Revisiting the summer war – A MUST READ

THIS IS A MUST READ.  Israeli press confess that ISRAEL started the war, not Hezbollah.  Any rational thinker knew this already, but now we have it in print.  Also that the UN cartographer has said the Shebaa farms are lebanese, therefore Israel still occupies Lebanon in violation of UN resolution 425 (although the UN seems to have been muzzled, see Franklin Lambs article for more info).

Jonathan Cook, Electronic Lebanon, Aug 16, 2007

Hizballah supporters hold a rally in south Beirut one year after Israel’s “Second Lebanon War.” Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah addressed the crowd of thousands from a remote location, 14 August 2007. (Matthew Cassel)

This week marks a year since the end of hostilities now officially called the Second Lebanon War by Israelis. A month of fighting — mostly Israeli aerial bombardment of Lebanon, and rocket attacks from the Shia militia Hizballah on northern Israel in response — ended with more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and a small but unknown number of Hizballah fighters dead, as well as 119 Israeli soldiers and 43 civilians.

When Israel and the United States realized that Hizballah could not be bombed into submission, they pushed a resolution, 1701, through the United Nations. It placed an expanded international peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, in south Lebanon to keep Hizballah in check and try to disarm its few thousand fighters.

But many significant developments since the war have gone unnoticed, including several that seriously put in question Israel’s account of what happened last summer. This is old ground worth revisiting for that reason alone.

The war began on 12 July, when Israel launched waves of air strikes on Lebanon after Hizballah killed three soldiers and captured two more on the northern border. (A further five troops were killed by a land mine when their tank crossed into Lebanon in hot pursuit.) Hizballah had long been warning that it would seize soldiers if it had the chance, in an effort to push Israel into a prisoner exchange. Israel has been holding a handful of Lebanese prisoners since it withdrew from its two-decade occupation of south Lebanon in 2000.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who has been widely blamed for the army’s failure to subdue Hizballah, appointed the Winograd Committee to investigate what went wrong. So far Winograd has been long on pointing out the country’s military and political failures and short on explaining how the mistakes were made or who made them. Olmert is still in power, even if hugely unpopular.

In the meantime, there is every indication that Israel is planning another round of fighting against Hizballah after it has “learnt the lessons” from the last war. The new defense minister, Ehud Barak, who was responsible for the 2000 withdrawal, has made it a priority to develop anti-missile systems such as “Iron Dome” to neutralize the rocket threat from Hizballah, using some of the recently announced $30 billion of American military aid.

It has been left to the Israeli media to begin rewriting the history of last summer. Last weekend, an editorial in the liberal Haaretz newspaper went so far as to admit that this was “a war initiated by Israel against a relatively small guerrilla group.” Israel’s supporters, including high-profile defenders like Alan Dershowitz in the US who claimed that Israel had no choice but to bomb Lebanon, must have been squirming in their seats.

There are several reasons why Haaretz may have reached this new assessment.

Recent reports have revealed that one of the main justifications for Hizballah’s continuing resistance — that Israel failed to withdraw fully from Lebanese territory in 2000 — is now supported by the UN. Last month its cartographers quietly admitted that Lebanon is right in claiming sovereignty over a small fertile area known as the Shebaa Farms, still occupied by Israel. Israel argues that the territory is Syrian and will be returned in future peace talks with Damascus, even though Syria backs Lebanon’s position. The UN’s admission has been mostly ignored by the international media.

One of Israel’s main claims during the war was that it made every effort to protect Lebanese civilians from its aerial bombardments. The casualty figures suggested otherwise, and increasingly so too does other evidence.

A shocking aspect of the war was Israel’s firing of at least a million cluster bombs, old munitions supplied by the US with a failure rate as high as 50 percent, in the last days of fighting. The tiny bomblets, effectively small land mines, were left littering south Lebanon after the UN-brokered ceasefire, and are reported so far to have killed 30 civilians and wounded at least another 180. Israeli commanders have admitted firing 1.2 million such bomblets, while the UN puts the figure closer to 3 million.

At the time, it looked suspiciously as if Israel had taken the brief opportunity before the war’s end to make south Lebanon — the heartland of both the country’s Shia population and its militia, Hizballah — uninhabitable, and to prevent the return of hundreds of thousands of Shia who had fled Israel’s earlier bombing campaigns.

