[News] Seymour Hersh - Watching Lebanon: Washington's Interest in Israel's War

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 14 16:08:19 EDT 2006


Washington’s interests in Israel’s war.
Issue of 2006-08-21
Posted 2006-08-14

In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon 
into Israel, on July 12th, to kidnap two 
soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack on 
Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bush 
Administration seemed strangely passive. “It’s a 
moment of clarification,” President George W. 
Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, 
on July 16th. “It’s now become clear why we don’t 
have peace in the Middle East.” He described the 
relationship between Hezbollah and its supporters 
in Iran and Syria as one of the “root causes of 
instability,” and subsequently said that it was 
up to those countries to end the crisis. Two days 
later, despite calls from several governments for 
the United States to take the lead in 
negotiations to end the fighting, Secretary of 
State Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire 
should be put off until “the conditions are conducive.”

The Bush Administration, however, was closely 
involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory 
attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick 
Cheney were convinced, current and former 
intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, 
that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing 
campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified 
underground-missile and command-and-control 
complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security 
concerns and also serve as a prelude to a 
potential American preëmptive attack to destroy 
Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Israeli military and intelligence experts I spoke 
to emphasized that the country’s immediate 
security issues were reason enough to confront 
Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush 
Administration wanted. Shabtai Shavit, a 
national-security adviser to the Knesset who 
headed the Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence 
service, from 1989 to 1996, told me, “We do what 
we think is best for us, and if it happens to 
meet America’s requirements, that’s just part of 
a relationship between two friends. Hezbollah is 
armed to the teeth and trained in the most 
advanced technology of guerrilla warfare. It was 
just a matter of time. We had to address it.”

Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a profound 
threat­a terrorist organization, operating on 
their border, with a military arsenal that, with 
help from Iran and Syria, has grown stronger 
since the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon 
ended, in 2000. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan 
Nasrallah, has said he does not believe that 
Israel is a “legal state.” Israeli intelligence 
estimated at the outset of the air war that 
Hezbollah had roughly five hundred medium-range 
Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and a few dozen 
long-range Zelzal rockets; the Zelzals, with a 
range of about two hundred kilometres, could 
reach Tel Aviv. (One rocket hit Haifa the day 
after the kidnappings.) It also has more than 
twelve thousand shorter-range rockets. Since the 
conflict began, more than three thousand of these have been fired at Israel.

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge 
of the current thinking of both the Israeli and 
the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan 
for attacking Hezbollah­and shared it with Bush 
Administration officials­well before the July 
12th 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.”

The Middle East expert said that the 
Administration had several reasons for supporting 
the Israeli bombing campaign. Within the State 
Department, it was seen as a way to strengthen 
the Lebanese government so that it could assert 
its authority over the south of the country, much 
of which is controlled by Hezbollah. He went on, 
“The White House was more focussed on stripping 
Hezbollah 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 
Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at 
Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after 
Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its 
nuclear sites, and he was interested in going 
after Hezbollah as part of his interest in 
democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown 
jewels of Middle East democracy.”

Administration officials denied that they knew of 
Israel’s plan for the air war. The White House 
did not respond to a detailed list of questions. 
In response to a separate request, a National 
Security Council spokesman said, “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.” A Pentagon 
spokesman said, “The United States government 
remains committed to a diplomatic solution to the 
problem of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons 
program,” and denied the story, as did a State Department spokesman.

The United States and Israel have shared 
intelligence and enjoyed close military 
coöperation for decades, but early this spring, 
according to a former senior intelligence 
official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air 
Force­under pressure from the White House to 
develop a war plan for a decisive strike against 
Iran’s nuclear facilities­began consulting with 
their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force.

“The big question for our Air Force was how to 
hit a series of hard targets in Iran 
successfully,” the former senior intelligence 
official said. “Who is the closest ally of the 
U.S. Air Force in its planning? It’s not 
Congo­it’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, he said.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war 
with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant 
with close ties to Israel said. “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 Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White 
House “has been agitating for some time to find a 
reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.” 
He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah 
diminished, and now we have someone else doing 
it.” (As this article went to press, the United 
Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire 
resolution, although it was unclear if it would 
change the situation on the ground.)

