Signs of a 'new Middle East'
Western regional coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition
Ten days into Israel's massive assault on Lebanon, when hundreds of
Lebanese civilians had already been killed and hundreds of thousands
were refugees, U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice blithely
dismissed all the death and destruction as "the birth pangs of a new
The outcome of the struggle may indeed be a transformed region, but
not along the lines that Rice and her fellow
Lebanese drive home from Beirut to south Lebanon after the resistance
victory over the U.S.-Israeli military machine.
warmakers in Washington had in mind.
Rice's now infamous July 22 remark was another way of saying "no" to
international calls for a ceasefire in the conflict. It came in
response to worldwide outrage over the wanton Israeli destruction of
Lebanon, supposedly unleashed because two Israeli soldiers had been
captured by Hezbollah's military wing in a clash along the
U.S. and Israeli leaders, confident that Israel's much-vaunted army
would soon achieve the kind of smashing victory it had in previous
wars, were opposed to any halt in the fighting.
Three weeks later, however, with Hezbollah undefeated, Israeli
casualties rising, and anti-U.S. anger spreading across the Middle
East, Rice took the lead in speeding a ceasefire resolution through
the U.N. Security Council. Resolution 1701 was passed on Aug. 11 and
went into effect on Aug. 14.
What are the implications of this stunning turnabout that has altered
profoundly the political landscape of the region?
Conflicts immediately surfaced within ruling class circles in both
Israel and the United States after the U.N. resolution passedproof
that the outcome is viewed as a defeat for Israel and a severe setback
for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Another sign of the victory for
liberation forces was the huge and prolonged celebrations that broke
out across the Middle East in support of Hezbollah and its leader,
Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.
Speaking shortly after the ceasefire took effect, Nasrallah was
exultant. "We are before a strategic and historic victory, without any
exaggeration, for all of Lebanon, the resistance and the whole of the
Arab nation," he said. "We came out victorious in a war in which big
Arab armies were defeated [before]."
The same day, Bush tried to spin the settlement. "Hezbollah attacked
Israel," he claimed. "Hezbollah started the crisis. And Hezbollah
suffered a defeat." Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a
similarly wishful statement.
But had they truly achieved "victory," intense back-biting and
infighting wouldn't have surfaced in Washington and Tel Aviv. Instead,
the leaders would have been toasting each other, even if through
Defeats and internal struggles within the ruling class can lead to the
leaking of secret information to the media, as one faction seeks to
indict another for its failures. The setback in Lebanon was no exception.
Capture of Israeli soldiers a pretext for mass destruction
Just after the Security Council resolution was signed, articles began
to appear in various world media outlets revealing the truth behind
the U.S.-Israeli aggression: The assault on Lebanon had long been in
the works. The capture of the two Israel soldiers was a convenient
pretext for an all-out war that Israel and the U.S. were determined to
The news reports confirmed what activists in the ANSWER Coalition (Act
Now to Stop War and End Racism) and other anti-imperialist
organizations had been saying since the war's beginning.
Within hours of the July 11 border incident, Israel launched a "shock
and awe"-style air attack, imposed a naval blockade, and began
non-stop shelling of southern Lebanon. The artillery shelling was
cover for a new invasion of Lebanon by Israeli armor and infantry.
Beirut's airport was bombed, as were most of the country's power
plants and 90 percent of its bridges.
An oil spill from a bombed coastal power plant resulted in the biggest
ecological disaster in Lebanon's history, polluting Mediterranean
beaches and waters and catastrophically impacting wildlife, fishing
and tourism. Thousands of homes, apartments and buildings were
completely destroyed. Israel pilots flying U.S.-made war planes
conducted thousands of uncontested bombing raids against a very small
In retaliation, Hezbollah launched an average of 100 rockets per day
into northern Israel.
Hezbollah volunteers clean up rubble from Israeli bombing in Beirut.
At least 1,100 Lebanese were killedmore than 80 percent of them
non-combatantsand thousands more were wounded. Twenty-five percent of
the country's population, nearly one-million people, was forced to
flee their homes and communities. On the Israeli side, 156 were
reported killed, 118 of them soldiers.
On the war's other front in Gaza, more than 170 Palestinians have been
killed by Israeli bombs, shells and bullets since June 25, with one
Israeli soldier fatally wounded.
Without question, a war of such magnitude and sweep as Israeli's
campaign against Lebanon had to have been planned long in advance.
