Defend Syria and Iran Against Imperialist Attack!
Regional War Looms in the Middle East
For an Arab/Hebrew Palestinian Workers
in a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!
JUNE 28 – As illusions of “peace” spread over the Korean peninsula as a result of a vague agreement reached by U.S. president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a June 12 summit in Singapore, tensions are building on the other side of Asia. The stage is being set for regional war in the Middle East. On May 8, Donald Trump withdrew from the so-called Iran nuclear deal, making good on one of his chief campaign promises and cementing an alliance with the Zionist militarists and Saudi war hawks. The hard-line anti-Iran policy outlined in the U.S. National Security Strategy (18 December 2017) was spelled out at the February 2018 Munich Security Conference, where U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster declared that “now is…the time to…counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, including its development and proliferation of missiles – and its support for terrorist proxies and militias that fuel destructive conflicts across the greater Middle East.”
Three weeks earlier, on April 14, the U.S. and its NATO partners Britain and France launched a missile attack on Syria, targeting two empty warehouses and Syria’s Pharmaceutical and Chemical Industries Research Institute, which produced cancer drugs in short supply because of imperialist sanctions. The attack was billed as a response to an alleged chemical weapons attack on April 7 by the Syrian government against civilians in Douma, a suburb of Damascus which was on the verge of being taken back from the arch-jihadist Jaysh al Islam (Army of Islam). Phony allegations of chemical weapons use by the regime of Bashar al Assad are cooked up by the U.S./NATO imperialists and their proxies in Syria whenever the Assad government is on the cusp of a significant advance, and these recent allegations were no different. The Internationalist Group mobilized immediately, and within two hours of the announcement of the bombing, held a protest outside Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Then on May 14, the U.S. State Department officially relocated its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The process began last December as the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a brazen provocation against the Palestinian people, who also claim Jerusalem as their capital, and a gift to hard-line Zionist expansionists who vow to cement Israeli control of Arab East Jerusalem which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war that seized the West Bank. Meanwhile, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Trump daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner celebrated the embassy dedication ceremony in Jerusalem, Israeli Army snipers were picking off peaceful protesters inside Gaza, who had been gathered near the border for a protest campaign commemorating the Naqba (Arabic for “catastrophe”), the 70th anniversary of the 1948 expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from what is now Israel.
At least 129 Palestinians were killed in this latest case of Zionist mass murder, and thousands were wounded, many of them children. With North Korea on the backburner (for now), the U.S. and NATO imperialists have their gunsights trained on Iran, and things are moving rapidly. The recent withdrawal of the U.S. from the United Nations Human Rights council, under the pretext of “bias against Israel,” is a signal that any humanitarian pretenses will be dropped if the U.S. and its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia decide to attack Iran directly while hitting Iranian-led militias in Syria. Recalling the messy Balkan Wars (between competing nationalists against the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires) that triggered World War I, the imperialist powers believe they have everything under control. But one wrong move, one misfired bullet, and the entire region could blow up. In the face of this looming catastrophe, Trotskyists call for working-class mobilization internationally to defeat the imperialist/Zionist and Saudi monarchist warmongers on the road to region-wide socialist revolution.
Defend Syria Against U.S./NATO Attack – Drive the Imperialists Out!
U.S. Special Forces on front line in Manbij, Syria in February 2018 facing Islamist “rebels” backed by NATO ally Turkey. Drive all U.S./NATO forces out of Syria!
In Syria, the Assad government has been consolidating its hold. After a two-month offensive to reclaim the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta from the Saudi-backed Jaysh al Islam jihadists, the regime declared victory on April 14. There was widespread jubilation in the Syrian capital. While denouncing the regime’s indiscriminate bombing of heavily populated areas, the imperialist press hardly mentioned the incessant rocket attacks by the Islamist “rebels” on the civilian population of Damascus. Five days later, government forces began an offensive to retake the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, which has been under the control of the Islamic State since 2015. The I.S. was completely driven out and on May 21 the camp was declared fully under government control. The regime is now making advances in Daraa, the last rebel enclave in southwest Syria, on the border of Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In exchange for Israeli acquiescence to Assad’s offensive, Russia brokered a deal excluding Iranian-backed forces from the Daraa operations. This pact, however, can break down at any moment, as Israel has already fired U.S.-supplied Patriot missiles at Syrian government drones in the area.
