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Sy Hersh: 'US, Israel planned Middle East war'

AFP | August 13 2006

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

The kidnapping triggered a month-long Israeli operation in South Lebanon that is expected to come to an end on Monday.

But Pulitzer Prize-winning US 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 prelude to a potential US pre-emptive 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, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah - and shared it with Bush administration officials - well before the July 12 kidnappings.

The expert added that the White House had several reasons for supporting a bombing campaign, the report said.

If there was to be a military option against Iran, it had to get rid of the weapons Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation against Israel, Hersh writes.

Citing a US government consultant with close ties to Israel, Hersh also reports that earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, several Israeli officials visited Washington "to get a green light" for a bombing operation following a Hezbollah provocation, and "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.

Nonetheless, Hersh writes, a former senior intelligence official says some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should.

"There is no way that (defence secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this," the report 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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