of a 'new Middle East'
People's resistance hands U.S., Israel a stunning defeat
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
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
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
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
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 country.
In retaliation, Hezbollah launched an average of 100
rockets per day into northern Israel.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 region.
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
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
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
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.
The August 12 demonstrations were a great success.
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