US media whips up anti-Chinese hysteria over balloon flight
Andre Damon, WSWS, Feb 6 2023

The balloon drifts over Myrtle Beach, SC, shortly before being shot down by a US F-22.

Over the past four days, the American population has been subjected to a barrage of war propaganda over the claim that China sent a huge balloon visible to the naked eye to spy on US nuclear bases. The media machine is operating at full throttle. Since the balloon’s existence was publicly announced last week, breathless coverage has provided minute-by-minute updates on the progress of the floating white balloon as it slowly traversed across the continental United States. The story led every newspaper for days, was the first item on the evening news broadcasts, and dominated the 24-hour cable news networks. On Friday, Donald Trump called for the balloon to be shot down, a demand that was repeated by Republican and Democratic politicians. On Saturday, under orders from Biden, the UAF shot down the balloon, in the first US attack on a Chinese aircraft since the Korean War. On Friday, a day after the existence of the balloon was publicly announced, Blinken canceled his scheduled trip to China, which had been promoted as part of a supposed rapprochement between the two countries. All of the media coverage has accepted the unsubstantiated claim that the airship was a secret Chinese “surveillance balloon” specifically targeting US military installations. While the specific purpose of the balloon cannot be definitively stated, the notion that the Chinese government is seeking to secretly obtain vital information on US nuclear weapons by means of a gigantic and clearly visible object slowly passing through US airspace is, to put it mildly, ludicrous. Far more likely is the account given by Beijing, that the high-altitude balloon was conducting meteorological surveillance and was blown off course, entering the US on Jan 28. China’s Foreign Ministry said:

It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course.

NASA has launched dozens of balloon missions similar to the one destroyed by the US Air Force on Saturday. According to a NASA presentation by University of Hawaii Professor Peter Gortham:

Balloons offer flight opportunities for unique science investigations that require, or can be done in, near-space.

According to the website of NASA’s arctic balloon program:

Scientists use scientific data collected during balloon flights to help answer important questions about the universe, atmosphere, the Sun and the space environment.

In publications that are written primarily for those within the state apparatus, a more sober assessment can be found. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a leading think tank connected to US intelligence agencies, commented on Friday:

The most likely explanation is that this is an errant weather balloon that went astray—lost weather balloons are the basis of many ‘UFO sightings.’ The incident is embarrassing for China, and some Chinese meteorologist may be packing his or her bags for reassignment to Inner Mongolia.

But in the media, such an appraisal is nowhere to be found. That the white orb is a “spy balloon” is taken as fact, and no section of the US media has even suggested the possibility of the most routine and reasonable explanation, that this was a peaceful research mission just like NASA has conducted dozens of times. Instead, the Biden administration, working together with the Republican Party and with the support of the US media, seized on the opportunity to whip up anti-Chinese hate and xenophobia. The aim of this campaign is to condition the public to accept US plans for war with China that have been years in the making, and to construe China, which the US is encircling with offensive missiles just miles from its coastline, as the aggressor in the Sino-American conflict.

The script of this week’s “imminent threat” is well-worn. This type of wall-to-wall media hysteria was used to justify the 1991 Gulf War, the 1998 bombing of Yugoslavia, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the 2011 bombings of Syria and Libya. All of these claims, above all the Bush administration’s assertions that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” turned out to be nothing more than hot air. But the media, acting as if the American people are all idiots, is reprising its role, hoping it will have the time-tested result of laying the groundwork for America’s next “war of choice.” This time, the target is not an impoverished former colony, but China, the world’s second-largest economy with the world’s second-largest military budget. Even as the US and NATO powers recklessly escalate the war with Russia over Ukraine, the ruling class is preparing for a conflict with China, for which the war against Russia has been viewed as a necessary precondition.

In 2018, the US adopted a National Security Strategy that urged the Pentagon to make its highest priority preparing for a war with China. While the military was operating with this conception, the US media kept these plans secret from the American population. But this week’s media hysteria over the balloon was used to introduce the concept of a potential war with China as a positive good, which the US needs to prepare for. The declaration by USAF General Mike Minihan that the US faces a war with China by 2025 has been treated by the media as a sage and impartial warning. He called for building “a fortified, ready, integrated, and agile Joint Force Maneuver Team ready to fight and win inside the first island chain,” referring to Taiwan, Japan, and other islands off the coast of China. Implying that large numbers of his command will die in such a war, Minihan instructed them to “consider their personal affairs and whether a visit should be scheduled with their servicing base legal office to ensure they are legally ready and prepared.” Chuck Todd, moderator of Meet the Press, asked Democratic Senator Cory Booker:

Are you going to be supporting whatever it takes to prepare for war with China over Taiwan? Do we need to do more to prepare for that potential?

