[Marxism] Hamas, Hizbullah, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Fri Jul 14 16:00:31 MDT 2006

Yoshie wrote:

> Is this a case of Tel Aviv wanting to have Washington take a more
> aggressive approach to Syria and Iran sooner, by creating a crisis?
> Or is this a case of Washington getting frustrated with a slow pace of
> consensus-building toward sanctions on Iran based on the nuke issue,
> wishing to make an issue of Iran's support for Hamas and Hizbullah,
> and having Tel Aviv spearhead a campaign for that?  Or is both powers'
> objective limited to disarmament of Hizbullah?
I'd say elements of all of the above - they don't seem to be in
contradiction to each other. Also, the new Kadima/Labour government wants to
show the ferocious Israeli public and the Likud and other parties to its
right that it's not as "weak" as they say it is.

Here's an analysis of the factors being weighed by the US and Israel from
today's Wall Street Journal. I frequently post material from the WSJ,
Financial Times, and the Economist, because these English-language house
organs are the best reflections of the concerns and strategic thinking of
the US high bourgeoisie and its allies. They're sub only, so not readily
accessible to everyone.

*    *    *

Israel Widens Lebanon Offensive
As Threat of Wider War Grows
July 14, 2006 3:01 p.m.
----Karby Leggett, Jay Soloman, Neil King Jr., and the Associated Press
contributed to this article

Israel brought its offensive in Lebanon to south Beirut Friday, with
warplanes blasting residential neighborhoods, destroying Hezbollah's
headquarters and targeting road links. Airstrikes cut the main highway to
Syria and exploded fuel tanks. Warships blockaded Lebanon's ports for a
second day.

Hezbollah said the residence and office of its leader, Sheik Hassan
Nasrallah, had been destroyed, but that he and his family were safe. Palls
of smoke rose from the Haret Hreik neighborhood in the late afternoon, after
four huge explosions shook the capital. They were followed minutes later by
a fifth blast.

"You wanted an open war and we are ready for an open war," Sheik Nasrallah
said, addressing Israelis in an audiotape played on Hezbollah's Al-Manar
television. The speech apparently was prerecorded and did not refer to the
missile attack.

Lebanese guerrillas retaliated for the airstrikes with a barrage of Katyusha
rockets throughout the day, hitting more than a dozen communities across
northern Israel. Hezbollah also hit an Israeli warship in Lebanese waters
that had been firing missiles into southern Beirut. An Israeli army
spokesman said the ship had apparently been struck by a rocket but that the
damage was minor and no one was injured.

The U.S. appeared to be starting diplomatic efforts to rein in the crisis on
the third day of Israel's massive assault on Lebanon, sparked by the
Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers. Lebanon's Western-backed prime
minister asked Bush, during a phone call Friday, to pressure Israel for a
cease-fire. Mr. Bush told Prime Minister Fuad Saniora that Israelis have a
right to protect themselves.

On Thursday, Mr. Bush expressed worries the assault could lead to the fall
of Mr. Saniora's Western-supported, anti-Syrian government -- some of whose
members oppose Hezbollah.

In Lebanon, 73 people have been killed in Israel's bombardment, mostly
Lebanese civilians -- including five who died in the strikes Friday, police
said. On the Israeli side, eight soldiers have died and four civilians were
killed by Hezbollah rockets on northern towns. The violence sent shock waves
through a region already traumatized by the ongoing battles in the Gaza
Strip between Israel and Hamas. Witnesses said militants blew a hole in the
wall at the Egypt-Gaza border Friday, and a stream of Palestinians have
begun entering Gaza from Egypt.

Israel's offensive had several goals: to pressure Hezbollah to release the
Israeli soldiers, to push the guerrilla group away from Israel's northern
border and to exact a price from Lebanon's government for allowing Hezbollah
to operate freely in the south.

The Lebanese government also has asked the U.N. Security Council to demand a
cease-fire. Israel says it holds the government responsible for Hezbollah's
actions, but Mr. Saniora's cabinet has insisted it had no prior knowledge of
the raid and that it did not condone it.