Meanwhile Turkey has consolidated its position in northwest Syria, after its anti-Kurdish “Operation Olive Branch” launched in January and completed in late March. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who just consolidated his bonapartist rule with a plebiscitary “election,” dispatched 25,000 fighters of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) backed by Turkish tanks and heavy artillery, to seize the district of Afrin from the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Unit). The FSA is a fictitious creation for Western consumption covering a hodgepodge of Turkish-backed Arab and Turkmen Islamist gangs. Its main component, the Failaq al Sham (Syrian Legion), claimed to be fighting to “regain sixteen Arab towns and villages” from the YPG. (While Afrin city was majority Kurdish, the surrounding countryside was largely Arab.) This claim was merely an excuse to unleash a pogrom against Kurds throughout the area. Amnesty International reports that scores of civilians were killed by Turkish shelling as FSA fighters looted villages and executed Kurdish civilians. “This is about revenge” said a former rebel fighter quoted by The Washington Post (7 March).
Erdoğan threatened to extend his Afrin campaign into Manbij, where the U.S. has military “advisors” on the ground directing YPG-controlled Syrian Defense Forces. In response, the U.S. local commander, Lt.-Gen. Paul Funk, warned “you hit us, we will respond aggressively,” to which the Turkish strong man blustered that Funk had “clearly never got the Ottoman slap.” In early March, tough guy Erdoğan threatened a full-scale invasion of Kurdish-controlled territory: “Today we are in Afrin, tomorrow we will be in Manbij, the day after we will be east of the Euphrates to clean up all terrorists all the way to the border of Iraq.” It appeared that Washington was faced with the choice of either backing their most reliable foot soldiers against Islamic State (the Kurdish YPG), or facing off against NATO ally Turkey. But as we warned in 2014, at the outset of U.S. intervention in Syria:
“The U.S. and European imperialists will never accept Kurdish independence, or even real autonomy in northern Syria… That would threaten the Ottoman ambitions of the Islamist Erdoğan and the Turkish nationalism of the [Turkish] army. And NATO Turkey is a linchpin for Western imperialist domination of the Middle East.”
–“For Workers Action to Defeat Barack Obama’s Iraq/Syria War,” The Internationalist No. 38 (November-December 2014).
So on June 4 the U.S. imperialists threw the YPG under the bus at a meeting in Washington between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Under the agreement, the YPG would withdraw from Manbij on July 4, and U.S. and Turkish forces would begin jointly conducting security patrols. The YPG, however, has also been cooperating with the Syrian government under the table. Its announced departure from the area west of the Euphrates has Assad worried about a NATO-occupied bloc in the north and east of Syria without the YPG counterweight. So not long after the U.S./Turkey deal was announced, a pro-government militia, the newly-formed Popular Resistance in Manbij, vowed to resist: “the people of Manbij made up of Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen tribes, will not allow the presence of any foreign invader, be it Turkish, American or French.”
Throughout the multisided sectarian civil war, much of the Western left has rallied around a non-existent “Syrian Revolution.” The International Socialist Organization (ISO) peddled the lie of a “moderate” Syrian rebel opposition for years, obscuring the fact that almost all the militias fighting against the Assad regime from 2011 on are hard-line Islamists, hell-bent on establishing Sharia law and eager to take money and arms from the U.S./NATO imperialists to achieve that goal. The very few armed groups that were not jihadists were just criminal gangs. The so-called “rebels” have no compunctions about committing atrocities against any ethnic or religious group deemed “infidels” or “apostates.” But the social-democratic ISO has a long history of supporting imperialist-backed Islamic reaction going back to the mujahedeen fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan – all in the name of anti-communism.
The ISO and other assorted “State Department socialists” have repeatedly lamented that the U.S. has not been doing enough to help the Islamist gangs in Syria, even as they condemn so-called “Russian imperialism.” (These political heirs of Tony Cliff, who claimed that the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state was “state capitalist,” previously denounced “Soviet imperialism.”) We have refuted the claim that post-Soviet Russia, a regional capitalist power, is “imperialist” in “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’” (The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015). But behind their vituperation, the social-democratic cheerleaders for the fake “Syrian Revolution” have more sinister goals. Following the lead of Democratic Party war hawk Hillary Clinton, they want to provoke an imperialist attack on Russian forces that could trigger a full-scale regional or even world war:
“Although claiming to oppose U.S. imperial aims, the ISO repeats Syrian ‘rebel’ complaints that ‘promised military aid from U.S. and European governments has never included the kind of heavy weapons, like anti-aircraft batteries, that would help them confront the Syrian military and now Russian warplanes’.”
