Lockheed Martin F-35s in flight, Utah 2017. Photo: Flickr/Robert Sullivan Lockheed Martin F-35s in flight, Utah 2017. Photo: Flickr/Robert Sullivan

Lindsey German on the terror of imperialism’s unravelling logic

It’s quite something to see how quickly and extensively the western powers and their Middle East allies leapt to support Israel on Saturday night, in contrast to its complete inactivity to defend or protect the Palestinians over more than 6 months of genocidal bombardment.

Countries which pleaded with Israel to let in a bit more aid or to be more careful about civilian casualties in Gaza, swung into action to intercept Iranian drones and missiles and to stress their support for Netanyahu – who has repeatedly and contemptuously ignored all their warnings and supposed red lines.

Israel will no doubt feel comforted that the growing criticism from western governments will be muted by the events of the weekend, but that’s unlikely to last, given Netanyahu’s propensity for crossing those red lines and provoking conflict.

The world has got closer to Middle East war and we shouldn’t be in any doubt how serious this can be. Our politicians and governments are fanning the flames of this war as was obvious by their response to the Iranian drone and missile attack at the weekend.

This was a huge operation led by the US supposedly to prevent a further escalation of the war in the Middle East. Yet all the warnings to Iran in recent days – Biden pledging his ironclad support for Israel and the threats of war if they did strike – ignore and dismisses the context of these attacks and also the way in which de-escalation could be achieved.

Two weeks ago Israel destroyed the Iranian consulate in a third country, Syria, killing several people including generals and top military personnel. This was itself a deliberate escalation in the Middle East, not to mention a breach of international law, which regards embassies as extensions of a country’s territory. Iran would have had no choice but to respond, given its own political divisions. However it also made clear that if Israel’s attack in Damascus was condemned by the US and its allies, that would be the end of the matter.

Biden refused to do that, as did the British government when it was raised at the UN Security Council. Instead Biden ramped up rhetorical threats against Iran and prepared to defend Israel militarily, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars as its air force shot down Iranian drones and missiles. The US is now saying that it won’t join Israel in any offensive against Iran, and is hoping that Netanyahu will not escalate further. The Israelis meanwhile are saying that nearly all of the missiles were intercepted and that this shows how strong their defences are.

Nonetheless there is a real possibility of further attacks and as we have seen this will bring in the big imperialist powers more directly than previously. Iran has warned it will strike with greater force if Israel or the US retaliates. It is impossible to say at the time of writing what will happen in the next hours and days but this represents the most dangerous phase of the present conflict.

Netanyahu and his friends both in Israel and elsewhere want a wider Middle East war in order to confront Iran directly. We should also remember that Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East, enabled by among others the British. The attack in Damascus may have been carried out with greater conflict in mind, to elicit Iranian retaliation. Biden does not want that but his craven support for Israel means that he is not a free agent, especially in an election year with Donald Trump denouncing him for weakness.

At root here is the conflict with the Palestinians. The brutal attack on Gaza has transformed world politics and made Israel a pariah state in the eyes of many. Israel’s right-wing government’s response is to double down, carrying out ethnic cleansing and collective punishment on the Palestinians, and repeatedly demanding Israel’s right to ‘defend itself’. It portrays its status as beleaguered and under pressure, whereas it has one of the most sophisticated and well-provided armed forces in the world, a hugely militarised society, and an aggressive stance toward the Palestinians and its neighbours such as Lebanon.

The impunity with which it has bombarded Gaza has not only been criminal and highly destructive of life and infrastructure, but also has created a much greater danger of war in the wider region. The anti-war and peace movements have been highlighting the dangers of Israel’s assault on Gaza escalating into a wider Middle East war. Events at the weekend have only highlighted that continuing threat.

The role of Jordan and Saudi Arabia in supporting Israel over the weekend will have further angered many of their own populations, already despairing as these western allies, along with Egypt, abandon any pretence of showing solidarity with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile the weak and isolated Rishi Sunak, along with the ever rightward moving leader of the opposition Keir Starmer, are falling over themselves to support the US and to demand more money for weapons and war. Our government is complicit with its arming of Israel and its close collusion over the attacks on the Palestinians. But it is also in the forefront of promoting further war and militarism elsewhere. David Cameron has been in Washington urging more money for weapons to Ukraine, where it is clear that these will only prolong an unwinnable war and the suffering of the Ukrainian people.

That is what took Starmer to Barrow-in-Furness last week to heap praise on the Trident nuclear system and demand far more defence spending. For a man who can’t commit to any more money for alleviating poverty or improving the NHS, he is remarkably certain that he will be able to fund wars and weapons. 

The only antidotes to these developments are opposition to war, support for Palestine solidarity, and campaigning against the imperialism which leads to wars. The Middle East has been a centre of imperialist interest and control for well over 100 years. The Palestinians have suffered as a result but so have the people of the region, including Iran. Israel’s settler colonial state is a key component of the imperialist settlement, as are the reactionary Arab states. Here lies the root of the problem – and socialists must do everything to overcome it.

This week: I will be speaking in Bristol, online to Southampton, and at a celebration of the life of the amazing Pat Arrowsmith on Thursday. There will be plenty of protests over Palestine and also over western backing for Israel – including in London outside Parliament on Wednesday evening and on Saturday around the country. On Sunday, I will be speaking at Revolution! in London.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.