According to Richard Armitage, who served as 
Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first 
term­and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah “may 
be the A team of terrorists”­Israel’s campaign in 
Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties 
and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve 
as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If 
the most dominant military force in the 
region­the Israel Defense Forces­can’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,” Armitage said. 
“The only thing that the bombing has achieved so 
far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

Several current and former officials involved in 
the Middle East told me that Israel viewed the 
soldiers’ kidnapping as the opportune moment to 
begin its planned military campaign against 
Hezbollah. “Hezbollah, like clockwork, was 
instigating something small every month or two,” 
the U.S. government consultant with ties to 
Israel said. Two weeks earlier, in late June, 
members of Hamas, the Palestinian group, had 
tunnelled under the barrier separating southern 
Gaza from Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. 
Hamas also had lobbed a series of rockets at 
Israeli towns near the border with Gaza. In 
response, Israel had initiated an extensive 
bombing campaign and reoccupied parts of Gaza.

The Pentagon consultant noted that there had also 
been cross-border incidents involving Israel and 
Hezbollah, in both directions, for some time. 
“They’ve been sniping at each other,” he said. 
“Either side could have pointed to some incident 
and said ‘We have to go to war with these 
guys’­because they were already at war.”

David Siegel, the spokesman at the Israeli 
Embassy in Washington, said that 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.” There were ongoing 
alerts that Hezbollah “was pressing to go on the 
attack,” Siegel said. “Hezbollah attacks every 
two or three months,” but the kidnapping of the soldiers raised the stakes.

In interviews, several Israeli academics, 
journalists, and retired military and 
intelligence officers all made one point: they 
believed that the Israeli leadership, and not 
Washington, had decided that it would go to war 
with Hezbollah. Opinion polls showed that a broad 
spectrum of Israelis supported that choice. “The 
neocons in Washington may be happy, but Israel 
did not need to be pushed, because Israel has 
been wanting to get rid of Hezbollah,” Yossi 
Melman, a journalist for the newspaper Ha’aretz, 
who has written several books about the Israeli 
intelligence community, said. “By provoking 
Israel, Hezbollah provided that opportunity.”

“We were facing a dilemma,” an Israeli official 
said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “had to decide 
whether to go for a local response, which we 
always do, or for a comprehensive response­to 
really take on Hezbollah once and for all.” 
Olmert made his decision, the official said, only 
after a series of Israeli rescue efforts failed.

The U.S. government consultant with close ties to 
Israel told me, however, that, from Israel’s 
perspective, the decision to take strong action 
had become inevitable weeks earlier, after the 
Israeli Army’s signals intelligence group, known 
as Unit 8200, picked up bellicose intercepts in 
late spring and early summer, involving Hamas, 
Hezbollah, and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader now living in Damascus.

One intercept was of a meeting in late May of the 
Hamas political and military leadership, with 
Meshal participating by telephone. “Hamas 
believed the call from Damascus was scrambled, 
but Israel had broken the code,” the consultant 
said. For almost a year before its victory in the 
Palestinian elections in January, Hamas had 
curtailed its terrorist activities. In the late 
May intercepted conversation, the consultant told 
me, the Hamas leadership said that “they got no 
benefit from it, and were losing standing among 
the Palestinian population.” The conclusion, he 
said, was “ ‘Let’s go back into the terror 
business and then try and wrestle concessions 
from the Israeli government.’ ” The consultant 
told me that the U.S. and Israel agreed that if 
the Hamas leadership did so, and if Nasrallah 
backed them up, there should be “a full-scale 
response.” In the next several weeks, when Hamas 
began digging the tunnel into Israel, the 
consultant said, Unit 8200 “picked up signals 
intelligence involving Hamas, Syria, and 
Hezbollah, saying, in essence, that they wanted 
Hezbollah to ‘warm up’ the north.” In one 
intercept, the consultant said, Nasrallah 
referred to Olmert and Defense Minister Amir 
Peretz “as seeming to be weak,” in comparison 
with the former Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and 
Ehud Barak, who had extensive military 
experience, and said “he thought Israel would 
respond in a small-scale, local way, as they had in the past.”

Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah 
kidnappings, the U.S. government consultant said, 
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 said.

The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, 
called for a major bombing campaign in response 
to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to 
the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and 
Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by 
targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including 
highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian 
runways at the main Beirut airport, it could 
persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni 
populations to turn against Hezbollah, according 
to the former senior intelligence official. The 
airport, highways, and bridges, among other 
things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. 
The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine 
thousand missions as of last week. (David Siegel, 
the Israeli spokesman, said that Israel had 
targeted only sites connected to Hezbollah; the 
bombing of bridges and roads was meant to prevent the transport of weapons.)

