There has been rage and revulsion worldwide at the barbaric treatment by Israeli forces of innocent families in Lebanon fleeing in terror.

In the southern Lebanon village of Taire the Israeli army (IDF) ordered residents to leave their village. Then they fired a US-made Hellfire missile at the last minibus in the convoy of fleeing refugees, killing three of its occupants. "Precision bombing" by the IDF? Who are the Israeli generals trying to fool?

And the Bush administration will be forever remembered for cynically and blatantly giving the Israeli regime the green light for this slaughter and destruction.

They agreed in the last few days to bring forward delivery of new and powerful bombs for the IDF to do the job with even greater destruction.

Hezbollah has responded to the IDF invasion by firing more rocket barrages against the northern cities of Israel. Israeli Jewish and Palestinian civilians, mainly workers and young people, were killed as a result, although in smaller numbers than in Lebanon.

Hezbollah is the Islamist organisation now targeted as the new bogey man in the ’war on terror’ with the Israeli regime ostensibly charged with its destruction. But Hezbollah inflicted a severe defeat on the Israeli military in 2000 when they succeeded in driving the IDF out of south Lebanon.

It did this on the basis of developing mass support for its guerrilla struggle mainly amongst the poor Shia Muslim population of south Lebanon. In the absence of a mass Lebanese workers’ party, with support in all working-class communities and capable of building workers unity across the sectarian divide, Hezbollah developed its base through providing schools, hospitals, water and electricity, social security in the areas where it organised.

Hezbollah’s development was a direct result of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s. Israeli troops were first welcomed there by the Shia population but this soon turned to bitter hatred as they realised that the IDF was not there as liberators but occupiers.

Ideologically, the Hezbollah leadership is close to the reactionary Islamist ideas of the Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran. However at different times the Hezbollah leadership has emphasised more nationalist rhetoric putting itself forward as the saviour of the Lebanese people in the face of Israeli and imperialist aggression. Despite this, there are limitations to the degree to which the Hezbollah leadership can unite the multi-religious Lebanese population behind its banner in a consistent and lasting manner.

What now seems months, but was little over two weeks ago, Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two more on the Israeli side of the border to bolster its political position in Lebanon and regain popularity.

The Israeli response has meant that this action has faded into the background. Internationally there are very few people who believe that the severity of the IDF bombardment has anything to do with forcing the return of the two captured soldiers. Instead the Israeli ruling class has imposed a massive collective punishment on millions of the Lebanese working class, rural poor and the recently impoverished middle classes.

Its intention is to force the Lebanese government and the majority of the population to oppose Hezbollah and ensure its withdrawal from south Lebanon and its disarmament.

However, the Israeli ruling class has other aims. They want to re-establish the idea that the Israeli regime is the strongest military power in the region and any opposition will simply not be tolerated or will be met with brutal force.

The new Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has his own reasons to implement this approach. He wants to develop his reputation as a military strongman which has not existed up to now and in doing so keep the new party Kadima which he heads, united and with more public support.

This policy is doomed to failure. The Israeli bombardment of Lebanon has achieved the exact opposite. Now many Lebanese Christian, Druze, Sunnis, as well as Shias while not necessarily agreeing with Hezbollah political ideas, see them as the only force fighting back against Israeli aggression and therefore their support has increased.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US secretary of state recently commented: "The US is in the process of learning in Iraq that it cannot impose solutions by force alone. Nor can Israel..."

Military agression

One of the most outrageous aspects of this latest war in the Middle East has been the role of US imperialism. The Bush administration has never been more open in its support for the Israeli regime’s aggression. The Guardian summed it up in the headline: "Bush tells Israelis: You have one week to bomb Hezbollah". This will result in greater stoking of the hatred of US imperialism amongst the Arab and Muslim masses.

Bush’s attitude to this latest Israeli invasion shows the change in the position of US imperialism. His administration will only take action to defend its own immediate interests. But its ability to act has also been greatly undermined internationally. This is mainly because of the disaster that the occupation of Iraq has turned into and the military overstretch that has resulted.

Instead, the Bush administration is attempting to use its status as the world’s super-power to pressure its regional allies to achieve its aims in the Middle East. This means crushing all opposition to US imperialism and if necessary installing new regimes in the Arab countries which are more openly allied to its interests.

