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Signs of a 'new Middle East'

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    Signs of a new Middle East Richard Becker, Western regional coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition http://www.answercoalition.org/ Ten days into Israel s
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2006
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      Signs of a 'new Middle East'
      Richard Becker,
      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
      Middle East."

      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
      Israel-Lebanon border.

      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 passed—proof
      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
      gritted teeth.

      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
      carry out.

      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 killed—more than 80 percent of them
      non-combatants—and 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
      Catholics—historically the most conservative and pro-western sector of
      the population—overwhelmingly 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 States—particularly 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 Lebanon—something 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 killed—nearly half of
      the Israeli fatalities during the war—and 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. 11—something they had adamantly
      opposed a few weeks earlier—must 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 power—military, social and political—has
      increased dramatically. The foundation of any state's power is its
      army. In Lebanon, Hezbollah's military wing is far stronger than the
      Lebanese army.

      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
      leaders—Republican and Democrat—have 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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