On the face of it, if it was at all possible to weigh up the phenomena of current wars, the recent Israeli-Hamas conflict around the Gaza Strip wouldn't be the worst slaughter taking place. British-backed Rwandan 'rebels' have killed, raped and brutalised their way deep into the so-called Democratic Republic of Congo, itself a wider field for massacres, rape, child-soldiers and terror which, when not directly orchestrated by them, are allowed to happen by the big powers while the United Nations watches. Further north in Africa, across the Sahel, again the widespread killings of civilians, rape, child-soldiers, big power manoeuvres and rivalries, along with the abject barbarity of religious fundamentalism. In Syria, over the same days as the recent Israeli operation "Pillar of Defence" took place, many more were killed and wounded within an ongoing general slaughterhouse. But the conflict between Israel and Palestine has a particular resonance for revolutionaries, which is also glimpsed by wider layers of the working class, because it shows the permanent expression of militarisation and war which is the hallmark of a decayed and further decaying social system. Whatever its specifics, strategies and rationales - and there are certainly plenty of those - the Israeli-Palestine conflict is first and foremost the expression of a decomposing capitalism that holds an enormous threat for the working class and the whole of humanity. This particular conflict, increasingly along with the whole geopolitical situation of the Middle East, represents the tendency towards greater militarism, imperialist war, instability and chaos. Its absurdity, intractability and irrationality perfectly sums up the future that this crisis-ridden system offers to us and the generations to follow. There can be no peace here, no meaningful negotiations, and any possible Palestinian two-state solution, if it ever sees the light of day, would only be a contributing factor to deeper instability and war. The Middle East shows how, even in the face of chaos, the nations and cliques are inevitably driven to growing tensions, rivalries and military competition planet. Every major nation has become a military monster and all of the national state creations in decadence are created in their own image, where every aspiring clique or 'national liberation' force are also monstrous expressions of the universal decay. Israel and the 'Palestinian question' shows this in spades.
New states are born into and are part of the spread of war and militarism
The Department of Political Science at Oslo University, in collaboration with the Peace Research Institute, has concluded in 2009, through the person of its Professor Havard Hegre that, in relation to war "the number of conflicts is falling" and "we expect this fall to continue". It's the imperialist version of economic crisis denial and the putting forward of an everlasting more or less peaceful capitalism. It's pure fiction! We've already mentioned the wars in Africa and the wider Middle East above, wars that show every sign of extending and deepening. To these we can add the war in Libya, which the good professor above categorises, along with the war in Syria, as "democratisation processes", as if that was some sort of excuse and in whose view, like many bourgeois academics, capitalism can maintain equilibrium, become more humane and even progress towards eternal life. To the wars above we can add the continuing war and bombings in Iraq which are more and more threatening to link up and slot in with the wider Syrian war, or the 'Kurdish Question' which is a war in itself and a potential war across several countries, again threatening to link in with the Syrian war. Then there's the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the de facto declaration of war by the western powers against a Russian and Chinese backed Iran (in a line-up similar to Syria); and in this vein we mustn't forget the myriad tensions and rivalries around and emanating from an aggressive and voracious Chinese imperialism. And we must add, for future reference, the fragile and militarised imperialist fault-lines of the Balkans, the Caucasus and the ex-Russian republics, Africa (Somalia, the Sahel, Congo). Everywhere we look we see greater tendencies not towards peace, rationality and coherence, but to incoherence, fragmentation, separatist centrifugal tendencies that, in the relatively economically weaker areas of the world - a growing, expanding area of the globe - show a slide into permanent militarisation and war. This is the direct consequence of an economic system that, for all its former glories, is now staggering about on its last legs.
The Middle East is made up of economically incoherent territories where ethnic and religious divisions are manipulated and manoeuvred by all the major imperialisms. In the early 1900s, as the capitalist system had covered the globe and there was no room for any real, new expanding nations, countries like Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories were all creations, or rather abortions, of imperialism in general and specifically Britain and France which used the arbitrarily imposed borders of these newly created countries to divide-and-rule and defend their own imperialist interests. Later, the US used the terrorist factions of Zionism in order to help dislodge the British, and later on, during the Cold War, Russia used the whole region as its one of its stamping grounds in order to confront the USA. The Israeli state, like all the Arab states mentioned above, which, incidentally, have killed more Palestinians than the Israelis, is a permanent expression of militarism and war which, as the economic crisis deepens, will become more and more unstable. Within this process, not just the Palestinians but the Israelis and the masses of the Arab populations become hostages and pawns in the unfolding chaos and contradictions of imperialism, which has been expressed more widely in a situation of more or less permanent war from around 1914.
