Seymour Hersh recently reported that Bush and Cheney played a very active role in Israel’s decision to commence war against Lebanon. The White House characterized the report as fictional, criticizing Hersh’s use of unnamed sources.  However, Hersh has a track record of breaking major stories, such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse and torture and the My Lai massacre during the Viet Nam War.

When comparing the Hersh report to other news reports, the Bush “fingerprint,” found in abundance on the Iraq war, begins to emerge.  A closer examination of Hersh’s article raises the question whether Israel, one of the closest allies of the US, was sucker punched by Bush as a means to obtain Bush’s own end goals.

Did Bush encourage Israel to start a war against Lebanon so that the conflict could be analyzed as a live war game for a US strike against Iran, only for Bush to cut and run from Israel when its military mission could not be accomplished?  

If so, the damage to Israel’s historical perception of military might has now worsened its security position in a way unachievable by anyone but Bush, a man with an uncanny ability to wreak total havoc here and abroad before walking away with a shrug.

(1) Israeli-Lebanon War As Live War Games

Hersh reported that the White House plan viewed the Lebanon war as a way to improve Israeli security by removing Hezbollah while also providing two key prewar advantages to the US war with Iran.  One, Bush wanted to strip Hezbollah of missiles that could be used in retaliation against Israel should Bush start a military action against Iran. Two, the Lebanon war would be an invaluable live war game on how the US could successfully attack Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

The Israeli plan was a “mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran” and was modeled on the US strategy in Kosovo that forced Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo in 78 days, although Israel believed it only needed 35 days.  The plan focused on Israeli air force bombing attacks against Hezbollah’s underground missile complexes in Lebanon.  Shared US and Israeli intelligence indicated that “Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements.” Therefore, if Israel could successfully destroy Hezbollah’s underground weapons facilities that were constructed with Iranian assistance, and, if Iran’s underground nuclear facilities were similarly constructed, then the Lebanon war would tell the Bush Team how to successfully destroy Iran’s facilities.

This was why Cheney’s office urged immediate action on the Lebanon war so that there would be appropriate time to “evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.”  Cheney’s office viewed the pending Lebanon war as live war games that US could watch on TV, analyze and then use to plan a similar war against Iran:

Cheney’s office supported the Israeli plan, as did Elliott Abrams, a deputy national-security adviser, according to several former and current officials (a spokesman for the N.S.C. denied that Abrams had done so).  They believed that Israel should move quickly in its air war against Hezbollah. A former intelligence officer said, “We told Israel, ‘Look, if you guys have to go, we’re behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later – the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.’ “

    Cheney’s point, the former senior intelligence official said, was “What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it’s really successful? It’d be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon.”

Now, Robert Parry reports that Israeli officials privately blame Bush for “egging Prime Minister Ehud Olmert into the ill-conceived military adventure against the Hezbollah militia in south Lebanon” during a May 23 White House meeting.  As noted by Parry, Olmert agreed with Bush that military force against Hezbollah may “intimidate” Iran and Syria, but drew the line in the sand when Bush “urged Israel to attack Syria,” an idea that Israeli officials said was simply “nuts.”  The Jerusalem Post similarly reported that “Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria.”  Such a crazy proposal was clearly supported by neocons who have similarly egged on the Bush team.

Unfortunately, Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State for Bush, is no longer around to counsel Bush. Armitage says Israel’s failed war against Hezbollah should serve as a warning to Bush about attacking Iran with that same plan:


“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.”

The problem is Bush does not listen to the counsel of foreign policy experts with experience. Rather, during the past months, Bush has had a series of  off-the-record meetings about Middle East policies with Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which supports Israel’s expansionist policies as “a biblical imperative” part of Armageddon-based foreign-policy views.

(2)  The use of preemptive war based on pretextual grounds.

Long before its soldiers were captured on July 12th, Israel had a plan to attack Hezbollah and shared it with the White House, which, according to Hersh, had been “agitating for some time to find a reason for a preemptive blow against Hezbollah.” Hersh’s report is confirmed or supported by an article last month when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Israeli’s war with Lebanon was “unfolding according to a plan finalized more than a year ago.”

Hersh reports that earlier this summer and before the capture of Israeli soldiers, Israeli officials visited Cheney and other officials to “get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear.”  The Israelis proposed a war as the response to the next provocation by Hezbollah. Israel believed that bombing civilian infrastructure could then trigger the population to turn against Hezbollah. However, it had the opposite and predicted result of gathering more supporters for Hezbollah from people who were previously nonsupporters.

Shortly after the May 23 Olmert/Bush meeting, and before Israeli soldiers were captured by Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel began increasing pressure on the Hamas government in the Palestinian territories and on Hezbollah to implement the Bush pretext war strategy.  Israel “staged low-key attacks in both Lebanon and Gaza” that led to “tit-for-tat violence” resulting in Hamas’ seizure of an Israeli soldier on June 24th and Hezbollah’s capture of 2 more soldiers on July 12th.

