide and reaching the mythical status of another hero, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser), (‘Lebanon’s hypnotic icon].
Nasrallah has intelligently exploited his standing with the Arab masses by regular televised speeches from his secret hide-out. In these speeches he paints a picture of his fighters as “heroes writing epics and creating miracles”, reminding his audience that, in frustrating Israeli war aims to crush Hizbollah, his movement had succeeded where the combined strength of the Arab armies had met with miserable failure.
The stiff resistance put up by Hizbollah, combined with Israeli barbarity, served to unite all the Lebanese communities in the common cause of defending Lebanon against Israeli aggression. Shia, Sunni and Christian religious leaders came together and called on the so-called international community “to halt the aggression and lift the unjust blockade”, following a meeting in Bkirki. They also hailed the “resistance, mainly by Hizbollah” (Financial Times, 3 August).
In the battle for the tiny Bint Jbeil, where the Israeli army lost over a dozen soldiers and many tanks, and which lasted over two weeks, Hizbollah fighters displayed their fighting spirit, skill and sophistication, which denied Israel control of this strategic place and inspired the Lebanese people. In the town’s market place, which suffered the worst devastation, one man took a Hizbollah flag from a broken pole, saying “it is a symbol of my country”. Describing himself as a former fighter, the man stated that he had sent his wife and two sons, aged 8 and 12, to Beirut because, he said with pride, they were in Hizbollah’s youth organisation, the Mahdi Scouts, “so that if I am dead, they can continue the fight” (see Financial Times, 24 July).
It is difficult, nay impossible, to defeat people for whom death is a wish rather than a fear.
Hizbollah is not only a military organisation but also a social and a political movement. It has 14 members in the Lebanese parliament and two ministers in the government. It runs a vast network of schools, hospitals and organisations dedicated to the support of the families of fighters killed in action. It was therefore no surprise that just one day after the last day of fighting, on which Hizbollah launched a record number of rockets on Israel to demonstrate its continued military prowess, it moved with surgical efficiency to help the battered, the homeless and the displaced. While its logistics experts were sent out in search for unexploded bombs, Nasrallah appeared on television to state that the party’s construction arm would start construction work with immediate effect; that families whose houses had been destroyed would get compensation to cover a year’s rent and the cost of replacing furniture.
“‘We’re working day and night, taking down names and starting to rebuild’, says Hussein Nabulsi, a Hizbollah official.
“We don’t wait for plans. We were the ones who rebuilt the south after the 1996 Israeli offensive and we will do it again now'” (see Financial Times, 17 August).
Much to the annoyance of Israel, whose prime minister, Olmert, had pronounced the end of Hizbollah’s ‘state within a state’, Hizbollah has emerged from the war much stronger, emboldened and determined to capitalise on its enhanced power and prestige by taking the lead in the work of reconstruction. It has deployed its engineers and disbursed $12,000 (€9,370, £6,320) in cash to families.
Further, capitalising on its victory in the war, Hizbollah officials have called for a reorganisation of the government by the inclusion of General Michel Aoun, a powerful Christian leader and an ally of Hizbollah, in the government – a move that would strengthen its leverage over the Lebanese state and drive yet another nail in the coffin of US plans to reorder Lebanon and the Middle East. General Aoun personally stepped into the debate at the end of August, warning that if the government did not resign “there were other ways to escalate from now on”, an apparent reference to a cedar revolution in the reverse. At a moment when powerful voices in Hizbollah are pointing an accusing finger at elements in the Lebanese government and parliament of siding with Israel during the war, this poses serious problems for Fouad Siniora’s pro-American government.
(b) Emergence of a radical anti-imperialist front
The second effect of this war has been to bolster the strength and prestige of Iran and Syria while forcing pro-imperialist Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian governments into a hasty and humiliating retreat. Until the war, and in the early days of the war, these reactionary puppet regimes were far more concerned with the growing Iranian influence in Iraq, Bahrain and the Saudi north-east than with the plight of the Palestinians or Lebanese. Saudi Wahabbi clerics had issued a fatwa (religious edict) condemning the Shia as heretics. However, they were obliged to beat a retreat after the spectacular Hizbollah victory. The very clerics who had earlier condemned the Shia issued a new fatwa expressing support for Hizbollah in the latter’s fight against Israel.
Something similar has happened at the level of governments. The deadly silence from Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose governments had condemned Hizbollah’s adventurism, blamed it for the start of the war, and were happily expecting Israel to crush Hizbollah, is a sure sign of their embarrassment after their earlier hostility to Hizbollah’s tactics.
Alarmed by Hizbollah’s success, and sensing the mood of the Arab streets, the ruling cliques of Egypt and Saudi Arabia intensified calls for a ceasefire after 2 weeks of complete silence. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia even warned of a wider regional war “if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance”.
