The Israeli state’s barbarous 34-day assault on Lebanon resulted in the deaths of at least 1,300 Lebanese, with tens of thousands injured. Up to a million people were forced to flee their homes, and much of the civilian infrastructure has been shattered.

On the Israeli side, 157 were killed, including 118 soldiers. But none of the Israeli regime’s objectives have been achieved. The war exposed the limits of Israel’s military power. Hezbollah, on the other hand, has been strengthened politically. This has provoked a crisis for the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert.

While the UN-sponsored ceasefire (brokered by the U.S. and France) has brought fighting to a halt for the time being, it will not solve any of the underlying contradictions that led to the war. The deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon and the promise of a 15,000-strong multinational force are a face-saving way out of the impasse, mainly devised to allow the withdrawal of the Israeli forces.

Under the present social and economic conditions, further conflicts will take place unless the Arab and Israeli Jewish working class can find a way out of the periodic descent into bloody wars that have been all that imperialism and capitalism have offered the region since the end of the second World War.

Israeli Defeat
What has been dubbed the “sixth Israeli-Arab war” will be recorded in the history books as a major defeat for Israeli capitalism, its first on the field of battle since its founding in 1948. The Israeli regime had to change its stated war aims halfway through the conflict, from “destroying” to “weakening” Hezbollah. Israel failed to gain the return of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on July 12, the immediate pretext for Israel’s offensive.

Reuven Pedatzur commented in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz: “This is not a mere military defeat. This is a strategic failure, whose far-reaching implications are still not clear.” (8/16/06)

The result of the war will also be recorded as a political victory for Hezbollah. Paul Moorcraft, director of the Center for Foreign Policy Analysis, said: “Hezbollah has done a lot better than the conventional forces of all the Arab states that have fought Israel since 1948.” (Guardian, 8/11/06) Hezbollah has become hugely popular across the Arab world.

The result of the war is a setback for U.S. imperialism, Israeli capitalism’s main backer. Undoubtedly, it also spells trouble for the corrupt and spineless Arab elites who have bent the knee before the Israeli regime and the capitalist west for decades. The Middle East will become more unstable; U.S. imperialism’s influence will be undermined further; and the Arab regimes, already under siege because of the anger of the Arab masses towards mass poverty and corruption, could face major social upheavals.

There is a clear understanding internationally that the Bush administration blatantly gave Israel its full support and encouraged its war aims. The result will be even higher levels of anger amongst the Arab and Muslim masses around the world and a further slipping in the authority of the imperialist powers amongst the working class internationally. The effects of this will echo through political developments regionally and internationally over the next few years.

Collective Punishment
From the beginning, it was clear that the Israeli regime’s military bombardment, rather than being an attempt to destroy Hezbollah, was designed to crush an entire nation into submission. Israel’s Air Force flew over 15,500 sorties against 7,000 targets, while its navy fired more than 2,500 shells at Lebanon’s coast. Lebanon’s infrastructure has been devastated, with over $4 billion worth of damage being done. Schools, hospitals, power stations, and even milk factories have been destroyed.

Even by the standards of Israeli capitalism, this was a particularly brutal war. The Israeli regime committed war crimes in areas like Tyre and Sidon. They threatened to bomb any traffic moving on the roads and refused requests by the UN and Red Crescent for safe transit for vehicles going to rescue civilians dying under mounds of rubble.

What makes this even more monstrous is that U.S. imperialism openly supported these tactics in the most blatant and cynical way. It refused to call for an immediate ceasefire and instead rushed bunker-busting bombs from the U.S. to Israel’s war machine.

In this context, Condoleezza Rice’s statement that the war represented the “birth pangs of a new Middle East” is seared into the minds of millions around the world, particularly the Arab masses, as the height of infamy and the pinnacle of imperialism’s barbarism in the modern era.

The cessation of violence has, of course, brought some relief to the working class of Lebanon and Israel. But the effects of this war will be felt for generations to come. Hundreds of thousands of mainly Lebanese families have had their lives shattered, primarily through the loss of loved ones but also in the destruction of homes occupied for generations, the flattening of whole villages and towns, the destruction of the livelihoods of millions of people, and a health and environmental disaster.