In just the past week, the US announced a plan to put additional bases in the Philippines from which it could launch attacks on China. Biden also held discussions with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the remilitarization of the country in preparation for a conflict with China. The entire incident is a lesson in how the media works to advance US war plans, promoting trumped-up threats against the US and covering up the US’s aggressive actions against the targets of its wars. The latest campaign to demonize China has parallels to the promotion by both the Trump and Biden administrations of the Wuhan lab lie, the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was created by scientific research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The desperation of both of these lies reflects the basic reality that there does not exist significant support within the US population for the US government’s plans for war. This passive opposition must, however, be transformed into a conscious mass anti-war movement based on an orientation to the working class and the perspective of socialism.

Sudan’s military junta to normalise relations with Israel amid massive crackdown on Palestinians
Jean Shaoul, WSWS, Feb 6 2023

Gen Abd’el-Fattah Burhan in Khartoum, Oct 6 2021.

As the new far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramps up its murderous repression of the Palestinians, the head of Sudan’s military junta, General Abd’el-Fattah al-Burhan, has agreed to “normalise” relations with Israel in the near future. It is yet another sordid betrayal of the Palestinians by an Arab regime that has barely been reported in the Arab media, much less commented upon or criticised. The announcement came during Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s visit to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, where he also discussed military and security issues. according to a statement issued by Israel’s Foreign Ministry:

The signing ceremony of the peace agreement will take place in a few months’ time in Washington after the establishment of a civilian government, as part of the ongoing transition process in the country.

Sudan follows the UAE, Bahrain (unquestionably given the nod by Saudi Arabia) and Morocco, which normalised relations with Israel under the “Abraham Accords” brokered by the Trump administration and Egypt and Jordan, which recognised Israel in 1979 and 1994 respectively. These agreements, establishing diplomatic and trade relations, ended the state of war and boycott by members of the Arab League since the establishment of the state of Israel, the Arab–Israeli War and the displacement of 700k Palestinians in 1948. The agreements made visible their back-channel security, intelligence and commercial dealings with Israel and their repudiation of any commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on Israel’s full withdrawal from the territories captured in the 1967 Arab Israeli war, and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UNSCR 194. It was in Khartoum after the 1967 Arab Israeli war that the Arab League famously inaugurated its “three nos” policy in relation to Israel: no peace, no recognition and no negotiations. Now, as far as the Arab regimes are concerned, the Palestinians no longer matter. While Sudan had accepted the Abraham Accords in Nov 2020, signing with the US in exchange for a package of vital financial incentives, including Sudan’s long-awaited removal from Washington’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, it had not signed the agreement with Israel. Discussions stalled after the military’s sacking of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his transitional civilian government in Oct 2021, when the Biden administration suspended $700m in financial assistance to Sudan. Cohen, speaking at a press conference Thursday, said:

My visit to Sudan has laid the foundations for a historic peace agreement with a strategic Arab and Muslim country. The peace agreement between Israel and Sudan will promote regional stability and contribute to the national security of the State of Israel. The signing of this agreement will serve as an opportunity for the establishment of relations with other countries in Africa as well as the strengthening of existing ties with African countries.

Sudan occupies a strategically important location on the shores of the Red Sea, between Egypt and Eritrea, where it controls maritime routes. It borders on Ethiopia, one of Israel’s most important allies on the African continent, whose leader Abiy Ahmed paid his first visit to Sudan since the military coup. Under Omar al-Bashir, who was aligned with Qatar, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood and supported Hamas, Sudan was subject on several occasions to Israeli bombings of convoys allegedly carrying weapons and ammunition to Hamas. Al-Burhan, following his pre-emptive military coup in the face of mass protests against al-Bashir in Apr 2019, has repudiated Sudan’s alliance with the Palestinians and Hamas, to secure security and trade deals with Israel. This was part of a bid to win favour with Washington, amid a deepening economic and political crisis. While he announced a framework deal in December for a two-year civilian transition towards elections, after months of protests and repression in which 120 protesters were killed, this is widely viewed as yet another fraudulent cover for military rule and has been met with mass protests. The Biden administration is determined to sever Sudan’s relationship with Iran, Russia and China, close Sudan’s large Red Sea port of Port Sudan to the Russian navy, and strengthen its regional anti-Iran alliance. The UAE has signed extensive commercial deals to open economic zones and ports in Sudan. The USA and Egypt have welcomed normalization. Hamas announced:

We call on the Sudanese leadership to backtrack on this decision that contradicts the interests of the brotherly people of Sudan which supports the just Palestinian cause, and the general Sudanese stance against the normalization of ties with the Israeli occupation state, and will only serve the Israeli occupation’s agenda.