A U.S. initiative, not just a `green light'
At a White House meeting on May 23, Bush "conveyed to Olmert his
strong personal support" for a military offensive against Lebanon,
according to Israeli government sources. Bush also urged Israel to
attack Syria in the same operation. (Consortium News, Aug. 13)
A July 30 article in the right-wing Jerusalem Post reported that
Israeli defense officials "were receiving indications from the U.S.
that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria." The
Israeli leaders reportedly were hesitant about an unprovoked attack on
Syria and how it might further deepen their global isolation.
Other articles, including one by Seymour Hersh in the Aug. 21 New
Yorker magazine, indicate that planning of the offensive had been in
the works for at least a year in both Washington and Tel Aviv.
Unable to suppress Iraqi resistance, the Bush administration had
decided to widen its regional war. A U.S.-supported Israeli attack on
Lebanon and Syria would aim to crush Hezbollah, isolate the
Palestinian resistance, overturn or severely weaken the Syrian
government, and prepare the way for attacking Iran. The administration
thought that accomplishing those objectives would weaken and isolate
the Iraqi resistance.
The U.S.-hatched plan didn't work. "Shock and awe"-style strikes by
the Israeli air force, like the U.S. air assault on Iraq, did inflict
massive destruction on Lebanon and incalculable suffering on its
people. But, as in Iraq, it utterly failed to subdue the population.
In fact, the effect was just the opposite.
Despite being an extremely diverse and often divided society, a
remarkable degree of national unity soon emerged in support of the
resistance and against Israel and the U.S. imperialists. Even Maronite
Catholicshistorically the most conservative and pro-western sector of
the populationoverwhelmingly supported Hezbollah and the resistance.
The three pillars of colonialism in the Middle East: Imperialism, the
Israeli state and Arab reaction
Despite its vast military superiority, Israel's expected victory never
materialized. This failure sent shock waves through Tel Aviv and
Washington, and also through the capitals of the Arab countries
aligned with the United Statesparticularly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi
Early in the war, as bombs rained down on Lebanon, the governments of
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia publicly blamed Hezbollah for the
confrontation. By doing so, they drew the wrath of their own people.
As the war raged on, and the Lebanese resistance fighters became
heroes in the eyes of tens of millions throughout the Middle East, all
three governments quickly retreated from their original positions,
refocusing their public criticisms on Israel.
The cosmetic change of tone could not hide the fact that all the
pro-imperialist governments in the region hoped for the
UN "peacekeepers" can't and won't disarm Hezbollah resistance fighters.
defeat and dismantling of Hezbollah, as well as the Palestinian
resistance. While depicted as "friendly governments" and even
"democratic" by U.S. officials and the capitalist media, Egypt, Jordan
and Saudi Arabia are highly repressive regimes that serve the
interests of imperialism and their own elites.
In each country, the Lebanon war spurred festering popular anger not
only against the United States and Israel but also against their own
rulers. President Mubarak, King Abdullah, and the Saudi royal family
hoped that defeat of the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance would set
back the anti-government movements inside their own countries.
The war illustrated again in dramatic fashion what the revolutionary
progressive forces in the region have long maintained: In the struggle
for genuine liberation, the Arab masses confront not only imperialism
(particularly, U.S. imperialism) and the militarized settler state of
Israel, but also the reactionary, imperialist-aligned Arab regimes.
Technological superiority does not bring victory
Despite a population of some 6 million people, Israel is rated the
fourth or fifth most powerful military in the world. Its air force is
ranked even higher. Compliments of the Pentagon, the Israeli "Defense"
Forces possess a vast array of high tech weaponry, including nuclear
bombs. Israel can mobilize more than 600,000 troops.
On the other side, Hezbollah has no air force, no navy, no tanks and
no helicopters. Its main force is made of several thousand highly
trained and motivated fighters, who have developed very sophisticated
guerrilla tactics. They also have acquired advanced anti-tank weapons
systems, most likely from Syria and Iran.
At the start of the war on July 12, Olmert and the Israeli chief of
staff, air force general Dan Halutz promised quick victory and the
swift suppression of Hezbollah's ability to launch retaliatory rocket
attacks through air power. On paper it seemed inevitable that Israel,
particularly with full backing from the U.S. government, would win.
But wars are not fought on paper.
While causing damage that one Associated Press reporter described as
"unimaginable" after the fighting had stopped, the Israeli air blitz
ultimately failed to achieve its minimal objectives. The Lebanese
resistance was not dislodged and remained deeply entrenched right on
the border. Despite Israeli claims that it had knocked out most of
Hezbollah's rockets and missiles, the rockets and missiles never stopped.
