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Monday, August 14, 2006

US Involved In Planning Israel's Operations In Lebanon

Mon, 14 Aug 2006, 03:08

New York: The US government was closely involved in planning Israel's military operations against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia even before the July 12 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, The New Yorker magazine reported in its latest issue.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh writes that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were convinced that a successful Israeli bombing campaign against Hezbollah could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prototype for a potential US preemptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations.

Citing an unnamed Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of the Israeli and US governments, Hersh said Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah -- and shared it with Bush administration officials -- well before the July 12 kidnappings.

"When they grabbed the soldiers in early July, that was then a pretext" for Israel's assault on Hezbollah, Hersh said Sunday on CNN television.

"We (the US) worked closely with them (Israel) months before, not necessarily ... knowing when it was going to happen, but when there was an incident they will take advantage of the incident, what I call a fortunate timing'," Hersh said.

"Nobody is suggesting that Israel wouldn't have done what it did without the Americans," he added.

Hezbollah responded to Israel's attacks by firing missiles into Israel to escalate the month-long conflict that killed some 1,200 people on both sides.

A UN-organized cessation of hostilities planned for Monday, it was hoped, could bring an end to the fighting.

In the article Hersh suggests the White House had several reasons for supporting an Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon.

If Washington wanted to pursue a military attack against Iran over its nuclear program, the United States had to get rid of the weapons Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation against Israel, he writes.

Citing a US government consultant with close ties to Israel, Hersh also reports that before the Hezbollah kidnappings, several Israeli officials visited Washington "to get a green light" for a bombing operation following a Hezbollah provocation, and also "to find out how much the United States would bear".

"The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits," the magazine quotes the consultant as saying. "Why oppose it? We'll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran."

US government officials have denied the charges, but Hersh defended his piece Sunday saying he had strong sources for the article which was thoroughly vetted by New Yorker editors.

"This White House will find a way to view what happened with the Israelis against Hezbollah as a victory, and they'll find a way to see it as a positive for any planning that is going towards Iran," he told CNN.

In the magazine Hersh writes that a former senior intelligence official said some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- a council of the president's top military advisors -- remain concerned that the administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should. "There is no way that (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this," Hersh quotes the former official as saying. "When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran."

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