Socialist Worker

The key to the crisis in the Middle East

John Rees, author of an new book on imperialism and resistance, answers some frequently asked questions on the conflict between Lebanon and Israel

Issue No. 2013

Shoes left on the Cenotaph, on Whitehall by demonstrators on Saturday’s Stop the War demonstration. Around a third of those killed by Israel during the conflict in Lebanon have been children. (Pic: Richard Searle)

Shoes left on the Cenotaph, on Whitehall by demonstrators on Saturday’s Stop the War demonstration. Around a third of those killed by Israel during the conflict in Lebanon have been children. (Pic: Richard Searle)

What caused the war?

Israel is the biggest recipient of US military aid in the world. It is the only state in the world that can make purchases directly from US arms companies without US government oversight, just as if it was an internal department of the US administration.

It is the only state in the world that can use US military aid to purchase from non-US arms firms. It is the only state in the world that can use non-military US aid for military purchases.

All this is not simply for use against Palestinians, but for use against any challenger to US power in the whole Middle East.

The attack on Lebanon could not take place with such intensity and for such duration without the agreement of the US (and Britain). So the key question is - why has the US given this agreement now?

The answer lies in the catastrophe in Iraq. The US and Britain know, as last week’s leaked report from the departing British ambassador in Baghdad proved, that they are losing control of Iraq. They know that the dominant political current in the “new Iraq” is the Shia current sympathetic to Iran.

They know that, without a strong, pro-Western government in Iraq, Iran can emerge as the regional superpower.

The US and Britain would like to humble Iran. But they are, for the moment, too tied down in Iraq and too embattled by the anti-war movement at home to mount a direct attack.

So the attack on Hizbollah is a proxy war, an attack by the US’s imperial agent in the Middle East on a political movement sympathetic to Iran. It is a second front in the Iraq war.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon stands in the same ­relationship to Iran as the invasion of Afghanistan stood to Iraq.

It is a preparatory phase through which the US and Britain must pass before moving on to the main goal - in this case an attack on Iran or Syria.

This is why Tony Blair made his “arc of extremism” speech in the US last week connecting Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah.

As the Economist put it this week, “This particular conflict is not primarily between Israel and Lebanon at all so much as it is between Israel and Iran, Hizbollah’s mentor, and between America and Iran.”

Should socialists take sides?

This is not a war between two equal sides. This is a conflict between David and Goliath. Israel has state of the art Apache attack helicopters, F15 and F16 fighter-bombers, tanks and illegal nuclear weapons.

Hizbollah’s main weaponry is the Katyusha rocket - first introduced to service with the Russian army in 1942. The death rate, ten Lebanese killed (most of them civilians) for every Israeli, reflects this military imbalance.

Hizbollah is a popular resistance movement. One of the best known papers in Lebanon, the Beirut Daily Star, ran a poll last week which saw 87 percent support for Hizbollah’s military struggle.

Last Saturday, as we marched in London, even the BBC had to report that a huge demonstration, including Christians as well as Muslims, Sunni as well as Shia, marched in support of Hizbollah in Beirut.

Moreover, if the US, Britain and Israel triumph against Hizbollah the road will open to an attack on Iran or Syria and the prospect of a general Middle East war.

But the real counterweight to US and Israeli arms does not and cannot exist with the Lebanese resistance alone. It exists on the streets of the Arab world, most importantly in the capital of the Arab world, Cairo. It is to this force, especially its growing working class component, that socialists look.

Put bluntly, the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt would halt the imperialist plans for the region more completely than any other development, including the victory of Hizbollah. This requires that we encourage forces with specifically socialist politics.

Should the Stop the War Coalition support Hizbollah?

The main task of the anti-war movement in Britain is to force our government to break with George Bush’s imperial project.

To do that it must unite everyone who shares this goal, whether or not they support the Lebanese or Palestinian resistance.

To get rid of Tony Blair will be immeasurably more difficult if we repel from the anti-war movement all those people who want peace, but who do not support the resistance. We want pacifists, we want those who just want an end to the fighting, to be marching with us in Manchester on 23 September.

The decision of the National Union of Students executive not to support the Manchester demonstration because some people in the movement support Hizbollah is a sectarian error on their part, which must be reversed as soon as possible.

To do this socialists have to make it clear that support for the resistance is not a precondition of support for the Stop the War Coalition.

Socialists have two equally important duties. We must advance our own view honestly about the resistance. At the same time we must also be the guarantors of the unity and breadth of the movement.

This means making a special effort to include all those - and they are much more numerous than we are in the working class as a whole - who want an end to war, but who are not yet anti-imperialists.

If these people are not with us we cannot win. And if we cannot win against Blair, no one can. Hizbollah and Hamas cannot unseat Blair. Only we can do that.

That cannot happen without a broad, united movement in which all those who, for whatever reason, want to break with the “war on terror” act together.

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Sat 12 Aug 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2013
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