The Israeli plan, according to the former senior 
intelligence official, was “the mirror image of 
what the United States has been planning for 
Iran.” (The initial U.S. Air Force proposals for 
an air attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity, 
which included the option of intense bombing of 
civilian infrastructure targets inside Iran, have 
been resisted by the top leadership of the Army, 
the Navy, and the Marine Corps, according to 
current and former officials. They argue that the 
Air Force plan will not work and will inevitably 
lead, as in the Israeli war with Hezbollah, to 
the insertion of troops on the ground.)

Uzi Arad, who served for more than two decades in 
the Mossad, told me that to the best of his 
knowledge the contacts between the Israeli and 
U.S. governments were routine, and that, “in all 
my meetings and conversations with government 
officials, never once did I hear anyone refer to 
prior coördination with the United States.” He 
was troubled by one issue­the speed with which 
the Olmert government went to war. “For the life 
of me, I’ve never seen a decision to go to war 
taken so speedily,” he said. “We usually go through long analyses.”

The key military planner was Lieutenant General 
Dan Halutz, the I.D.F. chief of staff, who, 
during a career in the Israeli Air Force, worked 
on contingency planning for an air war with Iran. 
Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem, and Peretz, 
a former labor leader, could not match his experience and expertise.

In the early discussions with American officials, 
I was told by the Middle East expert and the 
government consultant, the Israelis repeatedly 
pointed to the war in Kosovo as an example of 
what Israel would try to achieve. The NATO forces 
commanded by U.S. Army General Wesley Clark 
methodically 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 that­thirty-five days.’ ”

There are, of course, vast differences between 
Lebanon and Kosovo. Clark, who retired from the 
military in 2000 and unsuccessfully ran as a 
Democrat for the Presidency in 2004, took issue 
with the analogy: “If it’s true that the Israeli 
campaign is based on the American approach in 
Kosovo, then it missed the point. Ours was to use 
force to obtain a diplomatic objective­it was not 
about killing people.” Clark noted in a 2001 
book, “Waging Modern War,” that it was the threat 
of a possible ground invasion as well as the 
bombing that forced the Serbs to end the war. He 
told me, “In my experience, air campaigns have to 
be backed, ultimately, by the will and capability 
to finish the job on the ground.”

Kosovo has been cited publicly by Israeli 
officials and journalists since the war began. On 
August 6th, Prime Minister Olmert, responding to 
European condemnation of the deaths of Lebanese 
civilians, said, “Where do they get the right to 
preach to Israel? European countries attacked 
Kosovo and killed ten thousand civilians. Ten 
thousand! And none of these countries had to 
suffer before that from a single rocket. I’m not 
saying it was wrong to intervene in Kosovo. But 
please: don’t preach to us about the treatment of 
civilians.” (Human Rights Watch estimated the 
number of civilians killed in the NATO bombing to 
be five hundred; the Yugoslav government put the 
number between twelve hundred and five thousand.)

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 later­the 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.”

The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence 
about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by 
the White House the same way intelligence had 
been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the 
Administration was making the case that Iraq had 
weapons of mass destruction. “The big complaint 
now in the intelligence community is that all of 
the important stuff is being sent directly to the 
top­at the insistence of the White House­and not 
being analyzed at all, or scarcely,” he said. 
“It’s an awful policy and violates all of the 
N.S.A.’s strictures, and if you complain about it 
you’re out,” he said. “Cheney had a strong hand in this.”

The long-term Administration goal was to help set 
up a Sunni Arab coalition­including countries 
like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt­that would 
join the United States and Europe to pressure the 
ruling Shiite mullahs in Iran. “But the thought 
behind that plan was that Israel would defeat 
Hezbollah, not lose to it,” the consultant with 
close ties to Israel said. Some officials in 
Cheney’s office and at the N.S.C. had become 
convinced, on the basis of private talks, that 
those nations would moderate their public 
criticism of Israel and blame Hezbollah for 
creating the crisis that led to war. Although 
they did so at first, they shifted their position 
in the wake of public protests in their countries 
about the Israeli bombing. The White House was 
clearly disappointed when, late last month, 
Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign 
minister, came to Washington and, at a meeting 
with Bush, called for the President to intervene 
immediately to end the war. The Washington Post 
reported that Washington had hoped to enlist 
moderate Arab states “in an effort to pressure 
Syria and Iran to rein in Hezbollah, but the 
Saudi move . . . seemed to cloud that initiative.”

The surprising strength of Hezbollah’s 
resistance, and its continuing ability to fire 
rockets into northern Israel in the face of the 
constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert 
told me, “is a massive setback for those in the 
White House who want to use force in Iran. And 
those who argue that the bombing will create 
internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back.”