Israel’s use of cluster bombs has been described as a war crime by human rights organizations. According to the rules set by Israel’s then chief of staff, Dan Halutz, the bombs should have been used only in open and unpopulated areas — although with such a high failure rate, this would have done little to prevent later civilian casualties.

After the war, the army ordered an investigation, mainly to placate Washington, which was concerned at the widely reported fact that it had supplied the munitions. The findings, which should have been published months ago, have yet to be made public.

The delay is not surprising. An initial report by the army, leaked to the Israeli media, discovered that the cluster bombs had been fired into Lebanese population centers in gross violation of international law. The order was apparently given by the head of the Northern Command at the time, Udi Adam. A US State Department investigation reached a similar conclusion.

Another claim, one that Israel hoped might justify the large number of Lebanese civilians it killed during the war, was that Hizballah fighters had been regularly hiding and firing rockets from among south Lebanon’s civilian population. Human rights groups found scant evidence of this, but a senior UN official, Jan Egeland, offered succor by accusing Hizballah of “cowardly blending.”

There were always strong reasons for suspecting the Israeli claim to be untrue. Hizballah had invested much effort in developing an elaborate system of tunnels and underground bunkers in the countryside, which Israel knew little about, in which it hid its rockets and from which fighters attacked Israeli soldiers as they tried to launch a ground invasion. Also, common sense suggests that Hizballah fighters would have been unwilling to put their families, who live in south Lebanon’s villages, in danger by launching rockets from among them.

Now Israeli front pages are carrying reports from Israeli military sources that put in serious doubt Israel’s claims.

Since the war’s end Hizballah has apparently relocated most of its rockets to conceal them from the UN peacekeepers, who have been carrying out extensive searches of south Lebanon to disarm Hizballah under the terms of Resolution 1701. According to the UNIFIL, some 33 of these underground bunkers — or more than 90 percent — have been located and Hizballah weapons discovered there, including rockets and launchers, destroyed.

The Israeli media has noted that the Israeli army calls these sites “nature reserves;” similarly, the UN has made no mention of finding urban-based Hizballah bunkers. Relying on military sources, Haaretz reported last month: “Most of the rockets fired against Israel during the war last year were launched from the ‘nature reserves.'” In short, even Israel is no longer claiming that Hizballah was firing its rockets from among civilians.

According to the UN report, Hizballah has moved the rockets out of the underground bunkers and abandoned its rural launch pads. Most rockets, it is believed, have gone north of the Litani River, beyond the range of the UN monitors. But some, according to the Israeli army, may have been moved into nearby Shia villages to hide them from the UN.

As a result, Haaretz noted that Israeli commanders had issued a warning to Lebanon that in future hostilities the army “will not hesitate to bomb — and even totally destroy — urban areas after it gives Lebanese civilians the chance to flee.” How this would diverge from Israel’s policy during the war, when Hizballah was based in its “nature reserves” but Lebanese civilians were still bombed in their towns and villages, was not made clear.

If the Israeli army’s new claims are true (unlike the old ones), Hizballah’s movement of some of its rockets into villages should be condemned. But not by Israel, whose army is breaking international law by concealing its weapons in civilian areas on a far grander scale.

As a first-hand observer of the fighting from Israel’s side of the border last year, I noted on several occasions that Israel had built many of its permanent military installations, including weapons factories and army camps, and set up temporary artillery positions next to — and in some cases inside — civilian communities in the north of Israel.

Many of those communities are Arab: Arab citizens constitute about half of the Galilee’s population. Locating military bases next to these communities was a particularly reckless act by the army as Arab towns and villages lack the public shelters and air raid warning systems available in Jewish communities. Eighteen of the 43 Israeli civilians killed were Arab — a proportion that surprised many Israeli Jews, who assumed that Hizballah would not want to target Arab communities.

In many cases it is still not possible to specify where Hizballah rockets landed because Israel’s military censor prevents any discussion that might identify the location of a military site. During the war Israel used this to advantageous effect: for example, it was widely reported that a Hizballah rocket fell close to a hospital but reporters failed to mention that a large army camp was next to it. An actual strike against the camp could have been described in the very same terms.

