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ISR Issue 49, SeptemberOctober 2006
E D I T O R I A L S
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
Bush's proxy war
AS THE ISR goes to press, Israel continues to savagely pound both Lebanon and Gaza-its warplanes have made more than 2,500 sorties, and it fires 150 shells into Gaza every day. The daily casualties are mostly civilians, as Israeli warplanes' “precision” strikes hit bridges, electrical plants, roads, escaping civilian convoys, houses, and apartment buildings-all in a deliberate effort, to quote Israeli army chief of staff Dan Halutz, to “turn Lebanon's clock back twenty years.”
There can be no doubt that in this war Israel's strategic aims dovetail with Washington's. The Israeli tail, contrary to the claims of some commentators, is not wagging the U.S. dog. Israel is playing its traditional role as a “strategic asset” in the Middle East, carrying out plans that are not only sanctioned by the Bush administration, but are part of a joint plan that the U.S. wants seen through. As the right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer tells us, this war is “Israel's rare opportunity to demonstrate what it can do for its great American patron.” Phil Gasper's column, “Critical thinking,” a new regular feature in the ISR, explores the history of this “special relationship” between Israel and its patron.
Award-winning journalist, John Pilger, dissects the smug hypocrisy of U.S. power (“Israel and empire”), quoting the Israeli revisionist historian Ilan Pappe, who underscores the same point: “The pay-off time has come…now the proxy should salvage the entangled Empire.”
This latest onslaught is part of a single war with many fronts, whose aim is to reshape the entire Middle East region in the interests of the United States. It involves an arc that swings all the way from Afghanistan to Iran, running through Iraq, the Occupied Territories, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. Washington sees smashing Hezbollah as part of its efforts to isolate and weaken Iran in preparation for further moves in its plan to establish unchallenged hegemony in the world's nerve center of oil production.
The Israeli ground invasion of southern Lebanon, however, intended to destroy Hezbollah and force the Lebanese government to collaborate with Israel in Hezbollah's defeat, has yet to accomplish any of these goals. Instead, it has encountered unexpectedly fierce resistance that, in only a matter of weeks, has thrown Israel's war aims into question, forcing it to scale them down from “destroying Hezbollah” to “weakening” and “deterring” it. Instead of driving a wedge between Hezbollah and the Lebanese people, Hezbollah's ability to check Israel's onslaught within several kilometers of the border has provoked widespread admiration and pride, in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East. In standing up to Israel, Hezbollah is the Middle East's new David against the Israeli (and American) Goliath-a thought that causes Arab dictatorships to shudder. Hezbollah is accomplishing what no Arab regime ever has.
After promising swift victory through massive air power and a lightning ground invasion, Israel has shifted gear, hoping to inflict as much damage as possible and slug its way toward the Litani River in southern Lebanon, in time for the U.S. to secure for it a favorable “peace” deal in the UN Security Council that will bring an international occupying force in south Lebanon, with the support of the Lebanese army, and keep a battered but not beaten Hezbollah out. If this limited objective is achieved, occupying forces in southern Lebanon (of whatever national complexion) will again face an armed resistance similar to the one that prompted Israel to evacuate the region in 2000.
Tamim al-Barghouti, writing in Al-Ahram Weekly, rightly points out that if there is a cease-fire without Israel disarming Hezbollah, “ Hezbollah will have won. Hezbollah would still have arms, the ability to operate in the south and, most importantly, the two Israeli soldiers.”
Israel is acting as a proxy army to carry out U.S. plans to reshape the Middle East in part because the U.S. itself, bogged down in Iraq, is unable to make the next move directly. The irony is that the proxy appears to have encountered the same problems that prompted its “patron” to turn to Israel to do its dirty work in the first place-its inability to suppress the Iraqi resistance and establish a stable puppet regime there.
U.S. imperialism and its Israeli attack dog seem to have, once again, bitten off more than they can chew. Israel's hubris is based on the same miscalculation made by the U.S. in Iraq-that overwhelming force trumps all. But Hezbollah has shown it has mass support from the population.
But neither Israel nor the U.S. can afford to lose. The “credibility” of both, as world and regional powers, are at stake. So Israel's response may be to strike deeper and spread the conflagration, extending the land invasion into the north, intensifying the bombing throughout Lebanon, and possibly even attacking Syria. On the other hand, as Robert Fisk points out, Israel and the U.S. may be forced to call upon Syria to play its traditional role as powerbroker in order to produce a settlement in Lebanon at all favorable to their interests.
Israel's bombings, spreading now to Christian areas in the north, seem to be punitive attacks to express its dissatisfaction with the outcome so far. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Israel, as the U.S. has done in Iraq, could turn Lebanon into a smoldering wreck, another “failed state”-as warning to the world that though imperialism may not achieve everything it sets out to do, its enemies will be left with only ruins to live in.
Toufic Haddad (“Birth pangs of a new Middle East”) offers an in-depth analysis of Israel's attack on Gaza and Lebanon, placing them in the international context of U.S. imperial interests in the region.
Sharon Smith (“Litmus test for the antiwar movement”) looks at the historic blind-spot that the liberal Left has had on the issue of Israel and how it cripples antiwar efforts by deliberately de-linking the issue of Afghanistan and Iraq from the Palestinian question and the extension of the “war on terror” into Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. The pro-Democratic Party “progressives” inside the antiwar movement are too constrained by their support for a party that is virulently pro-Israel to offer any leadership on this question. On the other hand, as she points out, the Lebanon invasion presents with full clarity the way in which all of these elements are linked. It therefore presents the antiwar movement with the imperative and the opportunity to begin rebuilding the stalled antiwar movement on a more active and politically sound footing (that is, independent from the Democrats).
This issue also includes several articles on Latin America: on the explosive student movement in Chile, the election fiasco in Mexico that has left the decision over who is to be president hanging, and the popular rebellion in Oaxaca to oust the state's corrupt and repressive governor.
On the domestic front, California Green Party senatorial candidate Todd Chretien reviews the predictable but disappointing performance of the Democrats in the lead up to the 2006 elections and their prospects given the deep-seated crisis in the GOP. Martin Smith retells his experience as a Marine Corps trainee and how it relates to the current discussion of atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Joe Allen brings to the surface the forgotten tragedy of Gary Tyler, who has languished in prison for three decades for a crime he did not commit. Sherry Wolf offers a historical review of the FBI's repressive COINTELPRO operations during the last radical upsurge. Phil Gasper, editor of the annotated Communist Manifesto (Haymarket Books, 2006) revisits Marx's classic text, Capital.
Julien Ball is an organizer for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in Chicago.