This latest normalisation deal deepens the treacherous role of the Arab bourgeoisie, which has now formally buried its own “two state” solution and confirms that the nationalist agenda championed by all sections of the Palestinian bourgeoisie provides no way forward for the decades-long struggle of the workers and oppressed masses. On Thursday, Chad’s President Mahamat Idriss Deby, who took power after his father, the dictator Idriss Deby, was killed by rebel forces in 2021, opened the country’s embassy in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, some 50 years after diplomatic ties were severed in 1972. Chad is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which was founded in 1969 after a fire in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem apparently started by a Christian fundamentalist. Like the Arab League, the OIC is ostensibly committed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a boycott of Israeli products to pressure Israel into ending the occupation. In establishing relations with Chad, one of the poorest countries in the world, Netanyahu is signalling that the Palestinians do not figure on the agenda of either the Arab or Muslim states.

These developments come just weeks after the installation of the most far-right government in Israel’s history, one that includes fascistic and racist parties based on Jewish settlers, and ultra-Orthodox parties which seek to suppress not only the Palestinians but the more secular sections of the Jewish population. It has stepped up Israel’s already savage repression of the Palestinians in pursuit of its programme of accelerated settlement expansion and moves towards full annexation of the Palestinian territories illegally occupied since the 1967 Arab Israeli war. This os combined with imposing even more pervasive apartheid conditions for Palestinians, including legislation making it easier to disqualify Arab legislators, and provocations at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Last year, 231 Palestinians lost their lives in extra-judicial killings at the hands of the Israeli military and settlers, the highest number since 2005. Some 35 Palestinians have already been killed this year. One factor in the massive raid on Jenin by the Israel military last month that left 10 dead and 20 injured, as well as terrorising the Palestinian population, was to provoke retaliation by desperate Palestinians to deflect anger against the government outwards and demobilise the anti-government protests.

A key element in Netanyahu’s expansionist plans at the expense of both the Palestinians and the Israeli working class is his bolstering of the government’s powers, to be achieved by neutering the judiciary. This is in the service of Israel’s plutocrats, ruling over one of the most socially polarised countries in the OECD group of advanced economies, raising the spectre of civil war. The court “reform” plan has sparked mass opposition, with weekly demonstrations protesting the government’s plans. Saturday witnessed the fifth such protest with widening participation across the country as tens of thousands took to the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and other towns and cities. Anti-occupation groups including Combatants for Peace, Machsom Watch, Peace Now and A Land for All, took part in Tel Aviv under the slogan, “There is no democracy with occupation.” Demonstrations were also held in some 20 cities in North America, Europe and Australia.

The recent events have exposed the twin political myths of the Middle East. First, the transformation of the PLO into a repressive adjunct of the Israeli state, and by extension US imperialism, imposing impoverishment of the Palestinian masses, refutes the notion that bourgeois nationalism, even in its most radical form of the armed struggle, could end the oppression of the Arab masses. Second, the emergence of a fascistic government in Israel and the very real prospect of civil war shatters any conception that the establishment of a Jewish state based on the dispossession and removal of the Palestinian people could provide a safe haven for the Jewish people. Bitter historical experiences demonstrate the failure of movements and programmes based upon nationalism, which serve the interests of a narrow social layer, the capitalist class, not the working class. The essential precondition for ending repression, poverty and war in the Middle East is the unification of the Israeli workers with their class brothers and sisters in the Palestinian territories and across the Middle East and internationally, to put an end to capitalism and re-organise society on a socialist basis. This is the perspective of permanent revolution fought for by the International Committee of the Fourth International.

Macron hosts Netanyahu in Paris to plan Israeli arms deliveries to Ukraine
Samuel Tissot, WSWS, Feb 6 2023

Macron welcomes Netanyahu to the Elysee Palace, Feb 2 2023.

Last Thursday evening, Netanyahu visited Macron in Paris. This was Netanyahu’s first official foreign visit since he once again became Prime Minister on Dec 29 last year. While no official remarks or transcript were published after Macron and Netanyahu’s meeting, the details of the conversation given to the major newspapers by government officials make clear that the purpose of the meeting was to plan the escalation of NATO’s war in Ukraine and Israel’s provocations against Iran. The meeting took place amid the efforts of imperialist powers to drastically escalate the war in Ukraine. In the first week of January, Macron became the first NATO leader to announce the delivery of tanks to Ukraine, which has now led to the delivery of 120 advanced battle tanks and even more advanced missile systems to the front lines by EU powers and the United States. It is now widely expected that, in a further escalation, NATO countries will soon deliver fighter jets to Ukraine. In this context, Netanyahu used the meeting to play his “Ukraine card,” agreeing to send Israeli armaments to Ukrainian forces at his meeting with Macron. In exchange, he sought assurances from France and her European allies that the 2015 Iranian Nuclear treaty will not be revived, and that European powers will continue to turn a blind eye to Israeli bombing raids against Iran, the far-right character of Netanyahu’s government, and its repressive measures at home. According to a source quoted in Le Monde who had knowledge of the meeting:

Netanyahu promised Macron that Israel would deliver arms to Ukraine. Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen is due to travel to Kyiv next week to finalize this. In return, Macron expressed his readiness to weigh sanctions on the IRGC.