It seems likely that Hizballah, which had flown pilotless spy drones over Israel earlier in the year, similar to Israel’s own aerial spying missions, knew where many of these military bases were. The question is, was Hizballah trying to hit them or — as most observers claimed, following Israel’s lead — was it actually more interested in killing civilians.

A full answer may never be possible, as we cannot know Hizballah’s intentions — as opposed to the consequences of its actions — any more than we can discern Israel’s during the war.

Human Rights Watch, however, has argued that, because Hizballah’s basic rockets were not precise, every time they were fired into Israel they were effectively targeted at civilians. Hizballah was therefore guilty of war crimes in using its rockets, whatever the intention of the launch teams. In other words, according to this reading of international law, only Israel had the right to fire missiles and drop bombs because its military hardware is more sophisticated — and, of course, more deadly.

Nonetheless, new evidence suggests strongly that, whether or not Hizballah had the right to use its rockets, it may often have been trying to hit military targets, even if it rarely succeeded. The Arab Association for Human Rights, based in Nazareth, has been compiling a report on the Hizballah rocket strikes against Arab communities in the north since last summer. It is not sure whether it will ever be able to publish its findings because of the military censorship laws.

But the information currently available makes for interesting reading. The Association has looked at northern Arab communities hit by Hizballah rockets, often repeatedly, and found that in every case there was at least one military base or artillery battery placed next to, or in a few cases inside, the community. In some communities there were several such sites.

This does not prove that Hizballah wanted only to hit military bases, of course. But it does indicate that in some cases it was clearly trying to, even if it lacked the technical resources to be sure of doing so. It also suggests that, in terms of international law, Hizballah behaved no worse, and probably far better, than Israel during the war.

The evidence so far indicates that Israel:

  • established legitimate grounds for Hizballah’s attack on the border post by refusing to withdraw from the Lebanese territory of the Shebaa Farms in 2000;
  • initiated a war of aggression by refusing to engage in talks about a prisoner swap offered by Hizballah;
  • committed a grave war crime by intentionally using cluster bombs against south Lebanon’s civilians;
  • repeatedly hit Lebanese communities, killing many civilians, even though the evidence is that no Hizballah fighters were to be found there;
  • and put its own civilians, especially Arab civilians, in great danger by making their communities targets for Hizballah attacks and failing to protect them.


It is clear that during the Second Lebanon War Israel committed the most serious war crimes.

Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, is the author of Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State (Pluto Press, 2006). His website is www.jkcook.net.

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Reclaiming space Uri Avnery: Lebanon War Report A Swiss Cheese «

Reclaiming space Uri Avnery: Lebanon War Report A Swiss Cheese «

ben_tsahal-crime-against-humanity.jpg

Uri Avnery provides a peace and Israeli perspective on the consequences and failings of Israel’s Winograd Inquiry Report into last year’s war on Lebanon.

He is none too optimistic about what the findings bode for the region and this is reflective in the Report in part by how it frames a political problem in misguidedly militaristic terms.

The Report for him bespeaks of likely further belligerency against its neighbours in the near future, and the further militarisation of Israeli society and the rank corruption in the IDF.

The Report is also damning in its glaring omissions — hardly anything about the impact on Lebanon itself — and for what it says about US involvement and the Bush administration’s enablement of these monstrous events.

This is how he reads the findings; boldface emphasis is mine:

THE WINOGRAD committee of inquiry is not a part of the solution. It is a part of the problem.

Now, after the first excitement caused by the publication of the partial report has died down, it is possible to evaluate it. The conclusion is that it has done much more harm than good.

The positive side is well known. The committee has accused the three directors of the war – the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Chief-of-Staff – of many faults. The committee’s favorite word is “failure”.

It is worthwhile to ponder this word. What does it say? A person “fails” when he does not fulfill his task. The nature of the task itself is not considered, but only the fact that it has not been accomplished.

The use of the word “failure” all over the report is by itself a failure of the committee. The new Hebrew word invented by the protest groups – something like “ineptocrats” – fits all of the five committee members.

IN WHAT did the three musketeers of the war leadership fail, according to the committee?

