First, the party insists that the war was a carefully planned American-Israeli initiative. Former MAKI Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, writing in the party’s newspaper al-Ittihad on August 22, 2006, cited Seymour Hersh to this effect. Hersh claims that the war was a test for a future American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. (See Hersh’s “Watching Lebanon,” New Yorker, August 21.)
Yet observable facts make it evident that Israel was not at all prepared for a war in Lebanon. What sort of careful planning leads a country to march into war with its ground forces in disarray – untrained, ill-equipped, occupied elsewhere – and its civilian population vulnerable? If this was a carefully planned initiative on Israel’s part, it caught itself with its pants down. There is a growing public demand in Israel for a Committee of Inquiry following widespread claims of military lapses, poor preparation, contradictory orders, and lack of battle rations.
While Israelis carped about the conduct of the war, the MAKI leadership preferred to see another reality. In the same issue of al-Ittihad in which Gozansky wrote of the carefully planned initiative, Muhammad Nafa, MAKI’s former General Secretary, claimed that Israel had fought better than ever! “The new factor,” he said, “was its encounter with a rare resistance, unprecedented in [its] history.”
When Israel plans a war, one can smell it coming, as in 1982, the first Lebanon War. But even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has admitted that he did not expect that Israel would go to war at this time. In an interview with Lebanese television (NTV, August 27, 2006), he said that he would not have captured the soldiers if he had known that the action would lead to war. This amounts to an admission that he had provoked the war, contrary to MAKI’s insistence that it was an American-Israeli initiative.
Nasrallah’s admission must be weighed against a statement he made a few days after the conflagration began: he said then that he had known with certainty that Israel was planning a war for October. (His Lebanese rival, pro-American Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, asked in response, “Why didn’t you warn us?”) This claim was an attempt to roll responsibility over to the Israeli side, after his fellow Lebanese lashed out at him for triggering the conflict. The fact is, Hezbollah really was surprised, as his deputy, Na’im Qassem, told the Lebanese paper al-Nahar on August 26.
So was Israel. The last time Israel was so surprised was on Yom Kippur, 1973. Some Israeli commanders have even dubbed this war “little Yom Kippur.”
We are faced, then, with the simple, discomfiting truth that this superfluous war, which spread blood, bereavement and destruction, was a disproportionate Israeli response to a Hezbollah miscalculation.
A war for a new Middle East
On July 18, six days after the outbreak of hostilities, Ahmad Sa’ad, editor-in-chief of al-Ittihad, wrote that the Hezbollah action provided a pretext, exploited by Israel, the US, the official Lebanese government, and the moderate Arab regimes, to accomplish by force a political goal: the establishment of a Lebanese regime, closely tied to Israel and America, as the cornerstone of a new Middle East. Sa’ad explained that the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was also exploited by the same camp to achieve the same goal, but then by peaceful means: UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
Resolution 1559 ordered the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, the expansion of the Lebanese army to the south, and the disarmament of Hezbollah. Only the first provision was fully implemented. From this Sa’ad drew the conclusion: “What the Lebanese schemers and their overlords, the Americans and Israelis, failed to achieve by peaceful means they hope to achieve today by the war that Israel is waging against Lebanon.”
Although Sa’ad details the designs of one side, he does not explain the part played by Hezbollah. The latter’s action was not planned only to gain the release of Lebanese prisoners or the return of the Shaaba Farms. Hezbollah had internal political motives as well. It wanted to improve the political status of the organization by a popular military success. This was intended to restore its prestige, shaken after the Syrian withdrawal of 2005 and the March 14 electoral victory of the anti-Syrian bloc. The action was meant to show why Hezbollah should continue to exist as an armed militia.
A new bipolar era?
In the article of July 18, Sa’ad also claims that the war has revealed a new polarization. “On the one hand, a strategic American-Israeli alliance uses military force to achieve regional hegemony and to subject regimes and nations to its interests. Many Arab regimes take part in this alliance. On the other side stand the resistance movements [Hezbollah and Hamas – A.A.], the progressive forces and the Syrian regime.”
The basis for Sa’ad’s classification is not at all clear. He seems to have forgotten that Hezbollah is a full partner in the current “pro-American” Lebanese government. Above all, it is not clear how he determined that those who oppose America are “progressive forces.”
Muhammad Nafa supplied an explanation. On August 23, in an article on the Hadash web site (http://www.aljabha.org), he praised the wartime demonstrations in Lebanon, where Hezbollah flags waved beside flags with the hammer and sickle. Nafa wrote: “The friend of America cannot be progressive …. On the other hand, regimes, parties, forces and organizations that are targeted by the US deserve solidarity, because the greater danger is the US. This holds with regard to Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Hamas, Venezuela and others.” (My italics – A.A.)
One day earlier, Nafa wrote in al-Ittihad that the time had come to recognize that there are fundamentalist forces combating the Occupation which are worthier of respect than all the phony leftists who supported the war. The main task now, he said, is to stop the American-Israeli attack on the region and the world. “This [effort] definitely serves the class struggle.” Nafa reinforced his claim with a quotation from Lenin, who said – in very different circumstances – that the Pasha who defends his country’s independence is preferable over the chauvinist worker who makes weapons for use in an imperialist war.
It is hard to read such words without astonishment. On this principle, should we also support Osama Bin Laden? There is something mistaken and dangerous in the notion that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. One need only recall Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of 1948, who sought to liberate Palestine by supporting the Nazis. To him Britain seemed (repeating Nafa’s words) “the greater danger.”
Are the allies whom Nafa so warmly endorses truly progressive?
1. The Syrian regime: Is it so different from the other corrupt Arab regimes? Is it any less corrupt? Does it permit more freedom of expression? Have we forgotten that Syria took part in the first war against Iraq (1990-91) on the side of the Americans and the “moderate-treasonous” Arab governments (as Nafa calls them)? MAKI itself, at that time, stood with Iraq and the Palestinians in opposition to Syria.