In Friday’s press conference after Thursday’s meeting, Netanyahu stated:

France and Israel are drawing much closer in the way they see the Iran threat.

The two leaders both lead crisis-riddled regimes that are reviled by broad sections of their populations. As their meeting took place, millions of French and Israeli workers and youth were protesting their respective governments. Indeed, it is more or less apparent that Netanyahu hoped his first official state visit would provide favorable publicity as new Prime Minister and allow him to gloss over massive internal opposition to his regime. In Israel, demonstrations against Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government and its proposed judicial reform have continued into their fifth week. On Saturday, tens of thousands marched in 20 cities across the country, protesting Netanyahu’s attempted reform to emasculate the judiciary and block prosecution of Netanyahu himself, and against his government, which is made up of far-right nationalists, racists, and homophobes. In France, Macron oversees an equally fragile regime. The president is facing mass protests of workers and youth against his overwhelmingly unpopular pension reform and rapidly declining standards of living. On Jan 31, 2.5 million people marched against the reform, according to the French unions, and even the government’s own figure of 1.27 million protesters was a record. This followed a one-day strike on Jan 18 that was also supported by millions.

The closed-door meeting took place as Netanyahu’s government is waging a series of violent assaults on the Palestinian people, with 32 people killed by Israeli forces or settlers in January alone. This included the Israeli security forces’ raid on the Jenin refugee camp on Jan 26, which killed 10. Netanyahu’s new offensive is part of his government’s use of state violence to massively expand settlements in the West Bank and suppress any domestic opposition to annexation of Palestinian territories. Even behind closed doors, Macron did not condemn the murderous policies of the Israeli state. Instead, he cautioned Netanyahu:

If you continue what you are doing in Palestine, it will be difficult for Saudi Arabia to accept an agreement with you.

In other words, Macron only objects to an escalation of violence against Palestinians insofar as it threatens the NATO-backed axis of Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran in the Middle East. Indeed, in 2022 Macron’s government denounced charities and organizations which label the Israeli state’s persecution of its Palestinian population and the privileged legal status of Jewish citizens as apartheid. Macron is clearly concerned by the instability of Netanyahu’s regime. According to the leaked remarks, the French president told Netanyahu:

The proposed judicial reform opens a crisis unprecedented since the birth of the state in 1948. If it goes through, Paris should conclude that Israel has moved away from a common conception of democracy.

Macron’s criticisms, though they make clear that the imperialist bourgeoisies are well aware of the anti-democratic character of the present Israeli regime, are shot through with hypocrisy. In alliance with Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, the “president of the rich” has overseen his own battery of anti-democratic laws, including the discriminatory anti-Muslim law and the Global Security Law, which outlaws taking photos or video of police. Macron’s refusal to publicly condemn Netanyahu’s judicial reform or Israel’s murderous suppression of Palestinians, despite his misgivings about their geopolitical consequences, flows from the bloody policies of the NATO powers themselves. Above all, they now seek to secure extensive Israeli support for imperialist war against Russia in Ukraine. Macron’s own pension cut aims to free up the state budget to fund French imperialism’s rapid rearmament and delivery of weapons to Ukraine without cutting into the wealth of the super-rich. Macron and Netanyahu are widely aware of mass opposition to their regimes and the NATO-Russia war. That is why these two “democratic” leaders met behind closed doors in order to plan the next stage of escalation of the war in Ukraine and how to continue efforts to provoke the bourgeois-nationalist Iranian regime into an action that can be seized upon to justify all-out war against Iran.

The fact that two such widely reviled politicians can come together and plot military attacks on major powers like Russia and Iran must be taken as a warning by masses of workers internationally. The danger that the Ukrainian war could spread across the entire Middle East, and turn into a direct conflict between major, nuclear-armed powers, is very real. Moreover, neither Macron nor Netanyahu see the eruption of political opposition and social protest in the working class and youth in any way as a reason to change their policies. Instead, they are trying to create conditions to double down on their reactionary policies by accelerating their military escalation and demanding that the population rally to them and to the armed forces in order to prosecute the wars which they themselves are playing a decisive role in launching. The way forward is the construction of a mass, international anti-war movement in the working class, independent of the entire political establishment. Only such a force can smash the reactionary influence of figures such as Macron and Netanyahu and halt the military escalation they are recklessly setting into motion before it erupts into a global conflagration.

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