Why The Prisoners Swap?

Yossi Schwartz looks at the real reasons behind the recent exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah.

The German air force plane carrying businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum, the coffins of the three IDF soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Suweid, and 36 Arab prisoners landed Thursday morning in a military base near Cologne, Germany, in order to carry out the Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap.

Buses started carrying the first of 400 Palestinian prisoners toward home from a Negev prison overnight, and a convoy of trucks carrying the bodies of 60 Lebanese killed in action against Israeli troops during the long Israeli occupation of Lebanon left around dawn on its way to the Rosh Hanikra border crossing to Lebanon.

The swap includes 30 international prisoners - 23 Lebanese, five Syrians, as well as a German - Stephan Smyrek, a German citizen who converted to Islam and was affiliated with Hezbollah before being arrested in Israel. They left the Rimonim prison north of Tel Aviv Wednesday night for Ben Gurion airport where they will be transported to Germany as part of the prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

The most prominent among them are Sheikh Abdel-Karim Obeid and another fundamentalist leader, Mustafa Dirani, who were kidnapped by Israeli forces in 1989 and 1994 respectively. In a pure act of piracy in February 2002, the Israeli government re-introduced into the Knesset the "Illegal Combatants Law," a measure initially designed to legitimize retroactively the continued detention of these Lebanese hostages. The Knesset passed the law on March 7, 2002, which enabled the military to hold individuals arbitrarily and indefinitely on the basis of assumption rather than proven guilt.

Israel planned to use them to obtain information on the fate of air force navigator Ron Arad who disappeared over Lebanon in 1986. Under terms of the German brokered deal, Israel is releasing 462 Palestinian and Arab prisoners on Thursday.

The Israeli state will hold an official ceremony, Tennenbaum however, who was seduced by an Arab partner to enter Lebanon for an illegal business transaction, will not take part in the ceremony, he will be questioned by intelligence officials about how he ended up in Hezbollah hands. He will get about half an hour with his family before being taken to hospital for treatment and then for questioning. In an interview with Hezbollah's Al-Manar television aired Wednesday night, Tennenbaum said he went to Beirut to find information about the missing navigator Ron Arad.

An Iranian delegation, including envoys dispatched by President Mohammad Khatami and spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, arrived on Wednesday in Beirut to assist in moving on to the second stage of the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hezbollah – determining the fate of Ron Arad.

This swap is taking place today because of the fast political changes that are taking place in Iran.

The regime of the Ayatollahs is in crisis. The ruling elite is split in the middle. The latest news from Iran is that the hard-line Guardian Council has rejected an electoral reform bill aimed at reversing its decision to ban hundreds of reformist candidates from standing for parliamentary elections.

Iran's reformist dominated parliament passed the emergency reform proposal on Sunday in a clear act of defiance aimed at the Guardian Council, an un-elected 12-member body comprised of conservative clerics which has vetoed almost half of the 8,200 aspirants from running in the Feb. 20 election.

The split between the reformist leaders and the hardliners is not whether to subordinate Iran to the interest of the US ruling class, as both sides agree to this. The difference between them is how fast to privatize the economy of Iran without facing a socialist revolution. One of the concerns of the US and the European imperialists in this process is the question of oil. According to a ranking Iranian official, Iran's oil revenues will be $16.1 billion in the next Iranian calendar year of 1383. This week in a high-level meeting between Iran and the United States, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and U.S. Senator Joseph Biden held 90-minute talks on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Among the leaders of the imperialists who attended the meeting was US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who turned up at the Swiss resort. Analysts say the meeting marks an important first step toward improving ties between the two nations. At the same time, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi met in Tehran on Tuesday "to examine various dimensions of bilateral ties in political, economic and cultural fields and discussed pivotal regional and international issues."

And while the ruling elite is competing to see who will sell Iran to the imperialists, the regime is facing growing opposition from the working class, and early in the week the Iranian police murdered at least four protesting workers and wounded hundreds at the Khatoonabad copper smelting plant. The growing mistrust of the masses in the regime is manifested in their reaction to the way the government is dealing with the victims of the earthquakes. One month after the devastating earthquake that hit the Iranian city of Bam on December 26, which claimed the lives of at least 42,000 people, most survivors are still living in tents close to their former houses, refusing to move to emergency camps. Iran is suffering from a series of earthquakes. Consecutive earthquakes measuring 3.3, 2.8 and 2.6 degrees on the open-ended Richter scale shook the city of Bahabad in the southeastern province of Yazd on Wednesday. Another earthquake measuring 5.0 shook the city of Minab in the southern province of Hormuzgan. An earthquake measuring 3.9 jolted the city of Jahrom in the southern province of Fars on Monday.

Thus the prisoners swap is the result of the fact that the ruling elite of Iran is racing back to the "Big Satan" as they used to call the US, and toward the "Small Satan" as they used to call Israel.

For Marxists there is a small surprise in this development. This is however another story for those who supported the regime, believing that it is an anti-imperialist, and even a special form of revolutionary regime. In reality this regime came to power because of the stupidity and the betrayal of most of the left in Iran, who instead of giving leadership to the workers' revolution that took place in 1979-1980, tailed the reactionary Ayatollahs. History is giving the left a new chance, provided the lessons of the past will be learned. Instead of the politics of capitulation, the left must return to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.