Nonetheless, 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, 
the former senior intelligence official said. 
“There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will 
draw the right conclusion about this,” he said. 
“When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a 
success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran.”

In the White House, especially in the 
Vice-President’s office, many officials believe 
that the military campaign against Hezbollah is 
working and should be carried forward. At the 
same time, the government consultant said, some 
policymakers in the Administration have concluded 
that the cost of the bombing to Lebanese society 
is too high. “They are telling Israel that it’s 
time to wind down the attacks on infrastructure.”

Similar divisions are emerging in Israel. David 
Siegel, the Israeli spokesman, said that his 
country’s leadership believed, as of early 
August, that the air war had been successful, and 
had destroyed more than seventy per cent of 
Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range-missile 
launching capacity. “The problem is short-range 
missiles, without launchers, that can be shot 
from civilian areas and homes,” Siegel told me. 
“The only way to resolve this is ground 
operations­which is why Israel would be forced to 
expand ground operations if the latest round of 
diplomacy doesn’t work.” Last week, however, 
there was evidence that the Israeli government 
was troubled by the progress of the war. In an 
unusual move, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, 
Halutz’s deputy, was put in charge of the 
operation, supplanting Major General Udi Adam. 
The worry in Israel is that Nasrallah might 
escalate the crisis by firing missiles at Tel 
Aviv. “There is a big debate over how much damage 
Israel should inflict to prevent it,” the 
consultant said. “If Nasrallah hits Tel Aviv, 
what should Israel do? Its goal is to deter more 
attacks by telling Nasrallah that it will destroy 
his country if he doesn’t stop, and to remind the 
Arab world that Israel can set it back twenty 
years. We’re no longer playing by the same rules.”

A European intelligence officer told me, “The 
Israelis have been caught in a psychological 
trap. In earlier years, they had the belief that 
they could solve their problems with toughness. 
But now, with Islamic martyrdom, things have 
changed, and they need different answers. How do 
you scare people who love martyrdom?” The problem 
with trying to eliminate Hezbollah, the 
intelligence officer said, is the group’s ties to 
the Shiite population in southern Lebanon, the 
Bekaa Valley, and Beirut’s southern suburbs, 
where it operates schools, hospitals, a radio station, and various charities.

A high-level American military planner told me, 
“We have a lot of vulnerability in the region, 
and we’ve talked about some of the effects of an 
Iranian or Hezbollah attack on the Saudi regime 
and on the oil infrastructure.” There is special 
concern inside the Pentagon, he added, about the 
oil-producing nations north of the Strait of 
Hormuz. “We have to anticipate the unintended 
consequences,” he told me. “Will we be able to 
absorb a barrel of oil at one hundred dollars? 
There is this almost comical thinking that you 
can do it all from the air, even when you’re up 
against an irregular enemy with a dug-in 
capability. You’re not going to be successful 
unless you have a ground presence, but the 
political leadership never considers the worst 
case. These guys only want to hear the best case.”

There is evidence that the Iranians were 
expecting the war against Hezbollah. Vali Nasr, 
an expert on Shiite Muslims and Iran, who is a 
fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and 
also teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School, in 
Monterey, California, said, “Every negative 
American move against Hezbollah was seen by Iran 
as part of a larger campaign against it. And Iran 
began to prepare for the showdown by supplying 
more sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah­anti-ship 
and anti-tank missiles­and training its fighters 
in their use. And now Hezbollah is testing Iran’s 
new weapons. Iran sees the Bush Administration as 
trying to marginalize its regional role, so it fomented trouble.”

Nasr, an Iranian-American who recently published 
a study of the Sunni-Shiite divide, entitled “The 
Shia Revival,” also said that the Iranian 
leadership believes that Washington’s ultimate 
political goal is to get some international force 
to act as a buffer­to physically separate Syria 
and Lebanon in an effort to isolate and disarm 
Hezbollah, whose main supply route is through 
Syria. “Military action cannot bring about the 
desired political result,” Nasr said. The 
popularity of Iran’s President, Mahmoud 
Ahmadinejad, a virulent critic of Israel, is 
greatest in his own country. If the U.S. were to 
attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Nasr said, “you 
may end up turning Ahmadinejad into another 
Nasrallah­the rock star of the Arab street.”

Donald Rumsfeld, who is one of the Bush 
Administration’s most outspoken, and powerful, 
officials, has said very little publicly about 
the crisis in Lebanon. His relative quiet, 
compared to his aggressive visibility in the 
run-up to the Iraq war, has prompted a debate in 
Washington about where he stands on the issue.

