Workers confront consequences of rulers’ wars in the Middle East

By Terry Evans
June 18, 2018
Airstrike of Mosul, Iraq, July 11, 2017, during U.S.-led coalition offensive. Pentagon admitted its forces caused at least 500 civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that year.
AP Photo/Felipe DanaAirstrike of Mosul, Iraq, July 11, 2017, during U.S.-led coalition offensive. Pentagon admitted its forces caused at least 500 civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that year.

Working people in the Middle East continue to suffer the deadly consequences of the combat and jockeying among Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Riyadh, Ankara and the other capitalist rulers in the region, all seeking to protect their economic and political interests. The Pentagon publicly admitted June 1 its forces were responsible for at least 500 civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen in 2017. And they admit the number could be at least twice as high.

The civil war in Syria began when the dictatorial regime of Bashar al-Assad ruthlessly crushed popular mobilizations for political rights in 2011. Since then, millions have been driven from their homes and hundreds of thousands killed by Assad’s forces, their backers in Moscow and Tehran, and other combatants there.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reports the Syrian regime has been responsible for over 190,000 civilian deaths, along with some 4,000 from Russian bombing, 3,800 by Syrian opposition forces, 3,700 by Islamic State and other Islamist groups, 950 by the U.S. and European allies and 500 by Kurdish fighters. No figures are given for Ankara’s forces, which bombarded then invaded the Kurdish province of Afrin earlier this year.

A million and a half Syrians have fled to Syria’s northwest from the assaults of Assad and his backers. Their lives are grim. Tens of thousands face economic desperation, without jobs, schools or resources. Some 30,000 live in tent camps near Aleppo. Most have no electricity. Unemployment is over 50 percent in the country as a whole.

One of the sharpest conflicts unfolding in Syria pits the Israeli government against the capitalist rulers in Iran, who call for the destruction of Israel and driving Jews into the sea.

Following airstrikes on Tehran’s military forces in Syria in May, Israel’s capitalist rulers now seek to further weaken Tehran’s presence there. Iran’s rulers have expanded their military reach as their militias battled Assad’s opponents.

The Israeli and Russian governments have struck a deal to press for the removal of Tehran’s forces from within 70-80 kilometers (43-50 miles) of the Israeli border, the Times of Israel reported June 1. And they agreed that Tel Aviv could continue bombarding Tehran-backed forces elsewhere in Syria, as long as Tel Aviv avoids hitting the Syrian regime’s facilities.

In keeping with this arrangement, a Syrian Air Force commander said May 28 that Tehran-backed militias would be prevented from using the regime’s aircraft hangers to store ammunition.

For years Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t objected to the Israeli government targeting of Tehran’s missile depots. At the same time, Tel Aviv says it has not targeted Tehran-organized ground forces that are allied with Moscow in crushing Syrian opposition groups and bolstering Assad.

The Syrian government is moving to crush remaining opponents holding territory in southwestern Syria, closer to the Israeli border. The Syrian Human Rights Monitoring Organization reported June 2 that Assad intends to disarm Tehran-backed militias still in Syria.

The Iranian rulers don’t want to relinquish their rising influence. They have fought for decades to extend the counterrevolution throughout the region that they carried out against working people at home since the early 1980s. Their gains in the Syrian civil war have been paid for in blood by Iranian youth and others who serve as cannon fodder. The mounting toll of their military intervention abroad falls overwhelmingly on the working class in Iran, and was the catalyst for protests that swept across 90 cities and towns in Iran in late December and early January.

At home they’ve acted to preserve capitalist rule by pushing back gains made by working people, women and oppressed nationalities during the 1979 Iranian Revolution that ousted the hated tyranny of the U.S.-backed shah.

Hamas, the reactionary Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip, and Islamic Jihad launched over 100 rocket attacks on Israel over 24 hours May 29. Israeli military officials say their missile defense system intercepted any that could have hit civilians.

Like the assaults Hamas organized at the Israeli border fence weeks before, the rocket attacks were designed to draw heavy Israeli retaliation, sacrifice Palestinian lives and try to win Hamas public sympathy from Western governments. The Israeli rulers retaliated with 60 airstrikes on Gaza, targeting weapons storage sites and tunnels into Israel.

This continuous cycle of Hamas provocations and the Israeli rulers’ retaliation is a dead end. In a December statement that can be downloaded from the Militant’s website, the Socialist Workers Party points to an alternative course: “The political necessity for the Israeli and Arab governments and leadership of Palestinian organization to begin immediate talks to recognize both Israel and an independent Palestinian state.

“Negotiations to reach such an agreement must recognize the right of Jews everywhere to take refuge in Israel in face of the global rise of Jew-hatred and anti-Semitic violence, as well as the unconditional right of the dispossessed Palestinian people to a contiguous, sovereign homeland on territory — including East Jerusalem — conquered and occupied by the Israeli government during the 1967 war.”