Military conflicts spreading across the Middle East
It is now 40 years since the Six Day War of 1967, in which Israel gained a great deal of territory. The media coverage of this anniversary has had little choice but to register the almost unending conflicts that have come in the wake of that war. Indeed, these conflicts had already been sustained for 20 or 30 years before then, and have continued ever since. Sometimes the focus has been Lebanon, the theatre of conflict between Israel and Syria, as well as the US and France. Most prominently Iraq has had wars with Iran and the US. And in Israel/Palestine there has been no let-up in the combat between Israel and the Palestinian factions, with all their various backers.
What is significant about the current situation, however, is that there are a number of areas simultaneously in a state of armed conflict, an accelerating decline into chaos across the region.
Iraq and Turkey
In Iraq a report last month from Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs) was not the first body to warn that “Iraq faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation”, that “the Iraqi government is now largely powerless and irrelevant in large parts of the country, as a range of local civil wars and insurgencies are fought” (BBC 17 May).The BBC described the report as “unremittingly bleak”. The report accuses each of Iraq’s major neighbouring states - Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - of having reasons “for seeing the instability there continue, and each uses different methods to influence developments”.
It is not unusual to see the names of Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional backers of factions throughout the Middle East, but the name of Turkey is often omitted from the imperialist powers that have interests in the area, interests they are prepared to defend by the most brutal military means. Recently there has been a build up of armed forces (tanks, aircraft and troops) on Turkey’s border with Iraq. There is growing speculation that they might be about to invade Iraq, under the pretext of attacking the Kurdish separatists operating across the border. The US was concerned enough to send fighter planes into Turkish airspace as a means of warning against any action. At the time of writing the BBC was reporting the shelling of areas of northern Iraq by the Turkish army.
The US is obviously worried about every aspect of the situation in Iraq. 30,000 extra US troops will be arriving in June; Bush has signed off an additional $100bn for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (on top of the estimated cost per day to the US of $300m); and the situation only gets worse, with the killings, the massive displacement of people (including 2 million refugees who’ve fled the country) and the continuing damage to the infrastructure. With a new atrocity everyday it’s understandable that polls in the US show massive majorities thinking that things are going badly and that the US should have stayed out of Iraq.
Gaza and the West Bank
In Gaza, the Mecca ‘peace’ accords between Hamas and Fatah, which gave both factions a share in running the Palestinian Authority, has already been disrupted by a renewal of armed clashes between the two gangs. Meanwhile Israel has been conducting a campaign of airstrikes, threatening all Hamas members as legitimate targets. This is a foretaste of any future ‘two states’ ‘solution’. For the Palestinian factions such an outcome would be an opportunity to run a state that, with the backing of outside powers, can challenge Israel. For Israel it would only be acceptable if it guaranteed its effective domination over Gaza and the West Bank. In all these confrontations, the Palestinian and Israeli populations are just pawns in others’ vicious games.
The situation in the Lebanon has always been complex. Or rather, regardless of the complexities, there is always suffering for the exploited and oppressed, regardless of where they live. The Lebanese government is currently cracking down on Fatah al Islam, a small al-Qaida type group based in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp near Tripoli. It has said quite bluntly that the group of 150 to 200 militants should surrender or be crushed. This incident is part of a much wider inter-imperialist conflict ravaging the country. If you look at the Israeli attack on Lebanon last year, the massive Saudi financial support to the Lebanese central banks and the education sector, the money from Iran channelled through Hizbollah into ‘aid’ schemes in the Lebanon, the ambitions of Syria, which has been ejected from Lebanon but has not renounced its interests in it, then it becomes clear that the situation in the Lebanon is being aggravated by the same regional powers that are trying to influence the situation in Iraq.
The Lebanese government has said that Fatah al Islam is backed by Syria, and its origins do seem to lie in a more openly pro-Syrian group, Hamas Intifada. There are, however, also coherent arguments that it is one of the local creations of the US secret services, since the latter could benefit from the emergence of a Sunni brand of terrorism to counter the Shiite Hezbollah and its Iranian backers.
Whatever the truth, the situation in the Lebanon is only pointing one way. Yet again the Lebanese government will be shown to be not up to the basic tasks required of a state, and outside intervention will be ‘justified’. Already both the US and France have rushed to offer their support for the government in its fight against terrorism. But these two great powers, both currently involved in the UN ‘Peacekeeping’ force in the Lebanon, only appear to be on the same side. In reality their interests are fundamentally antagonistic: the US succeeded in kicking France out of the Lebanon during the wars of the 70s and 80s, and France is doing everything it can to worm its way back, which will certainly involve undermining US attempts to stabilise Lebanon under its hegemony. As with Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza, the only prospect is an increasingly militarised, chaotic situation, and the global ‘Peacekeepers’ are more responsible for this than anyone. Car 9/6/7