The escalation of barbarism in the Middle East is part of the escalation of military conflicts across the whole planet. Following the September 11th attacks the USA launched a long term crusade against 'terrorism', starting with the war in Afghanistan, an intervention which had been planned well before the destruction of the Twin Towers. This was followed by the increase in tensions between India and Pakistan. Then came the build-up towards a new attack on Iraq, supposedly to make it accept UN weapons inspectors again, or even to depose Saddam. And to emphasise the seriousness of the USA's intent, the Pentagon 'leaked' US plans to use nuclear weapons, if necessary, against anyone else alleged to possess weapons of mass destruction, such as China, Russia, North Korea, Syria, Libya or Iraq.
All this is an expression of the US strategy to maintain its status as the world's sole superpower against any potential rival. It is not Afghanistan or Iraq that threaten the world's most powerful imperialism, nor even Russia or China, despite being nuclear powers themselves, but the great European powers and Japan. Germany has the greatest potential to form an imperialist bloc to rival the USA because of its industrial might and geographical position at the heart of Europe; but it is far from being able to realise that potential today because its military arsenal is puny in comparison to the American armed forces. This has been demonstrated time and again, in Iraq in 1991, in the Balkans and most recently in Afghanistan when the USA was able to go it alone in a military campaign half way round the world. (See 'The real motivations for the US offensive', p.8 and 'Is Britain America's poodle?', p.2 for more in-depth analysis).
Yet each time the US demonstrates its massive power and imposes its 'order' on the world it stirs up new instability and more resentments which can in turn be aggravated and used by its most important rivals. After war in Afghanistan, conflict between India and Pakistan. After new threats against Iraq, increased fighting in Israel and Palestine.
Israel steps up operations against the Palestinian Authority
Palestinian suicide bombings have increased in number and in their horrifying effects. Following the killing of 22 Israelis in Netanya at the start of the Passover holiday, Israel launched its largest military operation for 20 years. This spiral of violence can only be understood as part of the growing imperialist chaos in the world today. When preparing the Afghan war, the US talked of support for a future Palestinian state, much to Israel's irritation, but only to keep the support of the Arab countries. The success of the Afghan operation "has dealt a serious blow to the 'Arab cause', and is therefore a catastrophe for Arafat who has been greatly weakened. This helps Israel to push its Palestinian enemy onto the ropes with the consequence of aggravating the open war that it has been dragging out for years" (International Review 108). Since these words were written (last November) Arafat has found himself confined to a cellar in his headquarters, unable to communicate with the outside world except by Israeli agreement.
This has allowed Israel - acting on behalf of the US - to block the European powers from gaining influence in the Middle East conflict; it openly prevented the delegation of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy spokesman, and Josep Pique, Spanish foreign minister, from meeting Arafat, unless he agreed to leave the area with them. They were allowed to meet Peres, but would get little change from such a firm US ally. Nevertheless, the European powers can only base their attempts to gain some influence, or destabilise this US sphere, on contact with the Palestinians and Arabs. Hence the rearguard actions such as the British, French, Italians and others who have travelled to the West Bank to act as human shields, or the balance of media propaganda in Europe, which is highly critical of Israeli actions.
A dilemma for the USA
The US, Israel's greatest ally, has been mindful of its wider imperialist interests in its approach to the Middle East. It is clear that the USA supports the present Israeli action: Bush has condemned terrorism and supported Israel's right to defend itself. Both Bush and Colin Powell have said that Arafat and the Palestinians brought their situation on themselves.
But the US is also aware that Arab countries' support for further attacks on Iraq will depend on it appearing to make some attempt to restrain Israel and work for 'peace' in the region. So they have also called for Israeli withdrawal and insisted on US envoy Zinni being allowed to meet Arafat, even if the media were kept well away. This is a real dilemma that seems to have caused disagreements within the US administration, and explains the constant changes in the Americans' language about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The perspective of worsening violence
There is no lack of peace initiatives - from the US, from Europe, from Saudi Arabia. These follow the Madrid conference, the Oslo Accords, the historic handshake at Camp David. Leaders of the conflict on both sides, Arafat, Peres and Rabin, have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which is their reward for fomenting war and terrorism for decades. The more they talk of peace the more they drag the population of the region into war.
On the one hand the Palestinians face the bombardment of their homes and refugee camps with the destruction of vital infrastructure, the shooting of anything that moves including children and ambulances. And more recently tanks in their streets, curfew. This is used by the Palestinian bourgeoisie and its backers to feed anti-Jewish hatred and recruit more suicide bombers.
On the other hand the Israeli population is facing murderous attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers, whether dispatched by the Islamic radicals of Hamas or the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which is directly linked to the Palestinian Authority. This is used by the Israeli bourgeoisie and its backers to feed nationalist anti-Arab propaganda.
In reality it is not one 'people' or the other, but the global imperialist 'game', involving both Israel and the Palestinian Authority as well as their more powerful backers, that is responsible for all this barbarism. And this game will not be stopped by campaigns that advocate solidarity with Israel or with Palestinian nationalism. The only force that can oppose imperialist war is the proletarian class struggle, which owes no allegiance to any nation, and whose ultimate aim is to make the entire planet a homeland for humanity.