Although Syria has not yet signed a peace accord with Israel, it seeks one. Israel is the party that, for now, rejects an agreement. And how will MAKI react when and if Syria gets its wish, signs a treaty and takes shelter under the American aegis?
2. The fundamentalist movements: Sa’ad admits that, given the weakness of the Left, these movements are the only ones offering an alternative regime to those found in some Arab states. (http://www.aljabha.org, July 27.)
Fundamentalism cannot be progressive, because it seeks to return to the foundations, to the paths of the patriarchs. We should not forget, moreover, that politically these movements made up the military arm that implemented America’s program against the Soviet Union. They did so in Afghanistan in the 80’s and afterwards in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya. Their alliance with the US remained practically automatic as long as Communism was the common enemy. It unraveled only after the fall of the Soviet Union, as became clear on September 11, 2001. If Communism were to arise again, so would this alliance against it.
Ought we to consider the alternatives proposed by these movements to be progressive? Did MAKI approve of the Taliban? Is it not aware that it could not function beneath such benighted regimes?
The fundamentalist movements represented today by Hezbollah (Shiite) and Hamas (Sunni) take an extremist line, present the conflicts as religious and cultural wars, lead their countries into isolation and cause deep division in the Arab world. We have a local example in Nazareth, in the dispute between Christians and Muslims over the construction of a mosque beside the Church of the Annunciation. Here, in its home court, MAKI did not find fundamentalism to be progressive. (See Challenge 60, March 2000, “Cease-fire in Nazareth.”)
In Iran, Lebanon, and even in the Palestinian territories, there is a middle class that refuses to accept fundamentalism as a way of life. Unfortunately, this class is pro-American and removed from the people’s aspirations. MAKI doesn’t want to be associated with this class, but that doesn’t mean it must support fundamentalism!
3. Iran: Before declaring its support for the Iranian regime, MAKI did not read, it would seem, what Iran’s own communist party, the Tudeh, has to say. A document of the Tudeh Central Committee, from December 2005, calls the regime shady, reactionary, and borderline Fascist. It accuses it of exploiting poverty as propaganda for taking power. The Iranian regime basically supports the country’s large bourgeoisie. It implements a policy of privatization that is deepening the gaps between classes.
By mobilizing the Iranian people for a holy war against Israel, the Ahmadinejad regime shirks their real problems (19% of them are beneath the poverty line and another 31% close to it). This is a technique well known from dark times in the past. Yet the evils do not stop there.
Iran cooperated with America in toppling Saddam Hussein, an event which greatly weakened the Arab world. Today Iran is attempting to fill the vacuum left by Saddam with a conservative Shiite program. The first step was in Iraq, where the Shiite party now heads the government. Indeed, America has had to seek Iran’s help in order to maintain the Iraqi regime. In southern Lebanon, Iran has exploited its rising power in order to strengthen its position. This it has done by supplying Hezbollah. As for the latter, the growing strength of its Iranian ally, represented concretely by weapons and money, emboldened it to take the action of July 12. There is a logical chain, then, from the fall of Iraq through the strengthening of Iran to the present war.
MAKI follows the masses
Lacking an agenda of its own, MAKI has been drawn into supporting agendas that are foreign to its original program. Nafa (in the al-Ittihad article of August 22) calls on his readers to boycott the Zionist Left and the social-democratic states of the West that backed Israel during the war and to support instead the fundamentalist movements in Iran and Syria, which stand firm against the forces of globalization and the US. Such a call risks isolating the party and the public it represents.
MAKI’s support for the fundamentalists pushes the Zionist Left into the arms of the Right. We do not want to whitewash that Left’s support for the war, but one reason was its unwillingness to view Hezbollah as an ally. It saw it rather as a tool of Iran, which threatens day and night to eradicate Israel. The Zionist Left could hardly be expected to join Nafa in singing the praises of Hezbollah or the resistance front, to which he ludicrously transfers responsibility for waging the class struggle against the forces of globalization.
Matters look even more ludicrous when we consider the practical significance of a cry to boycott the Left and replace it with fundamentalist movements. Is this to say that from now on MAKI intends to join Hezbollah and Hamas in armed resistance? May we expect it to withdraw temporarily from the Histadrut coalition, which is led by Labor’s Amir Peretz, the “war minister” (as MAKI dubs him)?
Because we are certain that MAKI is not considering such a scenario, we can only conclude that its support for Hezbollah derives from the latter’s popularity among its constituency, the Arabs in Israel. In the short run the party may get votes out of this, but in the longer run it will learn that it has done itself major discredit.
MAKI’s loss of direction has a long prelude. The same new Middle East which it scorns today won its support in 1993, when it helped form a blocking faction that enabled the Oslo Agreement to pass through the Knesset. MAKI supports Nasrallah, as said, because America is “the greater danger”; this logic is familiar to us from the elections of 1996 and 1999, when MAKI called on the Arab public to support Labor candidates as the lesser evil. “Only not Bibi!” cried MAKI, for Bibi was the greater danger. The same short-sighted logic has led MAKI to its present situation.
It is fine to learn new things and change one’s stance, but we have not yet detected any principled soul-searching on MAKI’s part concerning its positions toward Oslo or the Labor Party. From this we conclude that its flip-flops represent a loss of perspective and political identity. Its adulation of the fundamentalists does not reflect serious support for the military line that Nasrallah is taking. Rather, it reflects a failure to lead, enchainment to the feelings of the street, and a surrender of the struggle to raise class-consciousness there. When the MAKI leadership praises fundamentalism, it is playing with fire, and the danger may be many times greater.