The decision to go to war was taken in haste. The war aims proclaimed by the Prime Minister were unrealistic. There was no detailed and finalized military plan. There was no orderly staff-work. The government adopted the improvised proposal of the Chief-of-Staff at it was, without alternatives being offered or requested. The Chief-of-Staff thought that he would win by bombing and shelling alone. No ground attack was planned. The reserves were not called up in time. The ground campaign got off very late. In the years before the war, the forces were not properly trained. Much equipment was missing from the emergency stores. The big ground attack, which cost the lives of so many soldiers, started only when the terms of the cease-fire were already agreed upon in the UN.

Strong medicine. What is the conclusion? That we must learn these lessons and improve our performance quickly, before we start the next war.

And indeed, a large part of the public drew precisely this conclusion: the three “ineptocrats” have to be removed, their place has to be filled by three leaders who are more responsible and “experienced”, and we should then start Lebanon War III, so as to repair the damage caused by Lebanon War II.

The army has lost its deterrent power? We shall get it back in the next war. There was no successful ground attack? We shall do better next time. In the next war, we shall penetrate deeper.

The entire problem is technical. New leaders with military experience, orderly staff-work, meticulous preparations, an army chief from the ranks of the ground forces instead of a flying commander – and then everything will be OK.

THE MOST important part of the report is the one that is not there. The report is full of holes, like the proverbial Swiss cheese.

There is no mention of the fact that this was from the start a superfluous, senseless and hopeless war.

Such an accusation would be very serious. A war causes death and destruction on both sides. It is immoral to start one unless there is a clear danger to the very existence of the state. According to the report, Lebanon War II had no specific aim. That means that this war was not forced on us by any existential necessity. Such a war is a crime.

What did the trio go to war for? In theory: in order to free the two captured soldiers. This week, Ehud Olmert admitted publicly that he knew quite well that the soldiers could not be freed by war. That means that when he decided to start the war, he blatantly lied to the people. George Bush style.

Hizbullah, too, does not present an existential danger to the State of Israel. An irritation? Yes. A provocative enemy? Absolutely. An existential danger? Surely not.

For these problems, political solutions could be found. It was clear then, as it is now, that the prisoners must be freed through a prisoner exchange deal. The Hizbullah threat can be removed only by political means, since it stems from political causes.

THE COMMITTEE accuses the government of not examining military alternatives to the Chief-of-Staff’s proposals. By the same token, the committee itself can be accused of not examining political alternatives to the government’s decision to go to war.

Hizbullah is primarily a political organization, a part of the complex reality of Lebanon. For centuries, the Shiites in South Lebanon were downtrodden by the stronger communities – the Maronites, the Sunnis and the Druze. When the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in 1982, the Shiites received them as liberators. After it became apparent that our army did not intend to go away, the Shiites started a war of liberation against them. Only then, in the course of the long and ultimately successful guerilla war, did the Shiites emerge as a major force in Lebanon. If there were justice in the world, Hizbullah would erect statues of Ariel Sharon.

In order to strengthen their position, the Shiites needed help. They got it from the Islamic Republic of Iran, the natural patron of all the Shiites in the region. But even more important was the help coming from Syria.

And why did Sunnite Syria come to the aid of the Shiite Hizbullah? Because it wanted to create a double threat: against the government in Beirut and against the government in Jerusalem.

Syria has never given up its foothold in Lebanon. In the eyes of the Syrians, Lebanon is an integral part of their homeland, which was torn from it by the French colonialists. A look at the map is sufficient to show why Lebanon is so important for Syria, both economically and militarily. Hizbullah provides Syria with a stake in the Lebanese arena.

The encouragement and support of Hizbullah as a threat against Israel is even more important for Syria. Damascus wants to regain the Golan Heights, which were conquered by Israel in 1967. This, for Syrians, is a paramount national duty, a matter of national pride, and they will not give it up for any price. They know that for now, they cannot win a war against Israel. Hizbullah offers an alternative: continual pinpricks that are intended to remind Israel that it might be worthwhile to return the Golan.

