Three runways at the airport have been damaged. Israeli aircraft and artillery have also destroyed roads and bridges. The main highway connecting Beirut to the southern Lebanon has also been hit. The excuse being given is that this is to stop the kidnapped Israeli soldiers from being moved around and to cut off supply routes to the Hizbollah guerrillas. Israeli forces have also been targeting TV stations, the homes of guerrilla leaders and members, in some cases even killing young children.
Israel is now threatening to bomb Beirut. In response Lebanese guerrillas have fired rockets at northern Israeli towns, killing at least one Israeli woman in her home in the town of Nahariya. The Hizbollah leaders have now announced that if Beirut is bombed they will bomb Haifa in Israel.
The language of the Israeli government and of the Israeli media leaves no room for doubt about the intentions of the Israeli authorities. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has described yesterday’s Hezbollah raid as an "act of war" by Lebanon. They are putting the responsibility for the attacks on the Israeli border on the shoulders of the Lebanese government. They are demanding that the Lebanese army be posted on the border with Israel to stop the Hizbollah guerrillas, to disarm them. But the Hizbollah militias are not a toy army. They claim to have 10,000 rockets at their disposal.
The Israeli government is playing with fire. Their actions could easily reignite the national question in Lebanon. This small country is made up of several different national and religious groups. In the past a bloody civil war devastated the infrastructure and now the Israeli military are threatening to push Lebanon back 20 or 50 years. They are threatening to destroy the entire infrastructure that has been painstakingly rebuilt over the past few years.
Any attempt on the part of the Lebanese government to disarm the Hizbollah would lead to civil war. It would not stabilise the situation, on the contrary it would make it far worse.
Meanwhile the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. Yesterday another 23 Palestinians were killed. Early Wednesday morning Israeli soldiers and tanks moved into central Gaza effectively cutting the Strip in two.
A humanitarian crisis of terrible proportions is being prepared in Gaza. According to some reports food supplies can only cover the needs of the population for the next three days. Unless something serious is done we could be witnessing starvation among layers of the Palestinian population in Gaza.
This fact alone is ample proof of the fact that the present military operations are not about one kidnapped soldier. As we have explained before the Israeli government had the option of negotiating and freeing some Palestinian prisoners. But they reject this option.
They have lost control of the political process in the Occupied Territories. They would have preferred to deal with the leaders of Fatah, but the Palestinian people voted Fatah out and brought in Hamas. The Israeli government refuses to recognise the basic democratic right of the Palestinian people to vote for whom they want. Now the Palestinian people are being made to pay a terrible price for having rejected the manoeuvres of Israeli and US imperialism.
The crisis that started in Gaza has now spilled over into Lebanon and there is speculation that Syria may be sucked in. This is ironic as it was not so long ago that big pressure was brought to bear on Syria to move out of Lebanon. We should recall that in the past it was Israel, backed by the US, which called on the Syrian regime to intervene to pacify Lebanon and put an end to the civil war. Syria did this and at the time was hailed as a "stabilising" force.
Now Israel’s actions are unravelling the fragile stability that had been achieved over a period of years. If Syria is sucked in, then Israel could be facing a war on three fronts, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria itself.
It was not so long ago that the media were highlighting the "progress" made to achieve peace. Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon. Then just over a year ago it withdrew from Gaza. This created the illusion that peace was possible. But Marxists have always explained that unless the underlying social problems are resolved the danger of war will remain ever-present in the region.
Israeli capitalism is in serious crisis. Israel used to be a country where unemployment was hardly known. Even many Palestinians would daily cross the border to go and work in Israel. In the last decade or so unemployment in Israel has shot up beyond the 10% mark. The government has been attacking all the social rights of the workers in Israel, from pensions to healthcare to education. Parallel to this, the borders of Israel have been closed to Palestinian migrant workers. These have been replaced by poor immigrants from other parts of the world. This has thrown the Palestinian workers into a desperate state.
This is the underlying social condition that explains the growing tension. The problem the Israeli ruling class, the Israeli capitalists, are faced with is that they cannot offer the workers of Israel anything better. The same applies to the Palestinian people. What can they offer them if they cannot even guarantee their own people decent living conditions?
Therefore in their logic, as they cannot offer the carrot anymore they must use the stick, and a very big stick it is. The war they have embarked on is a stick with which to beat all the workers of the region, Palestinians, Lebanese and Israelis.
War is their answer to the crisis. By going to war they hope to whip up nationalist hysteria within Israel, to make the people in Israel feel threatened, to make them feel that they have no option but to fight. They want a repeat of 1967.
However, things have changed somewhat since then. Nothing in history is wasted, and the past 30 years have taught the workers, and not only the workers, in Israel some important lessons. Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and later southern Lebanon. None of this has made Israel a safer place to live in.