This type of preemptive war based on pretextual grounds not only sounds eerily similar to Bush’s strategy for Iraq, but it is consistent with Israel’s stated grounds for war.  Israel refused Hezbollah’s demand to negotiate a prisoner exchange, claiming the capture of Israeli soldiers was an “act of war” and commencing airstrikes against Lebanon on July 12th “hours before the Cabinet met to discuss a response.”  However, hostage swaps are a “common and deadly game” in the Middle East where Israel, in the last 30 years, has exchanged 7,000 prisoners for 19 Israelis.

Yesterday, Israel announced that it is now willing to negotiate the prisoner swap, which Hizbollah had proposed before war commenced.

(3) War based on sham “intelligence” and inadequate equipment and preparation for troops.

In order to make the case for war against Hezbollah and Iran, the White House used the same method of operation for “intelligence” that it used for the Iraq war: Important intelligence is sent directly to the top without analysis or vetting by the intelligence community. The danger of a failed Lebanon war increased when Israel followed Bush’s lead of reliance on inadequate intelligence and failure to listen to warnings from it’s intelligence community before attacking Lebanon.  

The Israeli government ignored its own intelligence that Hezbollah was no longer a small resistance group like Hamas and that more data was needed on Hezbollah’s “military strength, manpower, logistics and positions.” Israeli intelligence warned that the Iraq war had changed the dynamics in the Middle East, which is now a region overflowing with so much anti-US and anti-Israeli anger that Israel can no longer “flex its muscles with impunity.” As a result, civilian populations in Lebanon give support and fight alongside groups fighting against Israel:

“During the mid-1990s civil war and Israeli raids, all of our doctors ran away. Nobody was ready to handle the casualties. But this time things surprisingly turned out differently. Not only have doctors and nurses refused to go to safe places, they are also working around the clock, even without monetary compensation. I think this is because everybody is now measuring the situation from a new angle and understand that this is a serious battle.”

Israel’s flawed intelligence soon became obvious to its troops. Israeli soldiers were not properly prepared for war with an “enemy that has proven more resilient and better-equipped than Israeli military forces anticipated.” Israeli soldiers were surprised to find that Hezbollah fighters were “trained like an army” and “equipped like a state” rather than a militia. And, Israeli pilots started to deliberately miss targets due to growing concerns that the intelligence was unreliable.

As the war continued and more Israeli soldiers (including elite troops) were killed, dissenting voices, including an Israeli cabinet minister, raised concerns about the failure of “one of the world’s most powerful armies” to knock out what the military had pegged as a “ragtag” terrorist group.  The Israeli media also turned, “accusing the military of lacking the proper equipment, training and intelligence to fight a guerrilla war in Lebanon.”

(4) Tearing down Israel’s military might only exacerbates its security problems in the region for years to come.

That Israel failed in this war is clear when Israel is forced to agree to a cease fire, Hezbollah leaders can legitimately claim a victory by not having been defeated, and Israeli Mps heckle Prime Minister Olmert, who informed parliament that mistakes had been made in the war and that Israel would now negotiate the release of its two soldiers captured by Hezbollah.  The war ends where it began.

This war now leaves Israel in a far worse security position. Prior to this war, Israel had a solid reputation for military invincibility against collective Arab armies: “Israel’s phenomenal victories against collective Arab armies in 1967 and later against Egypt in 1973 firmly established the Jewish state’s legendary military superiority in the Middle East.” Now, this military invincibility, which has been a great deterrent to attacking Israel, has been “dented by Hezbollah.”

(5) Bush cuts and runs from Israel.

Bush now proclaims victory for Israel,  just as he had claimed “mission accomplished” in Iraq. But, weeks ago, Hezbollah already won a symbolic victory.

This was even recognized by the White House. After publicly supporting Israel for weeks, the White House realized that Israel would not achieve a military victory and then abandoned it’s stay-the-course ship in favor of the UN cease fire:

“As the weeks wore on and civilian casualties mounted and the Hezbollah fighters proved to be an unexpected match for the experienced soldiers of Israel, however, the Bush administration began to doubt whether Israel could indeed win an outright military victory,according to a senior administration official.”

However, this sentence from an unpublished draft of a New York Times article obtained by Raw Story was deleted before the article was published.

After Bush’s failed Iraq war based on fake “intelligence” not vetted by the intelligence community, his attempt to push Iraq into some prewar retaliation to use as a pretext for war, his failure to prepare for war and equip our troops — one has to ask, when will countries learn to not seek advice or adopt plans approved by Team Bush?

Our closest ally has learned this lesson the hard way. Israel now sits, a failed war on its hands, its military reputation tarnished, hundreds of people dead, incapable of annihilating Hezbollah, less capable, at this time, of ridding themselves of any Iranian nuclear threat.  And the United States?  Picture a cheerleader suddenly late for her pedicure.

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