The failure of the "shock and awe" operation meant that ground forces
had to be sent into Lebanonsomething the Israeli military didn't want
to do. Israel had just withdrawn from southern Lebanon in 2000, after
a 22-year occupation, because of the losses it suffered at the hands
of the Hezbollah-led resistance. The resistance had only grown
stronger in the intervening six years.
Fierce resistance on the ground
The Israeli and U.S. governments knew this, but nothing prepared them
for the fierce resistance that they encountered on the ground in
Lebanon. In an early ground battle at Bint Jbail, just two miles
across the border, the Israeli army was forced to pull back after
suffering heavy casualties and equipment losses. The same scenario
played out for the duration of the Israeli ground war in southern Lebanon.
Particularly shocking was the loss of so many of Israel's giant tanks,
the Merkava-3, which had been considered nearly invincible. The number
of tanks destroyed by the Lebanese resistance is not yet known, but
reports mention dozens. Many of the Israeli casualties were tank crew
members killed or wounded inside their Merkavas. Countless photos and
videos showed disoriented, exhausted, and sometimes weeping Israeli
soldiers returning from the battlefront in Lebanon.
In the last three days before the ceasefire took effect, the Israeli
commanders rushed many more troops into the country, trying to take
more territory as a bargaining chip and also to make it appear to the
Israeli public that they had "accomplished something." But this move
was a disaster for them, too.
In those three days, 48 Israeli soldiers were killednearly half of
the Israeli fatalities during the warand many more wounded. As soon
as the ceasefire went into effect, the Israeli forces immediately
abandoned the areas they had just seized, such as the key town of
Marjayoun, because they were over-extended and in danger.
The failure of the Israeli military to achieve rapid victory created a
crisis in the ruling circles of both the United States and Israel, and
cries of distress from the Jordanian and Egyptian leaders. To continue
the war with no prospect of short-term military success would drive
the wedge deeper between the Arab people and the rulers throughout the
This problem for the imperialists and their allies was perhaps most
acutely felt in occupied Iraq, where the largest demonstration,
numbering in the hundreds of thousands, was held in support of the
Lebanese and Palestinian resistance. That rally, organized by Moqtada
al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army, posed a serious challenge to the puppet
government of "Prime Minister" al-Maliki. It also demanded an end to
the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
United States and Israel forced to retreat
Thus, the U.S. leaders' decision to rush a ceasefire resolution
through the Security Council on Aug. 11something they had adamantly
opposed a few weeks earliermust be understood as a retreat. That
reality isn't changed by the fact that the resolution heavily favors
Israel. Nor is it changed by the resolution's unenforceability.
Hezbollah has rejected disarming its military forces, a position
supported by a broad section of the Lebanese population. There is a
"tremendous sense of pride and defiance" among the returning
population in southern Lebanon. (Guardian, Aug. 16) The immediate
return of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to their cities, towns and
villages in southern Lebanon despite Israeli threats illustrated this
defiance. Israel had warned that any Lebanese would be bombed if they
came back before the international "peacekeeping" force called for in
the U.N. resolution was in place.
While Lebanese prime minister Fuad Siniora proclaimed on Aug. 16 that
"there could be no mini-states, no dual authority," in Lebanon, a dual
power situation exists in the country. Coming off their stunning
victory, Hezbollah's powermilitary, social and politicalhas
increased dramatically. The foundation of any state's power is its
army. In Lebanon, Hezbollah's military wing is far stronger than the
The Lebanese army, like the Lebanese government, is fragmented because
of the "confessional system" in place since the end of formal French
colonialism in 1943. This reactionary system reserves key positions in
the government and state apparatus for particular religious groups.
For instance, only Maronite Catholics are eligible to be president.
The prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the speaker of the
parliament a Shiite Muslim. The system was created to protect the
interests of French imperialism and the ruling elites of each community.
A clash between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah would likely result in
the immediate splitting of the army, as happened in the Lebanese civil
war in the 1970s. A Lebanese sergeant told National Public Radio on
Aug. 17 that Hezbollah had cared for and protected his family during
the Israel bombing, "If Hassan Nasrallah asks for fighters in the
south to defend the country against Israel, I will take off my
Lebanese army uniform and go."
Washington's retreat does not signify that political
leadersRepublican and Democrathave abandoned their drive to dominate
the Middle East. That will never happen as long as imperialism exists,
because the Middle East holds 70 percent of the world's oil reserves.
Meanwhile, the occupations of Iraq and Palestine continue. So does the
threat of a wider war.
But there can be no doubt that the 34-day war was a defeat for the
U.S. imperialists and their Israeli junior partners. It was a victory
for all the progressive and anti-imperialist forces in the region.
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