The decision by the Siniora “government” in Lebanon to choose now to go after Hezbollah’s security regime around the Rafik Hariri Airport in Beirut was seen by Hezbollah as a move to undermine its capacity to resist another anticipated Israeli assault on Lebanon. Hezbollah has quickly moved to change the balance of forces on the ground taking over West Beirut and besieging Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri in their homes on Friday morning.
The immediate crisis in Lebanon is part of a far bigger crisis. The confessional system of Lebanon is untenable in the long run and in the short run would have to be rebalanced to work. In part this re-balancing is happening now. The Lebanese workers that held a general strike over living conditions on Wednesday show just how incapable this system is addressing social needs. That sectarianism is a mask for other, broader, political forces is proved by the labyrinth of allegiances that makes up the opposing coalitions.
The Saudis are increasingly bankrolling the pro-US governmental parties. The US and Israel are certainly playing their roles as are the Syrians, Iranians and Europeans. The more that the Lebanese stress that this is an internal matter the more the international implications come into view. Everyone has their ante in the pot and is playing for stakes.
The United States has been ratcheting up its war of words as well as its military posture laying the ground work for some sort of confrontation with Iran. Lebanon is certainly a part of those calculations as is Sadr City where preparations for a large scale assault are under way. The unwinnable war in Iraq has damaged the US in many ways but no one seriously suggests that the United States is going to up and leave the Middle East to others. They can’t leave the Middle East and the can’t stay in the Middle East. The only alternative is to change the Middle East.
Israel, in the midst of its 60th anniversary celebrations and a deep corruption scandal centered on Prime Minister Olmert, has yet to respond to Hamas’ truce proposals. The crisis of leadership in Israel has to be resolved. But by whom? Barak and Bibi wait in the wings. Zionism sinks further into the morass.
Israel doesn’t want peace. Zionism can only survive if its legitimacy is furnished by conflict. It views the continued power of Hamas in Gaza as unfinished business. The inconclusive results of the 2006 war against Hezbollah are a deep challenge to Israel as well. A challenge that Israel cannot leave unanswered indefinitely. It choses to see Iran as an existential threat. What would Israel be if it were not for existential threats? If Israel’s actions did not already provide ample enough natural enemies Zionism would have to invent them.
Iran and Syria are increasingly at odds with pressures pulling them different ways. The second generation of the Assad dynasty will be the last. Syria’s duplicity and pathological self-interest inherent to all bureaucratic regimes have alienated all but their own security services. Syria would make a deal with Israel tomorrow if it they thought they could. Iran sees its future more clearly, but the internal jockeying that will accompany Iran’s growing influence will also undermine it. The restless Iranian workers and young people also demand a role in Iran’s future.
All of these crises and others are converging into a general crisis. The weaknesses shown by Israel and the United States in imposing their solutions on the region makes them dangerous and emboldens the opposition to them. The “deck has to be reshuffled” I heard one commentator on Al Jazeera say. Reshuffling decks in the Middle East is dangerous business, but so is the status quo.
Each new incident brings with it potential for war. When forces are sent into the field, even in a limited way as is happening now in Lebanon, the first thing to go out the window is the plan that put them there in the first place. Military plans rarely survive the first steps at their implementation as their implementation changes the circumstances in ways that are unforeseeable.
There are war clouds gathering across the Middle East. The crisis might subside, but for how long? How long can the contradictions of the region inflamed and exacerbated by imperialism contain themselves in the wretched political systems that seek to mediate them? One thing is for sure; the anti-war movement in the States, incapable of effectively challenging the Iraq war, is not prepared for an increasingly likely new war.
The left needs to start taking the possibility seriously. It has been lulled by the notion that a new war would be insane. Of course a new war would be insane, but the point is that the system that drives these things cannot be said to be governed by anything approaching sanity. The imperialist system is irrational; don’t expect it to make rational decisions, especially when it is challenged. You don’t have to be smoking something to be paranoid about what may come next.