Bomber Sharon hits Syrian targets

The Middle East continues to descend to further levels of barbarism and decay at the hands of the rightwing militarist Israeli regime of Ariel Sharon, writes Ian Donovan

Determined to kick aside any initiative - whether from Israel’s superimperialist allies and patrons in Washington or indeed anywhere else - and snuff out any attempt at a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, Sharon is bent on creating the political conditions for a wider conflict with the surrounding Arab states. A conflict in which, under the fog of war, the long-cherished goal of the Zionist right can be carried out: the cleansing of the West Bank and Gaza of Arabs; the outright annexation of the occupied territories into a greater Israel.

The attack on a so-called ‘training camp’ deep inside Syria, just outside Damascus, supposedly in response to the latest suicide attack in Israel, in reality represents a further ratcheting up of Sharon’s strategy. It is of a piece with the incessant Göbbels-like propaganda blaming Arafat and the Palestinian authority for attacks on Jewish civilians that are obviously the work of Arafat’s rejectionist opponents. The net result: a conflict whose escalation fundamentally serves the programme of the Zionist right, which occasionally pretends to be interested in negotiations, when what it is really set on is the mass expulsion, if not (at least for some) mass extermination.

Sharon not only sabotaged Bush’s ‘road map’. His government also deliberately aborted the Hamas and Islamic Jihad ceasefires that were painstakingly put together by the pro-US stooge, former Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen, in collaboration with that wing of the islamists personified by Hamas leader, Abu Shanab, who are prepared to settle for a two-state solution. The policy of assassinating one’s political opponents was crowned by the murder by Israeli state forces of Abu Shanab himself, the architect of the ceasefire.

The predictable result: a return to bloodshed, with Palestinians dying at the rate of at least three for every Israeli fatality. But, equally predictably, out of this cycle, as Sharon and his compatriots knew full well, many more Israelis would die, in renewed suicide bombings carried out by those driven to the depths of despair and religious fervour (the two are natural companions, in fact) by the unremitting oppression of the Israeli terror occupation.

So the October 4 bombing in Haifa was no surprise to Sharon. He thrives on such outrages, secretly welcoming them in fact. The fact that the female bomber, a supporter of Islamic Jihad, chose a place where Israeli Arabs and Jews mixed socially, a somewhat rare thing in Israel (though not so much in Haifa), adds another reactionary twist to the whole situation. The action of the Israelis in punishing her entire family by demolishing their home displays a similar mentality - the entire ‘enemy’ population is guilty and must be punished, as indeed must anyone who dares to fraternise with them. The difference is, of course, that the islamists’ suicide bombings (and those of their secular imitators) are in reality less than pin pricks in the hide of the Sharon regime - indeed they strengthen it and provide it with more and more propaganda material to manipulate in pursuit of its own deadly aspirations vis-à-vis the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

So much for the ‘road map to peace’ cooked up by Bush with the formal imprimatur of the ‘quartet’: that is, the EU, Russia and the UN; and so much for the arrogant assumption of the Bush administration that, having effected ‘regime change’ in Iraq, it would be able to dictate the terms of a Middle East settlement enormously weighted in favour of its Israeli allies.

It ran into two fundamental problems: one, that Iraq proved to be far more difficult to swallow than the neo-conservatives thought, thus undermining the whole illusory momentum that was supposed to just push the thing through. The second obstacle Bush encountered was the dominant current within the Israeli ruling class: neither Labour nor more honestly Likud sees any kind of workable peace with the Palestinians. What they seek is ‘victory’: ie, the decisive subordination at the very least of the Arab population in the whole of the pre-1948 territory of Palestine - ultimately the only way to do this is though another Naqba. All their manoeuvrings, from the phoney peace of Oslo to the rampant provocations of Sharon, are just varying tactics in pursuit of that national and class goal.

Some on the Zionist right want to go further: ultimately their territorial ambitions include Jordan as well - indeed Eretz Israel is envisaged as extending to the Euphrates. This is, of course, a long-term goal: at this historical conjuncture the reckoning with the Arab population of ‘Judea and Samaria’ is foremost in the Zionists’ list of priorities.

The attitude of the US ruling class to this reality is one of acute contradiction and apparent impotence. Israel is America’s strategic ally in the region: the US really does not have any other reliable, heavily armed force to turn to. Israel also acts as a kind of lightning-rod: by its sheer unremitting, provocative militarism, it becomes the focus of hatred of the Arab masses and frequently draws their attention away from the criminality of the grotesquely exploitative and anti-democratic capitalist regimes that rule most of the Arab states. Israel’s militarism played a major role in making Saddam Hussein appear to many Arabs as a hero and a champion, when he should have been reviled, by the Arab masses above all, as a reactionary butcher.

In present circumstances, with a lumbering and not very smart rightwing regime in Washington, whose whole defining ethos is a knee-jerk intolerance towards anything smacking of their definition of ‘terrorism’, the Sharon regime is in a position to engage in provocations against its Arab neighbours that in fact contradict the rational tactical interests of US imperialism - without Bush being able to do anything significant about it. The Sharon regime is also aware that the lunatic, fundamentalist christian-Zionist wing of Bush’s own party is more open about advocating the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the West Bank than Sharon himself would dare say in public. So, however much Bush blows hot and cold and appeals for restraint after Sharon’s latest provocative adventure, he will not seriously challenge the Zionist strategy.

It is the same with the recent Israeli threat to expel or even kill Yasser Arafat. The US can lecture about how counterproductive that would be, yet, far from voting to warn Israel against it in the UN security council, it exercised its veto on Sharon’s behalf. The same pattern appears to be emerging with the bombing of Syria by Sharon, with Bush supinely pronouncing that “Israel has the right to defend itself”. This is yet another manifestation of the growing weakness of the Bush administration, now it is caught in the Iraqi quagmire: the whole foreign policy mess, taken as a totality, looks likely to provide ample ammunition for whoever Bush’s Democratic challenger turns out to be in next year’s elections.

However, as the Clinton years and the whole wretched experience of Oslo showed, even a change to a ‘left’ face in the White House, together with a corresponding change in Israel, will not bring liberation to the Palestinians. Only the independent struggles of the Arab and Jewish masses - for democracy and equality, for democratic and national rights for both peoples - can do that.