Anyone who ignores this political background and sees Hizbullah only as a military problem shows himself to be an ignoramus. It was the duty of the committee to say so clearly, instead of prattling on about “orderly staff-work” and “military alternatives”. It should have issued a red card to the three ineptocrats for not weighing the political alternative to the war: negotiations with Syria for neutralizing the Hizbullah threat by means of an Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese accord. The price would have been an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan heights.

By not doing so, the committee really said: there is no escape from Lebanon War III. But please, folks, try harder next time.

A CONSPICUOUS hole in the report concerns the international background of the war.

The part played by the United States was obvious from the first moment. Olmert would not have decided to start the war without obtaining explicit American permission. If the US had forbidden it, Olmert would not have dreamt of starting it.

George Bush had an interest in this war. He was (and is) stuck in the Iraqi morass. He is trying to put the blame on Syria. Therefore he wanted to strike a blow against Damascus. He also wanted to break the Lebanese opposition, in order to help America’s proxy in Beirut. He was sure that it would be a cakewalk for the Israeli army.

When the expected victory was late in coming, American diplomacy did everything possible to prevent a cease-fire, so as to “give time” to the Israeli army to win. That was done almost openly.

How much did the Americans dictate to Olmert the decision to start the war, to bomb Lebanon (but not the infrastructure of the Siniora government), to prolong the war and to start a ground offensive at the last moment? We don’t know. Perhaps the committee dealt with this in the secret part of the report. But without this information it is impossible to understand what happened, and therefore the report is to a large extent worthless for understanding the war.

WHAT ELSE is missing in the report? Hard to believe, but there is not a single word about the terrible suffering inflicted on the Lebanese population.

Under the influence of the Chief-of-Staff, the government agreed to a strategy that said: let’s bomb Lebanon, turn the life of the Lebanese into hell, so they will exert pressure on their government in Beirut, which will then disband Hizbullah. It was slavish imitation of the American strategy in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

This strategy killed about a thousand Lebanese, destroyed whole neighborhoods, bridges and roads, and not only in Shiite areas. From the military point of view, that was easy to do, but the political price was immense. For weeks pictures of the death and destruction wrought by Israel dominated world news. It is impossible to measure the damage done to Israel’s standing in world public opinion, damage that is irreversible and that will have lasting consequences.

All this did not interest the committee. It concerned itself only with the military side. The political side it ignored, except to remark that the Foreign Minister was not invited to the important consultations. The moral side was not mentioned at all.

Nor is the occupation mentioned. The committee ignores a fact that cries out to heaven: that an army cannot be capable of conducting a modern war when for 40 years it has been employed as a colonial police force in occupied territories. An officer who acts like a drunken Cossak against unarmed peace activists or stone-throwing children, as shown this week on television, cannot lead a company in real war. That is one of the most important lessons of Lebanon War II: the occupation has corrupted the Israeli army to the core. How can this be ignored?

THE COMMITTEE judges Olmert and Peretz as unfit because of their lack of “experience”, meaning military experience. This can lead to the conclusion that the Israeli democracy cannot rely on civilian leaders, that it needs leaders who are generals. It imposes on the country a military agenda. That may well be the most dangerous result.

This week I saw on the internet a well-done presentation by the “Reservists”, a group of embittered reserve soldiers set up to lead the protest against the three “ineptocrats”. It shows, picture after picture, many of the failures of the war, and reaches its climax with the statement that the incompetent political leadership did not allow the army to win.

The young producers of this presentation are certainly unaware of the unpleasant smell surrounding this idea, the odor of the “Dolchstoss im Ruecken” – the stab in the back of the army. Otherwise they would probably not have expressed themselves in this form, which served not so long ago as the rallying cry of German Fascism.

Olmert’s testimony reveals the real goal of the war in Lebanon

Global Research, March 13, 2007

Nazareth. 12 March 2007. Israel’s supposedly “defensive” assault on Hizbullah last summer, in which more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed in a massive aerial bombardment that ended with Israel littering the country’s south with cluster bombs, was cast in a definitively different light last week by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

His leaked testimony to the Winograd Committee — investigating the government’s failures during the month-long attack — suggests that he had been preparing for such a war at least four months before the official casus belli: the capture by Hizbullah of two Israeli soldiers from a border post on 12 July 2006. Lebanon’s devastation was apparently designed to teach both Hizbullah and the country’s wider public a lesson.