Working-class Israelis, both Jewish and Palestinian, have lost much too, although not on the same scale. This was Israel’s longest war since 1948 and also the first time that civilian areas have come under sustained military attack. Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets, including 250 on the last day of hostilities. The Israeli working class will bear the costs of the war through increased taxation and cuts in living standards.

But the biggest blow for the Israeli ruling class will be the further shattering of the idea that the Israeli state, with the fourth strongest army in the world, can protect the security of Israeli Jews from outside attack. This will have profound effects on the psychology of the Israeli masses and therefore on social and political developments in Israel.

“The Deterrence Factor” Undermined
Undoubtedly, the Israeli regime wanted to completely destroy Hezbollah. In part, this was to put to rest the ignominy of the IDF’s early withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000 as a result of Hezbollah’s guerrilla war against it. The Israeli military elite also saw Hezbollah as perhaps one of the sharpest military thorns in its side. Above all, the Israeli ruling class had a much broader aim in mind in prosecuting this war. It was an attempt to reassert the military superiority of Israeli capitalism across the region – in the jargon of the military analysts, “to reestablish the ‘deterrence’ factor.”

The Israeli regime recently has drawn the conclusion that despite the IDF’s brutal tactics in Gaza and the West Bank, its image as a powerful, regional military superpower has been undermined. This was emphasized by the IDF withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 and also by the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections in January of this year.

The political and military setbacks of its main backer, U.S. imperialism, in Iraq also undermined the image of invincibility of Israel. Other processes, such as the growing regional influence of Iran, in part because of events in Iraq where parties with links to the Iranian regime now dominate the political scene, have also added to this process.

It was for these reasons that the Israeli military elite laid plans for a massive show of firepower in Lebanon at least two years ago. These were to be set in motion as soon as a pretext was given by Hezbollah. This it did on July 12 with the cross-border incursion that involved the taking prisoner of two soldiers and the killing of three others.

U.S. imperialism was kept fully informed about these plans. According to some reports, Washington neo-cons saw the war on Lebanon as an opportunity for an attack on Syria and even a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear processing facilities.

In reality, however, the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq, while Iran’s regional influence has been strengthened, making it unlikely that the Bush regime would have carried out military attacks on Syria or Iran. Instead, the U.S. is likely to push harder for UN-authorized sanctions against Iran, though even this is problematic given opposition from Russia and China and Iran’s threat to cut off oil supplies from the Persian Gulf.

The Character of Hezbollah
The Israeli ruling and military elite made a fundamental error in underestimating Hezbollah and its ability to resist the might of the IDF. Undoubtedly, Israel’s military tacticians looked to the bombing campaign of U.S. imperialism at the start of the Iraq war as its model. However, the social and political conditions in Lebanon were completely different from Iraq. The conscripts of the Iraqi army, while not wishing foreign occupiers on their soil, had no wish to sacrifice their lives for a dictator under whom they had suffered for decades.

In contrast, even before the conflict started, Hezbollah had mass support in the southern, mainly Shia, part of Lebanon where the conflict took place. The Shia population has always formed the most oppressed section of Lebanese society. Hezbollah, the “Party of God” formed in 1982, was created as a reaction to the brutal Israeli regime’s occupation of 1982-2000. It arose from the more combative rank-and-file members of the secular Shia Amal movement, who looked to what they saw as the success of the Iranian revolution and were helped by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to set up their new organization.

More recently, however, Hezbollah has taken the complexion of a more populist Islamist resistance organization, with a strong nationalist tinge. The building of a powerful militia force, more powerful than the Lebanese army, has been combined with the provision of social and welfare services by its political wing.

Like all populist organizations, it appeals to many different audiences through the skilful use of radical demands and propaganda. Hezbollah does not hide its Islamic roots, but has recently tried to appeal to a much wider audience mainly on the basis of Lebanese nationalism.

Under Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, the Hezbollah leadership dropped mention of its earlier aim of transforming the country into an Islamic state. It increasingly asserted that it was fighting for all Lebanese, be they Christian, Druze, Shia, or Sunni, against aggression and occupation by the Israeli state. Following its victory in driving the IDF out of Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah entered “official” politics and stood in elections, winning 14 seats in parliament. In these elections, it stood Christian candidates on its lists.