Israeli fighter-bombers pounded runways at Beirut's airport for a second
day, apparently trying to ensure it was shut down after the Lebanese
national carrier, Middle East Airlines, managed to evacuate its last five
planes to Amman despite earlier strikes. One rocket hit close to the
terminal building at the building.

Another barrage hit fuel tanks at one of Beirut's two main power stations,
at Jiye. Some parts of the capital were already seeing electricity outages
before the strike, which was likely to worsen power shortages.

For the first time in the assault, strikes targeted residential
neighborhoods in south Beirut, a stronghold of the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah's
leadership. Warplanes rained missiles on roads in the capital's suburbs,
knocking down an overpass and damaging another.

In northern Israel, about 220,000 people hunkered down in bomb shelters amid
Hezbollah's barrage of rockets. At least 50 rockets hit the Israeli towns of
Safad and Nahariya -- where two people were killed a day earlier, as well as
the town of Hatzor and the communities of Nurit and Ezen Menahem. At least
six people were wounded, bringing to 61 the number of Israelis hurt in the
rocket fire since Wednesday.

Many Israelis were shocked Thursday when two rockets hit Haifa, the
country's third largest city and 18 miles south of Lebanon. No guerrilla
rocket had ever reached that far into Israel.

In Lebanon, Israeli warplanes blasted the highway between Beirut and
Damascus -- Lebanon's main land link to the outside world -- forcing
motorists to take mountain side roads to the Syrian capital. Warships also
shelled the coastal highway north of Sidon, slowing down traffic
considerably but not actually cutting the road, witnesses reported. Israeli
planes also hit transmission antennas for local TV stations in the eastern
Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold.

Threat of Wider Middle East War Grows

Israel's escalating incursion into Lebanon could turn its border fight with
militant Islamists into a regional war that Israel is openly warning might
lead to Syria, and beyond that to Iran.

Already the violence has engaged the Israeli military on two fronts, against
Hezbollah militias in Lebanon to the north and Hamas forces that control the
Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip to the west. Israel now is fighting
not with Palestinians or Arab nations, as in the past, but with the forces
of radical Islam.

And the Israelis are bluntly saying that the blame for the violence by those
forces lies in large measure with the governments of Syria and Iran for
giving them support and encouragement -- an assertion that could put the
U.S. and Israel on diverging paths in the crisis. "The real masterminds
[behind these acts] are in Tehran and Damascus," Daniel Ayalon, Israel's
ambassador to Washington, said Thursday. The international community "needs
to call Iran to task," he said.

Mr. Ayalon and other Israeli officials said their forces will continue
operations in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories to root out the
military backbone of Hezbollah and Hamas. Ultimately, they say, true
stability will require reining in Iranian support of militia groups.

While the Bush administration is largely sympathetic with Israel's plight,
and also eager to restrain Iran, it is unlikely to be as keen to directly
confront Tehran now. With U.S. troops tied down in Iraq and a serious
diplomatic drive under way at the United Nations to impose economic
sanctions to get Iran to curb its nuclear program, the White House has
little desire for a broader regional conflict that could bring a head-on
clash with Iran right now.

It also would be difficult to bring along American allies in a direct
confrontation with Iran. Israel has been warning for several years that
Iran, much more than Iraq, has emerged as the Middle East's biggest problem
and that Tehran's government represents a challenge Israel shouldn't have to
confront alone. But it has found few countries willing to share that burden.

As a result, the Bush administration faces an immediate decision on what it
can do to contain the violence while allowing Israel to defend itself and
its soldiers, three of whom have been kidnapped in recent days by Hamas and
Hezbollah. Two senior American officials -- Assistant Secretary of State
David Welch and White House Middle East adviser Elliott Abrams -- met with
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Thursday. The U.S. said the best vehicle
to defuse the crisis might be a United Nations delegation that is heading to
the region at the behest of Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Within the region, the outbreak of fighting already has had broad impact. It
has gravely imperiled the fragile move toward democracy in Lebanon that the
U.S. was trying to foster as a shining example for the rest of the Mideast.
It also has destroyed any hope that Israel's own new government could
continue pulling back from confrontation with Palestinians.