Subsequently Israel had to abandon the Sinai Peninsula and remove its forces from southern Lebanon. There was big opposition among the population to a continued Israeli military presence in southern Lebanon.
Now the Israeli military are back in Lebanon and the whole situation risks escalating into all-out war. But precisely because of the past, the mood in Israel is not what the ruling class would have wanted it to be. The level of chauvinism is not as high as would be expected. Something has changed in the mood of the population. Important layers of the population can see through the propaganda of the government. They know that Israel can inflict serious damage on its neighbours. The Israeli army is the fourth most powerful in the world. But they also know that you cannot solve the problems by military means alone. This explains why on the eve of Israel’s attack on Lebanon the majority of the people were expressing the desire for peace.
This can change as the fighting intensifies. The problem we are facing is that the Hizbollah leadership is as nationalistic as the Israeli government. They have started attacking civilian targets in Israel and this can temporarily swing the mood. It can actually temporarily play into the hands of the Israeli ruling class, who are desperately trying to unite the people behind them, with the idea that all Jews must defend themselves and unit against the "common enemy".
But what is most striking, according to the information we have received from the Marxists in Israel, is that the level of chauvinism is not as strong as it would have been in the past in a similar situation. In reality Israel is a very divided society. In fact, we have never seen such a level of division. This is clearly a reflection of the class polarisation that has been growing over the past few years. There are rich and poor in Israel like never before. The poor are being asked to fight to defend the interests of the rich. What will the poor get out of this? Will they get better wages, jobs, and decent pensions? No, they will be asked to fight while all these things are being taken away from them
These divisions within society as a whole have their reflection within the ruling class itself. One wing is on the warpath. It is significant that the military tops are gaining more and more influence in the decision-making process. Top army chiefs turn up in government ministries to impose their demands. They are putting the pressure on to remove Peretz as Minister of Defence and possibly replace him with a man with a military background.
However, there is another wing that is becoming more and more concerned that the situation could escalate out of control. This wing is particularly concerned at the prospect that Syria may be provoked into entering the conflict to back the Hizbollah. This would mean three fronts. This would stretch the Israeli military to the limits. Israel’s is one of the most powerful armies in the world, but even this army would be facing a big challenge if it took on all these forces. And it is not so much from the purely military point of view that one wing of the ruling class is worried. In the past the Israeli Defence Forces have shown that they can take on Israel’s neighbours and inflict serious damage. The problem is more deep rooted and is closely connected to the state of Israeli society as a whole. The mood is not there to launch all-out war and occupy the conquered territories.
Israel can destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure, it can pound the Palestinians in Gaza, and it can create the conditions for barbarism all around it. But this will not bring it one inch closer to a stable, secure situation. It will exacerbate the problems a hundredfold. It will create problems that will come back to haunt it for years to come. They are concerned at the activities of the "terrorists". With what they are doing now they are preparing a recruitment ground for a new generation of Arab youth that is prepared to fight the Israeli forces.
The present conflict highlights all the contradictions but resolves none of them. The problem is that Fatah, Hamas, the Hizbollah, the Lebanese government, the Syrian regime, and the rulers of Israel cannot solve any of the problems that now exist in the Middle East. The only people that can put an end to the present nightmare are the workers of all the countries of the Middle East. They are the ones who have a material interest in developing a working class based alternative. With the mineral wealth in the region, the human resources, and the advanced technology that exists in Israel an economic plan and a rational use of these resources all the social problems could be solved. The material possibility is there. Decent housing for all is possible; jobs for all could be provided, for the workers of Israel and for the Palestinians, for the peoples that make up Lebanon and for all the other countries of the region.
For this to happen a radical transformation of society must take place. The resources must be placed under the control of the workers. If such a transformation were to take place, what interest would the workers of one country have in oppressing those of another? On the contrary, their interests would be to come together and cooperate in a regional plan of economic development.
For all this to become possible, the present ruling class of Israel must be removed. Power must pass to the workers. The same applies to all the neighbouring countries.
They will accuse us of being utopian. But the utopians are not the Marxists. Our position is rooted in the real material contradictions that exist in the region. What is utopian is to believe that the present conflict can be resolved within the confines of capitalism.
- The Middle East — The explosion has come by Alon Lessel (13 Jul. 2006)
- Gaza: A turning point in Israel’s post-1967 history by Yossi Schwartz (10 Jul. 2006)
- Israeli ruling class — two weights and two measures by Fred Weston (10 Jul. 2006)
- Pull troops out of Gaza now! by In Defence of Marxism (28 Jun. 2006)
- Crisis over kidnapped Israeli soldiers brings Israel-Palestine to the brink of war by Yossi Schwartz (27 Jun. 2006)