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22-year Israeli occupation comes to inglorious end
IN THE end one of the world's most efficient and well-armed fighting forces - the IDF - was defeated by a Islamic volunteer guerrilla force of about 5,000 men - Hizbollah (funded mainly by the Iranian regime but also influenced and supported by the Syrian government).
The main reason for this was that the IDF was an occupation army relying on a brutal, surrogate, mercenary militia, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), notorious for extortion and other crime.
In recent years Hizbollah's support has soared as many Lebanese saw them as the only people resisting the hated occupation forces. As a result of this support, Hizbollah were able to launch lightening raids to strike hard and quickly against the SLA and IDF forces and then melt away into the surrounding Lebanese villages.
Hizbollah fighters were also ideologically motivated by the desire to drive out what they saw as Zionist imperialist occupiers in South Lebanon. As Brigadier General Benny Gantz (Commander of IDF forces in the Lebanon) commented: "Hizbollah is a very well trained guerrilla organisation. I am not sure that too many regular armies would have done as well as against them".
The IDF occupation also became increasingly unpopular in Israel. Many working-class Israelis saw it as a bloody quagmire for conscripts and making Israel's northern towns and villages vulnerable to Hizbollah attack.
The unpopularity of the occupation led Ehud Barak, now Prime Minister of Israel's coalition government, to promise during last year's election campaign to withdraw from Lebanon within 12 months. However, he wanted to link it to a peace agreement with the Syrian government and withdrawal by the IDF from the Golan Heights occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
When the recent round of negotiations between the Syrian government and Israel broke down, Barak was faced with insurmountable pressure to fulfil his promise to complete the withdrawal. This was especially the case since the Barak government had promised to create 300,000 jobs with free education from kindergarten to the end of university for all Israelis. Instead, the government launched a series of vicious attacks on working-class living standards which led to a plummeting of support for his government.
In the end, a two-week staged IDF withdrawal became a 48-hour disorderly scramble back across the border. The SLA, in a state of semi-collapse for a number of months, disintegrated. Thousands of SLA militia men, together with their families, streamed to the border to seek sanctuary in Israel, leaving their heavy weaponry, Mercedes and BMW cars, as well as their luxury villas, behind.
Immediately, tens of thousands of elated Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim civilians, together with Hizbollah fighters, streamed into the security zone, taking over villages left two decades ago. Hizbollah were able to capture a large amount of high quality military equipment left by the departing SLA.
Undoubtedly, the perception of the majority of the Arab masses of the Middle East is that this was a major military defeat for the IDF. Exaggerated comparisons were made with the ignominious withdrawal by US imperialism from Vietnam.
Nonetheless, perceptions are important and this political defeat and military setback for the Israeli ruling class will have increased the confidence of Palestinians struggling for genuine statehood in the former Occupied Territories and the Palestinian Authority. It will have also increased the confidence amongst Israeli Palestinians to struggle against discrimination and poverty within Israel.
At first, amongst ordinary Israeli Jews there was a widespread mood that the government had bungled the withdrawal and a sharp rise in feelings of insecurity as Israeli Jews saw hundreds of Hizbollah fighters and thousands of their supporters taking over villages in south Lebanon. However, with IDF troops increasingly seeing Lebanon as a dangerous place the mood changed into one of relief as all the soldiers returned to their homes.
IN THE short term, Ehud Barak's support will increase and his government will be stabilised. However, in the coming months the instability in Israeli society will resurface.
Israeli working-class Jews feel increasingly betrayed by the capitalist, Zionist state. The attacks on living standards goes hand in hand with a massive polarisation in wealth and growing corruption scandals which have involved President Ezer Weizmann (who has now resigned) and Prime Minister Barak.
The generals, previously seen as examples to follow amongst Israeli Jews, have had their reputation tarnished. Many ex-generals are now politicians (including Barak himself) who are implicated in corruption and enriching themselves on the backs of poor Israeli workers. The generals heading the army are implicated in bungled military operations and scandals.
The withdrawal has not solved any of the contradictions in the Lebanon either. It is still a country with a patchwork of different religious and ethnic groupings whose population still suffers from the social and economic effects of the civil war. 80,000 Lebanese had jobs in the security zone and in Israel. Their addition to the unemployment figures will further destabilise the Lebanese economy.
Despite Hizbollah's victory, the reactionary policies it proposes (ie, a dictatorial, cleric-dominated state) won't solve the social and economic problems of the masses in South Lebanon.
Lebanese Christians' fears for their safety have been increased by Hizbollah's victory in south Lebanon. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for the summer and if its present levels of support continue it will increase its representation in the Lebanese parliament. This could destabilise the delicate balance of power in the whole of Lebanon.
Western Imperialism, Israeli capitalism, and the rotten semi-feudal Arab regimes are responsible for the decades of conflict and violence in the Middle East. Only the overthrow of capitalism and feudalism can lay the foundation for the eradication of the cycle of bloodshed, violence and poverty that has been visited on the working class and peasant masses of the region.
A socialist federation of the region could utilise the human and natural resources that exist to create a harmonious existence where, over time, the type of conflicts previously seen, would become a fading memory.
In The Socialist 2 June 2000: