Robert Parry / Consortium News & Ari Shavit / Ha’aretz – 2006-08-15 03:55:42
(August 13, 2006) — Amid the political and diplomatic fallout from Israel’s faltering invasion of Lebanon, some Israeli officials are privately blaming President George W. Bush for egging Prime Minister Ehud Olmert into the ill-conceived military adventure against the Hezbollah militia in south Lebanon.
Bush conveyed his strong personal support for the military offensive during a White House meeting with Olmert on May 23, according to sources familiar with the thinking of senior Israeli leaders.
Olmert, who like Bush lacks direct wartime experience, agreed that a dose of military force against Hezbollah might damage the guerrilla group’s influence in Lebanon and intimidate its allies, Iran and Syria, countries that Bush has identified as the chief obstacles to U.S. interests in the Middle East.
As part of Bush’s determination to create a “new Middle East” – one that is more amenable to U.S. policies and desires – Bush even urged Israel to attack Syria, but the Olmert government refused to go that far, according to Israeli sources.
One source said some Israeli officials thought Bush’s attack-Syria idea was “nuts” since much of the world would have seen the bombing campaign as overt aggression.
In an article on July 30, the Jerusalem Post referred to Bush’s interest in a wider war involving Syria. Israeli “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,” the newspaper reported.
While balking at an expanded war into Syria, Olmert did agree on the need to show military muscle in Lebanon as a prelude to facing down Iran over its nuclear program, which Olmert has called an “existential” threat to Israel.
With U.S. forces bogged down in Iraq, Bush and his neoconservative advisers saw the inclusion of Israeli forces as crucial for advancing a strategy that would punish Syria for supporting Iraqi insurgents, advance the confrontation with Iran and isolate Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
But the month-long war has failed to achieve its goals of destroying Hezbollah forces in south Lebanon or intimidating Iran and Syria.
Instead, Hezbollah guerrillas fought Israeli troops to a virtual standstill in villages near the border and much of the world saw Israel’s bombing raids across Lebanon – which killed hundreds of civilians – as “disproportionate.”
Now, as the conflict winds down, some Israeli officials are ruing the Olmert-Bush pact on May 23 and fault Bush for pushing Olmert into the conflict.
Soon after the May 23 meeting in Washington, Israel began to ratchet up pressure on the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories and on Hezbollah and other Islamic militants in Lebanon. As part of this process, Israel staged low-key attacks in both Lebanon and Gaza. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com “A ‘Pretext’ War in Lebanon.”]
The tit-for-tat violence led to the Hamas seizure of an Israeli soldier on June 24 and then to Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza. That, in turn, set the stage for Hezbollah’s attack on an Israeli outpost and the capture of two more Israeli soldiers on July 12.
Hezbollah’s July 12 raid became the trigger that Bush and Olmert had been waiting for. With the earlier attacks unknown or forgotten, Israel and the U.S. skillfully rallied international condemnation of Hezbollah for what was called an unprovoked attack and a “kidnapping” of Israeli soldiers.
Behind the international criticism of Hezbollah, Bush and Olmert justified an intense air campaign against Lebanese targets, killing civilians and destroying much of Lebanon’s commercial infrastructure. Israeli troops also crossed into southern Lebanon with the intent of delivering a devastating military blow against Hezbollah, which retaliated by firing Katyusha rockets into Israel..
However, the Israeli operation was eerily reminiscent of the disastrous U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Like the U.S. assault, Israel relied heavily on “shock and awe” air power and committed an inadequate number of soldiers to the battle.
Israeli newspapers have been filled with complaints from soldiers who say some reservists weren’t issued body armor while other soldiers found their equipment either inferior or inappropriate to the battlefield conditions.
Israeli troops also encountered fierce resistance from Hezbollah guerrillas, who took a page from the Iraqi insurgents by using explosive booby traps and ambushes to inflict heavier than expected casualties on the Israelis.
Channel 2 in Israel disclosed that several top military commanders wrote a letter to Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the chief of staff, criticizing the war planning as chaotic and out of line with the combat training of the soldiers and officers. [Washington Post, Aug. 12, 2006]
One Israeli plan to use llamas to deliver supplies in the rugged terrain of south Lebanon turned into an embarrassment when the animals simply sat down.
Reporter Nahum Barnea, who traveled with an Israeli unit in south Lebanon, compared the battle to “the famous Tom and Jerry cartoons” with the powerful Israeli military playing the role of the cat Tom and the resourceful Hezbollah guerrillas playing the mouse Jerry. “In every conflict between them, Jerry wins,” Barnea wrote.
Back in Israel, some leading newspapers have begun calling for Olmert’s resignation.
“If Olmert runs away now from the war he initiated, he will not be able to remain prime minister for even one more day,” the newspaper Haaretz wrote in a front-page analysis. “You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power.
“You cannot bury 120 Israelis in cemeteries, keep a million Israelis in shelters for a month and then say, ‘Oops, I made a mistake.'” [See Washington Post, Aug. 12, 2006]
For his part, Bush spent July and early August fending off international demands for an immediate cease-fire. Bush wanted to give Olmert as much time as possible to bomb targets across Lebanon and dislodge Hezbollah forces in the south.
But instead of turning the Lebanese population against Hezbollah – as Washington and Tel Aviv had hoped – the devastation rallied public support behind Hezbollah.
As the month-long conflict took on the look of a public-relations disaster for Israel, the Bush administration dropped its resistance to international cease-fire demands and joined with France in crafting a United Nations plan for stopping the fighting.
Quoting “a senior administration official” with Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the New York Times reported that “it increasingly seemed that Israel would not be able to achieve a military victory, a reality that led the Americans to get behind a cease-fire.” [NYT, Aug. 12, 2006]
But the repercussions from Israel’s failed Lebanon offensive are likely to continue. Olmert must now confront the political damage at home and the chief US adversaries in the Middle East may be emboldened by the outcome, more than chastened.
As in the Iraq War, Bush has revealed again how reliance on tough talk and military might can sometimes undercut — not build up — US influence in the strategically important Middle East.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It’s also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & “Project Truth.”
Bush ‘Helped Israeli Attack on Lebanon’
Dan Glaister / Guardian
LOS ANGELES (August 14, 2006) — The US government was closely involved in planning the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, even before Hizbullah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross border raids in July. American and Israeli officials met in the spring, discussing plans on how to tackle Hizbullah, according to a report published yesterday.
The veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh writes in the current issue of the New Yorker magazine that Israeli government officials travelled to the US in May to share plans for attacking Hizbullah.
Quoting a US government consultant, Hersh said: “Earlier this summer … 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 Israeli action, current and former government officials told Hersh, chimed with the Bush administration’s desire to reduce the threat of possible Hizbullah retaliation against Israel should the US launch a military strike against Iran.
“A successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign … could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American pre-emptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations,” sources told Hersh.
Yesterday Mr Hersh told CNN: “July was a pretext for a major offensive that had been in the works for a long time. Israel’s attack was going to be a model for the attack they really want to do. They really want to go after Iran.”
An unnamed Pentagon consultant told Hersh: “It was our intention to have Hizbullah diminished and now we have someone else doing it.”
Officials from the state department and the Pentagon denied the report. A spokesman for the National Security Council told Hersh that “The Israeli government gave no official in Washington any reason to believe that Israel was planning to attack.”
Hersh has a track record in breaking major stories. He was the first to write about the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and has written extensively about the build-up to the war in Iraq. He made his name when he uncovered the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam war. Most recently he has written about US plans for Iran, alleging that US special forces had already been active inside the country.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
Olmert Must Go
Ari Shavit / Ha’aretz
TEL AVIV (August 11, 2006) — Ehud Olmert may decide to accept the French proposal for a cease-fire and unconditional surrender to Hezbollah. That is his privilege. Olmert is a prime minister whom journalists invented, journalists protected, and whose rule journalists preserved. Now the journalists are saying run away. That’s legitimate. Unwise, but legitimate.
However, one thing should be clear: If Olmert runs away now from the war he initiated, he will not be able to remain prime minister for even one more day. Chutzpah has its limits.
You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power. You cannot bury 120 Israelis in cemeteries, keep a million Israelis in shelters for a month, wear down deterrent power, bring the next war very close, and then say – oops, I made a mistake. That was not the intention. Pass me a cigar, please.
There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month. He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions. He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army’s original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented.
And after arrogantly and hastily bursting into war, Olmert managed it hesitantly, unfocused and limp. He neglected the home front and abandoned the residents of the north. He also failed shamefully on the diplomatic front.
Still, if Olmert had come to his senses as Golda Meir did during the Yom Kippur War, if he had become a leader, established a war cabinet an d called the nation to a supreme effort that would change the face of the battle, a penetrating discussion of his failures could be postponed.
But in blinking first over the past 24 hours, he has become an incorrigible political personality. Therefore, the day Nasrallah comes out of his bunker and declares victory to the whole world, Olmert must not be in the prime minister’s office. Post-war battered and bleeding Israel needs a new start and a new leader. It needs a real prime minister.
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