When capitalism was a vibrant, progressive and expanding system wars and divisions were still part of it, but overall the system tended towards a certain coherence at the level of the construction and unification of the nation state, as all elements, religious, ethnic, etc., tended to merge for the greater good of a more effective process of capitalist accumulation. This wasn't because of the 'moral superiority' of capitalism but emanated from its fundamental need for successful exploitation and expansion. In decadence however we see that the formation of new states does not lead to the integration of different groups in society into a higher capitalist unit but more often results in ethnic cleansing, the reinforcement of racial, religious and ethnic divisions, the expulsion of different groups or their ghettoisation. We've already mentioned above the Balkans, the Caucasus, the ex-Russian republics - and we could add the Indian sub-continent - regions where many of these 'nations' were created for and by imperialist interests and whose very existence is founded on ethnic and religious tensions, centrifugal forces and the defence of every man for himself. Exactly the same is true for the 'nations' of the Middle East: Jordan, Syria, etc., and particularly Israel whose specificities and existence as a fortress state very precisely reflects the general decay of capitalism. Many of these nations are not viable economic units and mostly rely on a bigger imperialist shark or sharks and become a focus for greater tensions. They express not a positive move forward but rather a real fetter on the productive forces.
But does this mean that around the Middle East there are no rationales in this equation, no strategic and economic motives at work; oil production and distribution for example, electoral motives, tactical considerations and so on? No, there are bundles of them. They come thick and fast in the Middle East but the point is that they are all entirely secondary to the overwhelming tendency towards breakdown. In fact they can only contribute to the latter within the absurdity of the defence of borders, arbitrary divisions and of the framework of a profound, insurmountable impasse only worsened by the deepening economic crisis. This infernal spiral towards destruction won't stop and cannot be attenuated or negotiated away. Whatever the bourgeoisie does to try to 'regulate' the situation only rends the situation still more fragile, and this is exemplified in the Middle East where we first saw the clearest signs of the weakening of the world cop, the USA, as its reach is stretched and compromised, opening the door to still more centrifugal tendencies. This phenomenon of a society being torn apart in a series of wars with different ethnic, religious and racial groups fighting each other with hidden imperialist interests behind is a typical expression of a decadent society - a repetition of what both the Roman Empire and feudal Europe saw in their epochs of decline.
On the recent Israel-Gaza conflict
If it was President Netanyahu's intention to strengthen his political position by launching operation "Pillar of Defence" in mid-November once the US elections were out of the way and before the Israeli elections next January then, like much manoeuvring in the Middle East, it's gone badly wrong. Hamas, which had been losing credibility within the Gaza Strip for several years now, has been enormously strengthened by the outcome of the 8-day war. The brutality of the Israeli response comprising of tank fire, huge naval guns, attack helicopters and fighter jets into the narrow, densely populated strip has backfired politically. Hamas, which along with its more fundamentalist 'allies' has been firing rockets into Israel for months from the same densely populated areas, has been strengthened by signing a truce with Israel and through further talks aimed at 'facilitating' the movement of goods and people in and out of the Strip. In return Hamas has said that it will stop the rocket attacks on Israel and to this end has also strengthened itself against more militant groups like Islamic Jihad. Hamas has also strengthened itself against the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank where the stock of Hamas has risen to the detriment of the former. This accounts from the warning this week from Abbas to Europe and the US (The Guardian, 28.11.12) that some crumb of statehood (i.e. giving the Palestinians some sort of Vatican-like status within the UN) has to be given to the PA or Hamas will be further strengthened. To the disappointment of the US and the rest of the Middle East Quartet (special envoy Tony Blair), Hamas has become more included in the whole process and its isolation is broken with support coming not just from Iran but also from Qatar, Tunisia, Egypt (officials from all three countries have visited Gaza recently) and others. British Foreign Secretary Hague welcomed the Egyptian-brokered truce as "an important step to a lasting peace" . No such thing of course but it shows how Hamas and the smaller groups have to be taken into account now by all those that were trying to isolate it. The US administration knew that an Israeli invasion of Gaza would be a disaster given the geopolitical issues, held its nose and rapidly gave the Egyptian/Hamas ceasefire deal its full seal of approval.
Another 'winner' in this whole shaky process has been the Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egyptian president, Mohamed Mursi, who, with his spy chief Mohamed Shehata (echoes of ex-president Murabak and his spy chief Omar Suleiman) met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and the leader of Islamic Jihad, Ramadam Shalah (Christian Science Monitor, November 22) to do the deal which Hillary Clinton had to personally welcome on behalf of the administration. Only a few months ago, the US was trying to undermine Mursi and, just to underline the volatility and fragility of the whole region, the US is again denouncing Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood for taking on Murabak-type dictatorial powers just days after his ceasefire 'victory'.
