By IslamOnline.net & agencies
CAIRO - ISRAEL had devised a plan for attacking Hizbullah and shared it with the Bush administration officials well before the resistance group took prisoner two Israeli soldiers, a veteran award-winning American investigative reporter has revealed.
"Israel began with [Vice President Dick] Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council," a US government consultant with close ties to Israel told Seymour Hersh.
Citing current and former Israeli and US intelligence and diplomatic officials, Hersh said several Israeli officials visited Washington earlier this summer to set the stage for a military operation against Hizbullah.
They wanted to "get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear," said the consultant.
He added that after Cheney "persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi [Condoleezza Rice] was on board."
Hersh said the White House did not respond to a detailed list of questions on whether it really helped plan the Israeli military operation.
The Bush administration has staunchly opposed an immediate ceasefire in the war unleashed by Israel on July 12, saying that it should be put off until "the conditions are conducive."
The US made no secret that it shipped laser-guided bombs and cluster ammunition to Tel Aviv at an Israeli request.
Several current and former officials involved in the Middle East told Hersh that Israel viewed the soldiers' "kidnapping" as the opportune moment to begin its planned military campaign against Hizbullah.
He said the Israeli army was forced to advance the original deadline after Hizbullah fighters took prisoner two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a cross-border operation.
Demo for Iran
The US government consultant with close ties to Israel said the Bush administration thought of an Israeli bombing of Hizbulalh as a demo for Iran.
"The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits," he told Hersh.
"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."
A Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the US governments said the administration saw it could hit two birds with one stone through Israel's attack on Hizbullah.
"Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hizbullah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy.
"The White House was more focused on stripping Hizbullah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran's nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hizbullah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel," he told Hersh.
Days before the start of the war, Bush described the relationship between Hizbullah, Iran and Syria as one of the "root causes of instability" in the region.
The military option against Iran has always been on Bush's agenda.
A former senior intelligence official said that the big question for Bush was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully.
"Who is the closest ally of the US Air Force in its planning? It's not Congo-it's Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hizbullah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements," he said.
The former senior intelligence official added that the discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
A Pentagon consultant said the White House "has been agitating for some time" to find a reason for a pre-emptive blow against Hizbullah "to take on later on Iran.
"It was our intent to have Hizbullah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it."
"If the most dominant military force in the region-the Israel Defense Forces-can't pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million," he told Hersh.
"The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis."
A total of 110 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the start of the war in fierce battle with well-trained and armed Hizbullah fighters.
Twenty-four Israeli soldiers were killed on Saturday, August 12, in the highest single-day death toll, together with another 100 wounded.
Over the past four weeks, Hizbullah proved a foe to be reckoned with, inflicting heavy losses on the armed-to-the-teeth Israeli army.
It shot down at least four Apache helicopters and destroyed one warship, a fast-speed patrol in addition to tens of Israel's pride Merkava tanks.
The Middle East expert and the government consultant said that the Israelis repeatedly pointed to the war in Kosovo as a "role model" of what Israel would try to achieve.
In other words, Israel believed that by targeting Lebanon's infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon's large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Shiite Hizbullah.
The NATO forces commanded by US Army General Wesley Clark bombed and strafed not only military targets but tunnels, bridges, and roads, in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia, for seventy-eight days before forcing Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo.
"Israel studied the Kosovo war as its role model," the government consultant said.
"The Israelis told Condi Rice, 'You did it in about seventy days, but we need half of that - thirty-five days.'"
But the strategy proved a fiasco with Nasrallah emerging as a folk hero in the Middle East with his photos widely distributed across the Arab capitals as are Hizbullah flags.
Even those who continue to support Israel's war against Hizbullah agree that it is failing to achieve one of its main goals-to rally the Lebanese against Hizbullah.
"Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it," John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, told Hersh.
This rise in the anti-Israeli feelings is accompanied by a reinforcement of the popularity of the Lebanese resistance movement and Nasrallah.
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