– “Flashpoint Syria: Russian Intervention and Imperialist Aggression,” The Internationalist No. 42 (January-February 2016).
Given its support for the imperialist-armed and financed Syrian “rebels,” its no surprise that the ISO was absent from the April 16 NYC demonstration denouncing the U.S. attack on Syria. In an article by ISOer Ashley Smith, the group condemned the antiwar left as supporting “imperialist powers like China and Russia and dictatorships like Assad’s merely because they oppose the U.S.” In a modern-day take on the Cliffite slogan “neither Washington nor Moscow,” Smith writes “the old left slogan ‘the main enemy is at home’ is being used as a cover for refusing to extend solidarity to those struggling against tyranny.” During the anti-Soviet Cold War, this “Third Camp” position placed them in the imperialist camp. Today, the ISO sides with anti-Russia warmongers and takes aim at the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state just as Trump escalates his trade war against Beijing.
At least the social-democratic camp followers of imperialism are consistent. But in response to the U.S. missile attack on Syria, the Spartacist League calls for “all imperialist forces” and “regional powers” out of Syria – including not only Israel and Turkey, but also Iran and Russia, the mainstays of the Assad regime (Workers Vanguard, 20 April 2018). Evidently, for the SL, like the ISO, the main enemy is not at home, as nowhere in this article does it call for defense of Syria against imperialism, or for the defeat of imperialist forces in Syria. (In addition to the missile strikes, there are more than 4,000 U.S. troops “in country” in Syria.) In fact, now that the Islamic State has been largely defeated, the SL has quietly dropped its former line “taking a military side” with it, even as the I.S. was attacking Kurdish, Yazidi, Shiite, Christian and Druze minorities. Today the SL line on Syria and that of the social-dems are virtually indistinguishable.
Zionist Mass Assassination in Gaza, U.S./Saudi Slaughter in Yemen
Peaceful Palestinian demonstrators flee murderous Zionist sniper fire, May 14.
In Israel, the moving of the U.S. embassy in May was a major provocation that galvanized Netanyahu and hardliners in and around his Likud party. The celebration itself was a grotesque display of imperialist decadence. Jared Kushner, the Trump administration’s point-man on Middle East “peace,” gave a speech proclaiming that “by moving our embassy to Jerusalem, we have shown the world once again that the United States can be trusted.” As the Zionist elite partied, split-screen TV coverage showed Israeli sharpshooters assassinating Palestinian protestors in Gaza one by one. This was not your usual Zionist indiscriminate bombing of apartment houses in Gaza, and certainly not Israeli troops out of control. This time the military piled up mounds of dirt along the border to house snipers’ nests for the express purpose of shooting individual unarmed protesters approaching the border fence. They admitted as much in a since-deleted tweet on the official Israeli Defense Force (IDF) account:
“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people; we arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”
The demonstrations began on 30 March 2018, as a six-week-long protest campaign demanding that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to lands they were expelled from in what is now Israel. The protests were supposed to end on Naqba Day (May 15) and took place along a stretch of border fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. The Zionists, as usual, want to pin the blame on the Islamist hard-liners of Hamas, in order to justify the slaughter. But in fact, the march came from independent activists with “a grass-roots idea for a peaceful, long-lasting protest along the Gaza fence” that Hamas (the dominant political force in Gaza) later “embraced” but did not directly lead (New York Times, 15 April 2018). Nevertheless, the Israeli snipers individually took aim at and killed or wounded 7,324 unarmed people in a monstrous crime that can’t even be considered a war crime, because there was no fighting – not one Israeli casualty. This slaughter was nothing short of mass assassination.