Wider imperialist factors
Further factors from this imperialist cesspit are that Israel would like Egypt to take more responsibility for Hamas, and according to that view the West Bank and Gaza - at either ends of Israel - could be further isolated one from the other if Egypt's scrutiny over Gaza could be reinforced. Mursi has rebuffed such moves and doesn't want Israel to dump the problem of Gaza onto Egypt. While there have been tensions and a certain distancing between Hamas and their previous backers Iran (a vacuum that Qatar stepped into) over the war in Syria, there appears to be something of a re-warming given the perceived role that Iranian weapons (particularly anti-tank weapons) provided to Hamas had in dissuading an Israeli ground assault on Gaza. Not surprisingly there are splits in Hamas regarding its relations with Iran which is a further complicating factor. There's suspicion at least from Saudi Arabia towards the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt as there is in the United Arab Emirates, a major investor in Egypt. Then there is the ambiguous attitude of the Brotherhood towards Iran, typical of the ever-more tangled relationships in the Middle East. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood is a further unpredictable factor expressed in the elements above and its increasing activity in Jordan is contributing to making this country more and more unstable. All this, along with major questions over Iran and Syria, makes for further problems for US imperialism and its "Light Footprint" strategy for the Middle East (as it 'rebalances' or 'pivots' towards its greater priority of the Asia/Pacific and the increasing threat that China poses to its dominance in this region).
Whereas in 2008/9, at the time of the last Israeli incursion into Gaza, there was a relative 'calm' on the borders with Syria and Lebanon, while Turkey was still friendly with Israel, Mubarak could be relied upon in Egypt and US/Iranian tensions weren't as sharp. Now the situation is much more unpredictable with many of the nations playing their own game and deepening the tendencies toward each for themselves.
The leaders of the stateless Palestinian bourgeoisie, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, have nothing to offer their population except increasing misery and martyrdom. They are nothing but an expression of the despair and hatred whose aim is to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible. They can offer no constructive alternative but, similar to the war lords of Africa whose child armies kill, rape and plunder - another phenomenon of decomposing capitalism - they can only push desperate young Palestinians into revenge and rages of destruction for their empty nationalist projects. The Israeli state feeds the spiral of terror and violence with daily indignities, collective punishments, land-grabs, random shootings and blowing up civilians who happen to be near the Palestinian gangsters.
Despite repression and the permanent atmosphere of war, the Middle East has seen many signs of the social protest against the crisis of capitalism and leaders on all sides: over the last couple of years we've seen social protest in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and more recently Jordan; and these movements have mainly been directed against fundamental questions such a price rises in food, energy, etc., as well as all the regimes that impose and police these measures. Such movements, while not revolutionary in themselves, have to be welcomed by the working class because they show that, even in these more militarised and brutal regimes, even with the hatreds and enmities that emanate from the ruling cliques, there is still the will and ability to fight back. While many workers of these regions have taken part in the protests they have largely done so as individuals and not as a distinct, independent force. The nearest expression of this is that of the working class in Egypt, where the organised working class was, and remains, a real factor in the class struggle. But the reality of the working class in the areas around Israel is that it is too weak and will find a way forward out of the ambient barbarism very difficult without the moves of their brothers in the more central capitalist nations.
These social movements in the region around Israel involving the working class are important but, while they can destabilise the bourgeoisie or cause it problems, they are not strong enough to continue to push the ruling class back - nor could they be due to their own limitations. As a cry of the oppressed and exploited the social movements throughout the Middle East were part of an international wave of protests that continues to reverberate. But here the contradiction is that the weakness of that positive movement has left something of a vacuum that imperialism has poured into, leading, in part, to the wars in Libya and Syria. It has also contributed to reinforcing the wider destabilisation of the regimes which in turn have tended to further weaken the USA's control over the region and promote more centrifugal, independent tendencies among the local bourgeoisies. We don't expect an upward, linear movement of force against capitalism even with the stronger development of class struggle. The region of the Middle East will be particularly difficult for the exploited and oppressed that live there and there will be very hard times for the class struggle overall with imperialism being an ever-present threat and danger. Only significant developments of the class struggle in the capitalist centres can push imperialism back and begin to question the fragmentation and war that it imposes.
Baboon (this article was contributed by a sympathiser of the ICC)
See the three parts of "Notes on the History of Conflict in the Middle East" in International Reviews nos. 115, 117 and 118.
The British bourgeoisie and its intelligence agencies have been more supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have supported it historically in the 1940s and 50s and there have been reports of its direct support to the MB as a fighting force in Syria over the last year. Like Murabak and his spy chief Suleiman, whom Britain backed to the hilt, we can imagine similar support to Mursi and his vicious crew. A press release dated March 2012, for the updated version of Mark Curtis' book: Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam, states: "Foreign Office officials have recently held various meetings with the MB, which have been unreported in the British media. The policy is one of "insuring" Britain in the event of the Brotherhood playing a key role in Egypt's transition and protecting an £11 billion investment by BP. Freedom of Information requests by the author for more details on these meetings have been refused by the F.O. on the grounds of 'public interest'".