Seymour Hersh‘s latest feature in the Aug. 21 New Yorker openly portrays Israel’s Lebanon adventure as Washington’s test war for an attack on Iran. Like most of his recent journalism, it relies overwhelmingly on anonymous sources. One “US government consultant” told him that earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, “to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear.” The consultant added, “Israel began with 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.” After that, “persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board,” the consultant (reportedly) said.
Another “Middle East expert” with supposed White House connections said Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12 kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”
A “former senior intelligence official” made clear the real target, from Washington’s perspective, was Iran. “The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully,” he reportedly said. “Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It’s not Congo—it’s Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, ‘Let’s concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.’” The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the source (reportedly) said.
If we were cynical, we could point out that no journalist without the reputation and credibility of Hersh could get away with repeatedly churning out features that rely so overwhelmingly on anonymous (and therefore unverifiable) sources. While all the sources making controversial allegations about “green lights” are unnamed, the requisite refutations come from at least somewhat more identifibale parties. “Administration officials” deny that they knew in advance if Israel’s plan for an air war. A “Pentagon spokesman” says “The United States government remains committed to a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.” A “National Security Council spokesman” says “Prior to Hezbollah’s attack on Israel, the Israeli government gave no official in Washington any reason to believe that Israel was planning to attack. Even after the July 12th attack, we did not know what the Israeli plans were.” David Siegel, the spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, says the Israeli Air Force had not been seeking a reason to attack Hezbollah. “We did not plan the campaign. That decision was forced on us.”
Regardless of the degree to which the Lebanon aggression was planned in advance and regardless of the degree of White House complicity, we can be sure once the action was underway, Washington viewed it as a test war for aggression against Iran. But the most telling quote actually comes from a named source—Richard Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state in Bush’s first term, and who once called Hezbollah “the A team of terrorists.” Said Armitage: “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 only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”