Hezbollah’s main base of support is among the Shia rural poor and working class, but it has not based itself on a class-struggle approach. Hezbollah has two ministers in the national unity government in Lebanon that recently voted for the privatization of the electricity services in the country. At the same time, it helped organize a mass protest movement against the rise in electricity prices in advance of privatization. This shows the contradictory nature of Hezbollah and the way in which its leadership attempts politically to face in different directions.

While Hezbollah has opposed some of the worst excesses of neoliberal economic policies in Lebanon, they are not explicitly against capitalism. The CWI believes that the problems of mass poverty, price rises, and social cuts can only be ended through the overthrow of capitalism in Lebanon and the Middle East and the reorganization of society along socialist lines.

Workers’ Unity and Socialism
Under conditions of poverty and want, which exist in the Middle East for the majority of the population, the potential for a mass united struggle of the working class and rural poor undoubtedly exists. But in order to do this, a cross-community working-class party that has a political program and methods of uniting the poorest sections of the population is needed.

Such a party could only achieve this unity by explaining the class basis of society and by putting forward demands that deal with the common problems of the working class and rural poor, be they Sunni, Shia, Christian, or Druze.

Part of these demands would also be a recognition of the democratic rights of all minorities and their right to practice the religion they wanted to. But such a party could only maintain unity by going beyond basic economic and democratic demands that deal with everyday problems. It would also have to explain that division and sectarian strife are part of the capitalist system and that a democratic socialist society is necessary to overcome them once and for all.

In the absence of such a socialist and mass workers’ party, other tendencies can develop. Conflict between the different ethnic and religious sections of society can be whipped up by reactionary forces.

Undoubtedly, the IDF suffered a military defeat at the hands of Hezbollah’s small guerrilla army. But can Hezbollah’s tactics succeed in ending the present and future occupations of the West Bank and Gaza? Will they bring about a fundamental change in the conditions of abject poverty the Arab masses are sinking further into every day?

In order to achieve all these aims, the social and economic conditions that lead to poverty and oppression need to be removed. This means a struggle to overthrow Israeli capitalism and drive the feudal-capitalist Arab elite out of power in the Middle East.

Under certain conditions, guerrilla struggle can be an important auxiliary to the struggle against imperialist aggression and exploitation. But on its own, this tactic cannot succeed in overthrowing the Israeli capitalist state. Frustrating an invasion by the IDF of Lebanon is one thing. Militarily destroying the Israeli army is something quite different and beyond the military capabilities of Hezbollah. But in order to end the possibility of future invasions by the Israeli regime, the Israeli state machine has to be defeated.

The only possibility for that is to undermine the social base on which the Israeli state rests, as a first step to overthrowing Israeli capitalism. This means splitting the Israeli Jewish working class, upon whom the state relies to fight its wars, away from the ruling class and winning them to the idea of overthrowing capitalism in the region.

In order to do this, the fears that the Israeli Jewish workers have for their survival have to be answered. It is for this reason that, while the CWI fully supported the right of Hezbollah to defend Lebanon from the invasion by the Israeli regime, we did not consider it correct to fire rockets at Israeli civilian areas. This drove Israeli Jewish workers into the arms of their ruling class, thus strengthening its position.

Volatile Situation
The defeat of the Israeli military elite opens up a new and possibly dangerous situation in Middle Eastern politics in the medium term. While it would seem logical that the Israeli regime should hold back from further military action, its ruling class will want to repair the damage done to its image and may attempt more military adventures, starting with increased repression in Gaza and the West Bank. A further contributing factor to instability is the ceasefire itself, which it is not certain will even hold.

Some Israeli commentators have claimed that the recent conflict was a precursor for the “next war.” Alain Gresh wrote: “Not since 1967 has the Middle East suffered so many simultaneous high-intensity crises. Though each has its own rationale, they are linked by many threads, making partial solutions more difficult and dragging the region even faster into the abyss.” (Le Monde Diplomatique, 8/06)

The latest war in the Middle East demonstrates the incapability of capitalism and imperialism to solve any of the growing problems of the region. The devastation in Lebanon gives a concrete reminder of the necessity to build a movement across the region for a struggle for socialism and a socialist confederation of Middle Eastern states to begin to repair the damage done over decades by imperialism and their supporters.

  • All foreign troops out of Lebanon
  • For the defense of the national and religious rights of all minorities
  • For a socialist confederation of the Middle East with a socialist Lebanon, a socialist Israel, and a socialist Palestine