Olmert’s new account clarifies the confusing series of official justifications for the war from the time.

First, we were told that the seizure of the soldiers was “an act of war” by Lebanon and that a “shock and awe” campaign was needed to secure their release. Or, as the then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz — taking time out from disposing of his shares before market prices fell — explained, his pilots were going to “turn the clock back 20 years” in Lebanon.

Then the army claimed that it was trying to stop Hizbullah’s rocket strikes. But the bombing campaign targeted not only the rocket launchers but much of Lebanon, including Beirut. (It was, of course, conveniently overlooked that Hizbullah’s rockets fell as a response to the Israeli bombardment and not the other way round.)

And finally we were offered variations on the theme that ended the fighting: the need to push Hizbullah (and, incidentally, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians) away from the northern border with Israel.

That was the thrust of UN Resolution 1701 that brought about the official end of hostilities in mid-August. It also looked suspiciously like the reason why Israel chose at the last-minute to dump up to a million tiny bomblets — old US stocks of cluster munitions with a very high failure rate — that are lying in south Lebanon’s fields, playgrounds and back yards waiting to explode.

What had been notable before Olmert’s latest revelation was the clamour of the military command to distance itself from Israel’s failed attack on Hizbullah. After his resignation, Halutz blamed the political echelon (meaning primarily Olmert), while his subordinates blamed both Olmert and Halutz. The former Chief of Staff was rounded on mainly because, it was claimed, being from the air force, he had over-estimated the likely effectiveness of his pilots in “neutralising” Hizbullah’s rockets.

Given this background, Olmert has been obliging in his testimony to Winograd. He has not only shouldered responsibility for the war to the Committee, but, if Israeli media reports are to be believed, he has also publicised the fact by leaking the details.

Olmert told Winograd that, far from making war on the hoof in response to the capture of the two soldiers (the main mitigating factor for Israel’s show of aggression), he had been planning the attack on Lebanon since at least March 2006.

His testimony is more than plausible. Allusions to pre-existing plans for a ground invasion of Lebanon can be found in Israeli reporting from the time. On the first day of the war, for example, the Jersualem Post reported: “Only weeks ago, an entire reserve division was drafted in order to train for an operation such as the one the IDF is planning in response to Wednesday morning’s Hizbullah attacks on IDF forces along the northern border.”

Olmert defended the preparations to the Committee on the grounds that Israel expected Hizbullah to seize soldiers at some point and wanted to be ready with a harsh response. The destruction of Lebanon would deter Hizbullah from considering another such operation in the future.

There was an alternative route that Olmert and his commanders could have followed: they could have sought to lessen the threat of attacks on the northern border by damping down the main inciting causes of Israel’s conflict with Hizbullah.

According to Olmert’s testimony, he was seeking just such a solution to the main problem: a small corridor of land known as the Shebaa Farms claimed by Lebanon but occupied by Israel since 1967. As a result of the Farms area’s occupation, Hizbullah has argued that Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 was incomplete and that the territory still needed liberating.

Olmert’s claim, however, does not stand up to scrutiny.

The Israeli media revealed in January that for much of the past two years Syria’s leader, Bashir Assad, has been all but prostrating himself before Israel in back-channel negotiations over the return of Syrian territory, the Golan, currently occupied by Israel. Although those talks offered Israel the most favourable terms it could have hoped for (including declaring the Golan a peace park open to Israelis), Sharon and then Olmert — backed by the US — refused to engage Damascus.

A deal on the Golan with Syria would almost certainly have ensured that the Shebaa Farms were returned to Lebanon. Had Israel or the US wanted it, they could have made considerable progress on this front.

The other major tension was Israel’s repeated transgressions of the northern border, complemented by Hizbullah’s own, though less frequent, violations. After the army’s withdrawal in 2000, United Nations monitors recorded Israeli warplanes violating Lebanese airspace almost daily. Regular overflights were made to Beirut, where pilots used sonic booms to terrify the local population, and drones spied on much of the country. Again, had Israel halted these violations of Lebanese sovereignty, Hizbullah’s own breach of Israeli sovereignty in attacking the border post would have been hard to justify.