Many have accurately compared the Gaza killings to the Nazi murders of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. The difference is that the Nazis went on to kill millions of Jews (and many others) in the genocidal Holocaust. But there are not a few rabid Zionist politicians in Israel who dream of (and some openly call for) a “final solution” to the “Palestinian problem.” They are aided by Trump’s son-in-law Kushner who is a longtime family friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, and shares in his far-right Zionist outlook. (Netanyahu once stayed in Jared’s bedroom when the Israeli prime minister visited the Kushner family.) Jared was co-director of his family’s foundation from 2006 to 2015 when it was building an illegal settlement in the Palestinian West Bank. Today he is the person in charge of brokering a “peace deal” between the Zionists criminally oppressing the Palestinian people and their sellout bourgeoise represented by Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
The embassy move by the U.S. emboldened the Zionist war hawks. “What a glorious day,” Netanyahu proclaimed. “Today, the embassy of the most powerful country on earth, our friend and ally, the United States of America, opens in Jerusalem…. We have no better friends in the world.” Coupled with Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal, this move was a signal to Netanyahu and the Israeli far right that preparations for an attack on Iran can begin in earnest. At the Munich Security Conference in February, Netanyahu warned that “Israel will continue to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria” and Israel “will act, if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.” Now he plans to make good on that promise. On June 17 he informed Russian president Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that “we will take action – and are already taking action – against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria.” The opening salvo of a regional conflagration might be forthcoming.
Meanwhile in Yemen, a war has been raging since 2015. A Saudi-led coalition, backed by the U.S./NATO imperialists, has been waging a war against Iran-backed rebels. The Saudis support the deposed president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al Hadi, fighting against the Houthi tribe in the northeast. In addition to the Houthis and Saudis, other contenders in Yemen are the Sunni Muslim Al Qaeda affiliate active in the east and the South Yemen Movement that seeks to reestablish the Arab nationalist state (with leftist pretenses) that existed around the port of Aden until 1990. While the U.S. and Saudi Arabia claim that the Houthis are simply Iranian “proxies,” they are a part of the Zaidi Shia sect that broke from mainstream Shiism centuries ago. These highland tribesmen have had conflicts with central authorities going back to the Ottoman Empire. The U.S., meanwhile, has rained death from the skies on Yemen, as Barack Obama personally signed off on drone strikes that killed thousands of Yemenis. Trotskyists stand with the Houthis against the U.S. imperialists and Saudi monarchists.
The situation in Yemen, treated as a sideshow in the imperialist press, has been characterized by the United Nations as “the world’s worst humanitarian situation.” As we go to press, various imperialist strategy think-tanks are warning that Yemen could be a flashpoint for the looming regional war. As the battle for the Yemeni port of Hodeidah heats up, with the stage set for massacres of civilians, the International Crisis Group announced that it had moved Yemen (along with southern Syria) up to “critical” on its “U.S.-Iran Trigger List” (Newsweek, 27 June). Should the U.S./Israeli/Saudi axis strike at Iran, as we have repeatedly stated in the past:
“The League for the Fourth International defends Iran, a semi-colonial country, against imperialism and Zionist Israel, which serves as a cat’s paw for the imperialists. We give no political support to the Islamic fundamentalist regime…. But we defend Iran’s right to develop nuclear power and to obtain nuclear or any other kind of weapons to defend itself against those countries that already have nuclear weapons in the region and have threatened to use them against Iran: the United States and Israel.”
–“Zionists Gearing Up for War on Iran,” The Internationalist No. 31, Summer 2010
Given the intertangled network of alliances and overlapping conflicts across the Middle East, in the face of the looming possibility of war engulfing this strategic region which could lead to annihilation of entire populations, antiwar and “peace” movements that seek to pressure the imperialists will have little effect. Many bourgeois liberal “doves” over the invasion and occupation of Iraq become war hawks when it comes to Israel. The Middle East has been a tinder box ever since the imperialists arbitrarily carved up the region after World War I. What is called for is a proletarian revolutionary strategy encompassing the entire region and extending to the imperialist centers. To break the death grip of imperialism, Zionism and Islamism, the League for the Fourth International calls for a bi-national Arab/Hebrew Palestinian workers state as part of a wider socialist federation of the Near East. As we wrote in 2010:
“However distant that prospect may seem today, it is the only basis on which Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druzes – not to mention Kurds, Zoroastrians and numerous other national and religious minorities throughout the region – can overcome sectarian divisions and live and develop in harmony. Achieving this is a vital task not only of Hebrew-speaking and Arab workers in Palestine, but of the world proletariat as we struggle to smash imperialism through international socialist revolution.”
–The Internationalist No. 31
To accomplish that arduous and historic task, the working class throughout the Middle East, and centrally the millions-strong proletariat in Egypt and Turkey, need a genuine revolutionary Marxist leadership following the internationalist program of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky. The League for the Fourth International seeks to build the nucleus of that leadership. ■