The puppet Iraqi regime is alarmed at the effects of the Lebanon war on Iraq, fearing that it would further strengthen the Iraqi resistance and harden still further the anti-American sentiment in Iraq. The Arab masses have come to have nothing but utter contempt for their reactionary rulers who are paralysed by decades of subservience to US imperialism. Demonstrators in Cairo have carried posters bearing the picture of Nasrallah next to that of Gamal Abdel Nasser:
“‘There is a suppressed fury all over the Arab world that has never really translated into action on the part of the public except in Lebanon’, says Mohamed Sayed el Said, analyst at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
“‘[Hizbollah] is the only example of Arabs that can stand for a cause and put up a serious fight and can alarm international public opinion by showing we can answer back. The Saudies and Egyptians are not really willing to see anyone doing that because they have failed to do that themselves”, he said” (Financial Times, 28 July).
The war has brought a coalescence of Arab nationalism, Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, and the Iranian and Syrian regimes into an anti-imperialist front, which is undermining the legitimacy not only of US imperialism and its protégé, Israel, but also of the ruling reactionary Arab regimes from Egypt to Jordan and Saudi Arabia – a front which is beginning to link battlefields from Afghanistan to Lebanon. In the words of the Financial Times, “The Sunni Arab street has embraced Sayyad Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s leader, as the new Arab hero, the ‘Nasser of our time'” (18 August).
In Iraq, where the Shias allied to Iran are part of the government, things are beginning to boil over. At the beginning of the war in Lebanon, hundreds of thousands poured into the streets of Baghdad and southern Iraq in support of Hizbollah. These were not just the followers of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who models his Mahdi army on Hizbollah, but also the followers of the right-wing Sciri. Buses carrying Sadr’s supporters bore pictures of Nasrallah. In the eyes of the Arab masses, the three villains – the Israelis, the US and the reactionary Arab regimes – are ranged on the same side. While Israel was busy destroying Lebanon and killing hundreds of civilians, the US successfully blocked calls for a ceasefire, and the conservative pro-imperialist stooge regimes from the Arab world sat on their hands doing nothing.
Iran is best positioned now to create real difficulties for the US in Iraq. Iran is more than satisfied with the fact that Hizbollah, one of its close allies, has managed to “establish a balance of terror over the Israel-Lebanon border”, or that its friends can pull Iraq down “around America’s ears” if the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme were to turn violent.
(c) US imperialism and Israeli Zionism discredited
Third, the stock of US imperialism has sunk lower than ever before – in the Middle East and elsewhere. Whether or not the US was actively involved in planning Israel’s war, as asserted by Seymour Marsh in the New Yorker, the truth is that Israel received full backing for this savage and predatory assault, as for its prolongation, from US imperialism. By giving blanket approval to this war, US imperialism has only managed to unite Arabs and non-Arabs, as well as Shia and Sunni Arabs, into a common anti-US front. It has managed to strengthen the resistance in Iraq, taken the heat off Iran’s nuclear programme, destroyed the remnants of US credibility as a peace broker between the Palestinians and Israelis, undermined the authority and legitimacy of its stooge regimes in the Middle East, lethally undermined the pro-US Lebanese government, and created new tensions in US-European relations just as they were showing signs of improvement after the fracas over the war in Iraq. Last but not least, it has managed to rouse to fever pitch the hatred of the Arab masses for US imperialism and Israeli Zionism, which in due course is bound to assume volcanic proportions and consume these two inveterate enemies of the Arab peoples. The satellite broadcasts of images of Lebanese, as indeed of Palestinian, women and children crushed under buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment produced limitless revulsion and hatred among the masses in the Arab and wider world. The ruling classes of these two countries are hated more than ever before and are quite rightly seen in the same light as the Hitlerites notorious for blitzkrieg, torture and mass murder. Any possible gain made by the US through giving Israel a free hand to destroy Hizbollah is more than offset by the above-mentioned developments. The US image is hardly helped by the US administration’s rhetoric since the ceasefire of a war against Islamic fascism, when in fact it is the US and Israel which can be justly accused of acting like the fascist powers that they are.
Israel, itself guilty of serial breaches of UN resolutions, arrogated to itself the responsibility for implementation of the Security Council resolution 1559 which calls for Hizbollah’s disarmament. However, through its brutal conduct, combined with its failure to crush Hizbollah, it has transformed the proposition of the disarmament of Hizbollah into a mad Zionist and US imperialist fantasy. Israel has finally and irrevocably lost the war for the hearts and minds of people, who have everywhere been outraged by Israeli massacres. The very high cost in Lebanese (and Palestinian) civilian casualties, unmatched by any quantifiable degradation of Hizbollah’s military capabilities, has exposed the failure of Israel’s air campaign and degraded its value as a deterrent against those engaged in a people’s war. The events on the ground have conspired to enable Hizbollah to gain the upper hand in the propaganda war played out by satellite to the world at large. All Israeli attempts to win friends and frighten off enemies have been completely ineffective.