Condolezza Rice summed up this approach when she said prior to her visit to the region "What we are seeing is the birth pangs of a new Middle East. This is a different Middle East. It’s a new Middle East. It’s hard. We are going through a very violent time".

In essence this means supporting brutal Israeli military aggression against the Palestinian and Lebanese population in an attempt to crush Hamas and Hezbollah. It also means supporting, for the moment, the corrupt theocratic Sunni elite in Saudi Arabia and the unstable Shia government in Iraq which is presiding over a descent into bloody civil war.

Rice made it quite clear that the Bush administration will not support a cease-fire if it means a "return to the status quo". However, this does not rule out periodic cessations of violence during US imposed negotiations as a concession to the international outrage which is developing against the Israeli regime’s campaign.

US imperialism will give continued diplomatic protection for Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon, until all the regimes (in particular the Lebanese government and Syria) and Hezbollah agree to their conditions!

These conditions involve the release of the captive Israeli soldiers, the withdrawal of Hezbollah to beyond the Litani river (12 miles from the Israeli-Lebanon border), the disarmament of Hezbollah’s armed wing, and the deployment of an international force to oversee and enforce these conditions.

The Israeli regime clearly wants an imperialist backed force to carry out the task it has not been able to complete so far.

Despite its overwhelming military fire power, the IDF campaign has already suffered problems. The generals promised that an air war would be sufficient to destroy Hezbollah and stop the rockets raining down on northern Israel. This has failed completely. The mobilisation of three divisions of army troops to go to the Lebanese border signifies this failure. It has also raised extremely painful memories of the unpopular Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and begun to cause frictions within the Israeli ruling class.

Barring a complete military defeat for Hezbollah, which is unlikely, its leadership will not accept the Israeli regime’s conditions. This is why an international force would be needed to, if necessary, forcibly disarm Hezbollah. If this was attempted such a force would be seen as an aggressor and occupier. This would lead to a Hezbollah campaign with mass support amongst at least the Shias for the driving out of what would be seen as a proxy army for Israeli and US interests.

If the Lebanese government is forced by US imperialism to sign such an agreement without Hezbollah’s consent, it could mean the end of this weak administration and an eventual descent into chaos with the possible return of Syrian troops under the guise of "maintaining stability"

The US’s plans may never get off the ground. There have been very few offers of help from different regimes to provide armed forces for such an international force.

But other events may cut across such an agreement. An atrocity on either side could lead to an immediate escalation of military attacks leading directly to a full Israeli land invasion and occupation. This makes a regional war more likely.

Undoubtedly Hezbollah fighters are seen as heroes amongst the Arab masses of the Middle East. Given Israel’s aggression, Hezbollah’s right to armed self-defence is clear. However, what are the best tactics for defeating the Israeli ruling class both military and politically?

The Hezbollah tactic of rocket attacks against civilian populations has led to the deaths of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian workers. Rather than weakening the support for the Israeli regime’s military campaign amongst the Israeli population, it has climbed to over 90%.

This is at a time when there is growing disquiet at the sacrifice that Israeli workers and young people have had to make. Firefighters called to put out fires caused by Hezbollah rockets are still not being paid by their bankrupt local councils. Workers are being told to go back to work or lose wages and their jobs. But social polarisation is undermined each time a rocket lands on the home of an Israeli working-class family.

Israeli generals have commented that Hezbollah has extremely "good fighters". This is not just a question of military training but indicates that Hezbollah has big reservoirs of social support in south Lebanon.

But Hezbollah’s political ideas means it cannot solve the fundamental social, economic and political problems of Lebanon and the wider Middle East.

These problems are a direct consequence of capitalism and imperialism’s role in the region and require a struggle for a socialist Middle East which is the only way forward for the region.

This means overthrowing the Israeli capitalist regime and the neighbouring Arab elites. It would guarantee the democratic rights of all national, ethnic and religious minorities as well as the use of the huge resources in the region to begin to solve the huge economic and social problems, which have become particularly acute more recently. Ultimately this is the only means by which the carnage can be stopped.

A first step in this direction would be building a mass opposition to the war in Israel and the struggle for independent working-class unity in countries like Lebanon.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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