The Militant (logo) 
   Vol.65/No.33            August 27, 2001 
Israeli regime steps up assault as Middle East girds for war
(front page)
The Israeli government's drive to war against the Palestinian people has gathered political and military momentum with the occupation of important Palestinian sites in Jerusalem, massed-tank attacks and air strikes against towns in the West Bank, and the assassination of a number of Palestinian representatives. Tel Aviv and its backers have simultaneously stepped up their war propaganda, depicting their aggressive actions as measures of "self-defense" against suicide bombers and "terrorists."

Palestinians have responded to each incursion with defiant protests, from attempts at armed resistance to a successful one-day strike. Their continued resistance is the target of the war preparations.

Washington, like its imperialist counterparts in Europe, has effectively ceased high-level attempts at resuming negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian representatives. The previous round of such talks in late 2000, sponsored by then president William Clinton, set the stage for Tel Aviv's accelerated push to war. In that summit, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak placed a "deal" before Palestinian representative Yasir Arafat that would have left Tel Aviv in overall economic and military command of the occupied territories, including the areas falling under a Palestinian administration. Tel Aviv has since used Arafat's rejection of those terms as a prime justification for its accelerated drive to war.

The White House's recent responses to each new escalation of the conflict have been notably subdued. In contrast to pro forma calls for Israeli "restraint," Vice President Richard Cheney recently endorsed Tel Aviv's key rationale for its aggression in a statement expressing backhanded support for Tel Aviv's systematic assassination of Palestinian activists. "There's some justification in [Israel's] trying to protect themselves by preempting" terrorist attacks, he said.

"The Bush administration has detached itself from the peace process," said Khayri al-Uraydi, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia, on August 14.  
Palestinian offices overrun
Recent actions by the Israeli security forces have hammered home the aggressive intentions of the Israeli rulers. On August 10, Israeli police evicted the occupants of Orient House, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and other offices used by Palestinian organizations, following a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that took 16 lives. Hundreds of security personnel are now stationed inside and around Orient House, a symbol of Palestinian aspirations for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. While the police chief in the city said that the building would be held for six months, other officials said the occupation would be "for good."

"Israel's seizing of Orient House [was] intended to show that it controls all of Jerusalem, no matter what the Palestinians may think," noted the New York Times. Supporters of the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon applauded the action. "Taking over Orient House...caused real political damage to the Palestinians," said Alon Liel, former director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry. "It was the formal burial of the Oslo peace process."  
Successful general strike
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers, merchants, and students observed an August 13 general strike called by the Palestinian Authority to protest the action. The stoppage was effective across the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. "The Israeli measures vis-a-vis Jerusalem, which is the red line for all Palestinians, cannot be tolerated," said Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.

Three days earlier F-16 combat aircraft destroyed the Palestinian police headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah--the second time Tel Aviv has ordered these aircraft into action in four months.

An armored Israeli force converged on the city of Jenin in the north of the West Bank August 14. Palestinian officials reported that troops backed up by some 50 tanks came from three directions. In the course of several hours, they used bulldozers to reduce two police stations to rubble and occupied the house of the governor of the city before withdrawing. "There was resistance, but what can bullets do against tanks?" said Nimar Jaradad of the Palestinian police. An August 14 New York Times report commented, "That seemed to be the point that Israel sought to drive home today."

"Jenin became a city of bombers. This reason led us to attack," said the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz. The Israeli authorities claim that recent suicide bombers came from the city, home to 27,000 people. Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert called for similar action to stop Palestinian gunfire from Bethlehem towards Gilo in southern Jerusalem. "There must be massive land action that will straighten out all that is going on in the area," he said.

On August 15 Israeli tanks massed outside Bethlehem and adjoining towns in another show of force. "If the violence continues, the Palestinians will lose more assets, and they have something to lose," Sharon said.

The Israeli defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, repeated the threat. "This is not a joke," he said. "The minute they cross the line and there is shooting at Gilo we will not sit quietly, full stop. There is a limit to what a country can take."

Later the same day Israeli soldiers dressed as civilians and driving a truck with Palestinian plates shot dead Imad Abu Sneineh, a member of the Fatah organization of Palestinian Authority chairman Yasir Arafat, in Hebron. Palestinians say that Tel Aviv's "liquidations" policy has claimed some 60 victims since last September. All the nationalist organizations have been targeted, and those who have fallen have ranged from prominent leaders to rank-and-file members.

"We should not exclude any action, including going one step further than what we have already done. The Palestinians should not feel immune from any action," Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, a member of Sharon's Likud party, told USA Today, which ran an article titled "Israel considers invasion--suicide bombings could prompt full-scale move into West Bank."

While few prominent politicians have spoken out against the government's policy, three Labor Party politicians did vote against the occupation of Orient House--including Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a prominent minister. Those who have differed with Sharon in public have mostly accused him of showing too much "restraint."  
Preparations by Mideast governments
The Israeli military plans calculate a death toll of hundreds of Israelis and thousands of Palestinians. Foreseeing an airborne attack, an artillery bombardment and a large-scale infantry invasion, they also attempt to take into account the response of governments in the Middle East.

Among those governments there is also a palpable shift in mood. The August 15 Financial Times, speaking of Egypt, noted the "uncomfortable fact that the region's largest country, in common with other players, has all but run out of ideas as it faces up to the bloodshed of the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the resulting anger of millions of ordinary Egyptians." Working people in Egypt overwhelmingly side with the Palestinians in their national struggle.

The country's envoy to the United States told Egyptian television that "what we seek to do in general is to explain the serious situation in the region to the U.S. administration and the consequences of this situation if matters are left as they are.... If calm is not restored, we cannot predict what might take place."

The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmad Mahir, discussed the situation with his counterpart in Iran August 14, one of a number of such contacts among governments in the region. On August 11, Syrian prime minister visited the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the escalating scale of the conflict continues to fuel comment among bourgeois commentators in the United States. The New York Times noted concerns that "one way the crisis can turn is toward a full-scale war, however that becomes defined." The Wall Street Journal quoted a "senior Israeli army officer," who said, "both we and the Palestinians are slipping down a slide toward all-out conflict."

The Investor's Business Daily sought to whip up backing for Tel Aviv in an August 15 editorial titled, "The two sides aren't the same." It stated, "The reality is that many Palestinians and Arabs...simply don't want to coexist with Israel. They want to destroy it.

"It shouldn't surprise us," continued the big-business journal, "that extremist Arabs believe Israel belongs to them, because they think all lands belong to them.... Spreading Islam by means of the sword has been seen throughout history."

Michael Ledeen, a contributing editor of the right-wing National Review Online, weighed into the issue with an August 14 column in the magazine titled "War Time." Scoffing at those who call for peace talks in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, he wrote, "Israel must now wage war against the Palestinians, and Great Britain will now have to resume its long battle against the IRA."
Related articles:
Protest Israeli war drive against Palestinian people
Israel's wars against Palestinian liberation
U.S., British planes bomb Iraq in stepped-up attack  
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