The Israeli prime minister Olmert’s approval ratings have fallen to 40% from 78% at the height of the war, while that of Peretz, his defence minister, to 28% from 61%, according to a TNS-Teleseker poll published on 14 August. The Israeli public, which cannot come to terms with the fact that an army which defeated the combined military forces of Jordan, Egypt and Syrian in the 6-Day War was unable to subdue a few thousand guerrillas armed with no more than Kalashnikovs, RPG’s and Katyusha rockets, and is clamouring for an explanation and inquiry into the conduct of the war. Some senior figures in Israel have begun even to question the part played by Israel in compliance with the wishes of its US masters. General Yossi Ben-Ari, former Israeli intelligence officer, writing in Ynet, website of the mass-circulation Yedioth Aharonoth, said that Israel should avoid being drawn into an American “honey trap” in which the US used it as a proxy in its regional conflicts with Syria and Iran as part of its ‘war on terror’ (see Financial Times, 25 July).
“Israel’s security predicament may have been enhanced rather than eased by this war”, wrote Lawrence Freedman, professor of War Studies at Kings College, London, adding that “Israel must face the awkward fact that its borders may not be defensible unilaterally through its traditional tough military means”, the “militarization of this struggle largely benefits the radical” resistance movements, especially in the face of “regular Israeli attacks on the wrong targets” (Financial Times, 20 August).
Over a year ago, on 14 March, 2005, US-inspired anti-Syrian demonstrators flooded Beirut’s fashionable district demanding an end to the Syrian military presence in Lebanon. In April 2005, the Syrians left. Dubbed by the imperialist media and politicians ‘the Cedar Revolution’, the demonstrations were portrayed as evidence of a changing Middle East, a setback for the national liberation forces and a proof of the correctness of US imperialism’s efforts, through war, intimidation and mind-numbing propaganda, to reorder the Middle East to suit its agenda of domination and hegemony dressed up as ‘America’s push for freedom’. The continued and daily strengthening of the resistance against the US-led occupation of Iraq, with defeat staring the US in the face, and now the US-instigated Israeli war against the Lebanese people, have dramatically transformed the scene – with the US plans for the region in complete disarray.
Everywhere in the Middle East US policy has met with disaster. In Palestine, the militant Hamas is in power and the moderates have been sidelined. In Iraq every day brings news of fresh disaster for the US whose forces do not control even the heavily-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. In Afghanistan, the 18,000-strong Nato army of occupation has been surprised by the ferocity of the Afghan resistance which, having regrouped and re-equipped, has given up hit-and-run tactics and is engaging the Nato forces in pitched battles with greater vigour than the Nato commanders had anticipated. Since Nato assumed responsibility for ‘stabilising’ the south of Afghanistan on 31 July 2006, dozens of Nato soldiers have been killed. During the month of August, just over two dozen British soldiers have been killed, including the 14 who died in a plane crash which the British army attributes to technical failure, but the Afghan resistance claims to have caused. There is no peace, no prosperity and no progress, except in the area of heroin production, of which Afghanistan is set to produce a record amount of 6,000 tonnes this year. Lt-General David Richards, the British commander of the Nato force, referring to the battles fought by his soldiers against the Afghan resistance, said that it was the worst sustained fighting the British army has had to face since the Korean war between 1950 and 1953 (see Financial Times, 31 July). Clearly, Nato is facing a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan.
Israel’s all-out war against Lebanon has been a dismal failure. All its war aims, declared and undeclared, remain unrealised and it is in the process of being forced into a humiliating retreat. As a result, US plans to dominate Lebanon and other countries have suffered a fatal blow, while the stock of Hizbollah, Iran and Syria has risen to remarkable heights. Israeli barbarity during the war, the wholesale destruction of Lebanon, the mass slaughter of its people, have served to intensify anti-American sentiment to a new height in the region and put US-friendly stooge regimes under great pressure from their own public. Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze community in Lebanon, a stooge of Anglo-American imperialism, and one of the important figures behind the so-called ‘Cedar Revolution’, in an interview with the Financial Times, painted a gloomy picture (gloomy, that is, for his group and his imperialist mentors), saying that today’s Middle East is one of “darkness everywhere”, with “failure in Palestine, failure in Iraq and now this failure in Lebanon” (Financial Times, 4 August 2006).
Mr Jumblatt is right. The Middle East does indeed present a picture of darkness, of gloom and doom – for imperialism and its puppets. But precisely for this reason, it presents a picture of hope, light and progress, a picture of successful defiance against imperialism, for the masses of the area. In the light of the savage war waged b Israel against Lebanon, the coalition which led the 14 March 2005 protests against Syria cannot risk turning against Hizbollah. No wonder Mr Jumblatt is suffering from deep depression, as are his imperialist masters.
What Israel and the US could not achieve on the battlefield, they are trying to achieve through diplomatic means and through the manipulation of the Security Council, which passed resolution 1701 calling for a ceasefire, but which is biased against Lebanon and gives Israel that which it was unable to win in this war. But we are certain that the resistance will see this trick off as well.
A new Middle East is being born through the resistance of the peoples of the area, from Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon to Syria, Iran and Afghanistan – a Middle East of free and sovereign nations free from imperialist bullying, brigandage and exploitation and occupation. The proletariat in the imperialist countries must greet and embrace this new Middle East with boundless enthusiasm, for this anti-imperialist Middle East is a friend and ally of the proletariat in the latter’s struggle for socialism.