In his public comments Thursday, President Bush laid blame for the flare-up
firmly on Hezbollah and Hamas, while cautioning Israel not to do anything
that would weaken the "fragile democracy" in Lebanon. "Israel has a right to
defend herself," he told reporters while in Germany. "Every nation must
defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life.
It's a necessary part of the 21st century."

Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group, joined the Lebanese government last year
following its strong showing in national elections, in part to derail
international efforts to force it to disarm

At the U.N., the U.S. stood alone in vetoing an Arab-sponsored resolution
demanding that Israel call off its offensive in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Bush
found some support in Berlin, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke
strongly in support of Israel. Mr. Bush was seeing the German leader as he
made his way to a summit meeting of the Group of Eight leading nations in
St. Petersburg, Russia, this weekend. The world response to the Mideast
fighting now is certain to be a significant agenda item there.

Mr. Bush and his top aides have pursued a hands-off approach toward Israel
since cutting off contacts with late Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat in
2002, and there was little Thursday to suggest that approach had changed.
But the next few days will test whether that approach continues in the
current crisis.

Test of U.S.-Israel Relations

The situation will test whether the U.S. and Israel see eye-to-eye on how to
handle Syria and, more important, Iran. Thursday, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice echoed the Israeli assertion that those two nations bear
responsibility for the unrest, saying they were encouraging the attacks and,
in the case of Syria, "sheltering the people who are perpetrating these

The U.S., Ms. Rice added, isn't going to "try to judge every single act" the
Israelis make. When asked if the fighting might spread to other countries,
she said she doesn't intend "to speculate on apocalyptic scenarios."

Mr. Bush has been in a diplomatic stand-off with Iran over its nuclear
program -- a showdown that some analysts think actually may be fueling
Tehran's desire to stir up trouble in the region. Iran, some U.S. and Middle
Eastern officials suspect, may be eager to demonstrate to Washington its
ability to harm American interests if the White House pursues a coercive
policy to stop Iran's nuclear programs.

They also suspect Iran has been emboldened by U.S. military setbacks in Iraq
to think it has more of a free hand to spread its influence across the
region, partly through proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas. At the same
time, though, there is considerable debate over how much control Iran
actually exercises over the groups. Some Israeli and American analysts think
Hezbollah wouldn't be acting in Israel without direct orders from Tehran,
but others disagree.

In any case, Mr. Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador, declined to respond to the
question of whether Israel would itself attack Iran for allegedly
masterminding Hezbollah's activities.

Setback for Region

Regardless of the tactics used now to damp violence, the growing conflict
could become a significant setback for the Bush administration's vision for
the region. Mr. Bush and many of his neoconservative strategists said in the
months leading up to the Iraq invasion that toppling Saddam Hussein would
make Israel and secular Arab states safer. These officials claimed Mr.
Hussein's ouster would allow secular democratic governments to flourish,
while depriving Palestinian terrorists of one of their major sponsors in

Many Middle East analysts say the Iraq war has made Israel significantly
less safe. Iran has used the conflict to project its influence across Iraq
and the Persian Gulf region. Al Qaeda, meanwhile, has developed a safe haven
in western Iraq that it has used to launch attacks.

Another concern is whether Lebanon's $20 billion economy can weather the
storm. The current violence comes amid the peak of Lebanon's tourist season,
which has seen Beirut's hotels, restaurants and bars packed in recent weeks.
After collapsing during the 1975-90 civil war, the tourist industry has
rebounded strongly in recent years to become a leading driver of growth.
Now, with transportation shut down and the conflict escalating, the industry
faces an uncertain future.

A swift decline in tourism, along with pressure on other parts of the
economy -- including soaring oil prices -- could push Lebanon's economy into
recession and possibly force the government to default on its nearly $40
billion debt. Even before the attacks, the International Monetary Fund was
urging Lebanon to undertake drastic measures to escape a looming debt
crunch. A debt crisis could stir deep tension within the ruling coalition,
where Hezbollah holds two ministerial seats.

A paralyzed -- or collapsing -- Lebanese government would add an element of
instability to the Middle East and set back to U.S. efforts to spread
democracy in the region. Some military and political analysts say an
Israeli-imposed economic crisis could ultimately boost support for
Hezbollah, which runs a vast social-services network funded independent of
the Beirut government.

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