Some current and former intelligence officials 
who were interviewed for this article believe 
that Rumsfeld disagrees with Bush and Cheney 
about the American role in the war between Israel 
and Hezbollah. The U.S. government consultant 
with close ties to Israel said that “there was a 
feeling that Rumsfeld was jaded in his approach 
to the Israeli war.” He added, “Air power and the 
use of a few Special Forces had worked in 
Afghanistan, and he tried to do it again in Iraq. 
It was the same idea, but it didn’t work. He 
thought that Hezbollah was too dug in and the 
Israeli attack plan would not work, and the last 
thing he wanted was another war on his shift that 
would put the American forces in Iraq in greater jeopardy.”

A Western diplomat said that he understood that 
Rumsfeld did not know all the intricacies of the 
war plan. “He is angry and worried about his 
troops” in Iraq, the diplomat said. Rumsfeld 
served in the White House during the last year of 
the war in Vietnam, from which American troops 
withdrew in 1975, “and he did not want to see 
something like this having an impact in Iraq.” 
Rumsfeld’s concern, the diplomat added, was that 
an expansion of the war into Iran could put the 
American troops in Iraq at greater risk of 
attacks by pro-Iranian Shiite militias.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on 
August 3rd, Rumsfeld was less than enthusiastic 
about the war’s implications for the American 
troops in Iraq. Asked whether the Administration 
was mindful of the war’s impact on Iraq, he 
testified that, in his meetings with Bush and 
Condoleezza Rice, “there is a sensitivity to the 
desire to not have our country or our interests 
or our forces put at greater risk as a result of 
what’s taking place between Israel and Hezbollah. 
. . . There are a variety of risks that we face 
in that region, and it’s a difficult and delicate situation.”

The Pentagon consultant dismissed talk of a split 
at the top of the Administration, however, and 
said simply, “Rummy is on the team. He’d love to 
see Hezbollah degraded, but he also is a voice 
for less bombing and more innovative Israeli 
ground operations.” The former senior 
intelligence official similarly depicted Rumsfeld 
as being “delighted that Israel is our stalking horse.”

There are also questions about the status of 
Condoleezza Rice. Her initial support for the 
Israeli air war against Hezbollah has reportedly 
been tempered by dismay at the effects of the 
attacks on Lebanon. The Pentagon consultant said 
that in early August she began privately 
“agitating” inside the Administration for 
permission to begin direct diplomatic talks with 
Syria­so far, without much success. Last week, 
the Times reported that Rice had directed an 
Embassy official in Damascus to meet with the 
Syrian foreign minister, though the meeting 
apparently yielded no results. The Times also 
reported that Rice viewed herself as “trying to 
be not only a peacemaker abroad but also a 
mediator among contending parties” within the 
Administration. The article pointed to a divide 
between career diplomats in the State Department 
and “conservatives in the government,” including 
Cheney and Abrams, “who were pushing for strong American support for Israel.”

The Western diplomat told me his embassy believes 
that Abrams has emerged as a key policymaker on 
Iran, and on the current Hezbollah-Israeli 
crisis, and that Rice’s role has been relatively 
diminished. Rice did not want to make her most 
recent diplomatic trip to the Middle East, the 
diplomat said. “She only wanted to go if she 
thought there was a real chance to get a ceasefire.”

Bush’s strongest supporter in Europe continues to 
be British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but many in 
Blair’s own Foreign Office, as a former diplomat 
said, believe that he has “gone out on a 
particular limb on this”­especially by accepting 
Bush’s refusal to seek an immediate and total 
ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. “Blair 
stands alone on this,” the former diplomat said. 
“He knows he’s a lame duck who’s on the way out, 
but he buys it”­the Bush policy. “He drinks the 
White House Kool-Aid as much as anybody in 
Washington.” The crisis will really start at the 
end of August, the diplomat added, “when the 
Iranians”­under a United Nations deadline to stop 
uranium enrichment­“will say no.”

Even those who continue to support Israel’s war 
against Hezbollah agree that it is failing to 
achieve one of its main goals­to rally the 
Lebanese against Hezbollah. “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 me. Arquilla 
has been campaigning for more than a decade, with 
growing success, to change the way America fights 
terrorism. “The warfare of today is not mass on 
mass,” he said. “You have to hunt like a network 
to defeat a network. Israel focussed on bombing 
against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, 
it became more aggressive on the ground. The 
definition of insanity is continuing to do the 
same thing and expecting a different result.”

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