And finally, when Hizbullah did capture the soldiers, there was a chance for Israel to negotiate over their return. Hizbullah made clear from the outset that it wanted to exchange the soldiers for a handful of Lebanese prisoners still in Israeli jails. But, of course, as Olmert’s testimony implies, Israel was not interested in talks or in halting its bombing campaign. That was not part of the plan.

We can now start to piece together why.

According to the leaks, Olmert first discussed the preparations for a war against Lebanon in January and then asked for detailed plans in March.

Understandably given the implications, Olmert’s account has been decried by leading Israeli politicians. Effi Eitam has pointed out that Olmert’s version echoes that of Hizbullah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who claims his group knew that Israel wanted to attack Lebanon.

And Yuval Steinitz argues that, if a war was expected, Olmert should not have approved a large cut to the defence budget only weeks earlier. The explanation for that, however, can probably be found in the forecasts about the war’s outcome expressed in cabinet by Halutz and government ministers. Halutz reportedly believed that an air campaign would defeat Hizbullah in two to three days, after which Lebanon’s infrastructure could be wrecked unimpeded. Some ministers apparently thought the war would be over even sooner.

In addition, a red herring has been offered by the General Staff, whose commanders are claiming to the Israeli media that they were kept out of the loop by the prime minister. If Olmert was planning a war against Lebanon, they argue, he should not have left them so unprepared.

It is an intriguing, and unconvincing, proposition: who was Olmert discussing war preparations with, if not with the General Staff? And how was he planning to carry out that war if the General Staff was not intimately involved?

More interesting are the dates mentioned by Olmert. His first discussion of a war against Lebanon was held on 8 January 2006, four days after he became acting prime minister following Ariel Sharon’s brain haemorrhage and coma. Olmert held his next meeting on the subject in March, presumably immediately after his victory in the elections. There were apparently more talks in April, May and July.

Rather than the impression that has been created by Olmert of a rookie prime minister and military novice “going it alone” in planning a major military offensive against a neighbouring state, a more likely scenario starts to take shape. It suggests that from the moment that Olmert took up the reins of power, he was slowly brought into the army’s confidence, first tentatively in January and then more fully after his election. He was allowed to know of the senior command’s secret and well-advanced plans for war — plans, we can assume, his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, a former general, had been deeply involved in advancing.

But why would Olmert now want to shoulder responsibility for the unsuccessful war if he only approved, rather than formulated, it? Possibly because Olmert, who has appeared militarily weak and inexperienced to the Israeli public, does not want to prove his critics right. And also because, with most of his political capital exhausted, he would be unlikely to survive a battle for Israeli hearts and minds against the army (according to all polls, the most revered institution in Israeli society) should he try to blame them for last summer’s fiasco. With Halutz gone, Olmert has little choice but to say “mea cupla”.

What is the evidence that Israel’s generals had already established the protocols for a war?

First, an article in the San Franscisco Chronicle, published soon after the outbreak of war, revealed that the Israeli army had been readying for a wide-ranging assault on Lebanon for years, and had a specific plan for a “Three-Week War” that they had shared with Washington think-tanks and US officials.

“More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail,” wrote reporter Matthew Kalman.

That view was confimed this week by an anonymous senior officer who told the Haaretz newspaper that the army had a well-established plan for an extensive ground invasion of Lebanon, but that Olmert had shied away from putting it into action. “I don’t know if he [Olmert] was familiar with the details of the plan, but everyone knew that the IDF [army] had a ground operation ready for implementation.”

And second, we have an interview in the Israeli media with Meyrav Wurmser, the wife of one of the highest officials in the Bush Administration, David Wurmser, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s adviser on the Middle East. Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli citizen, is herself closely associated with MEMRI, a group translating (and mistranslating) speeches by Arab leaders and officials that is known for its ties to the Israeli secret services.

She told the website of Israel’s leading newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, that the US stalled over imposing a ceasefire during Israel’s assault on Lebanon because the Bush Administration was expecting the war to be expanded to Syria.

“The anger [in the White House] is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space. They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its [Iran’s] strategic and important ally [Syria] should be hit.”

In other words, the picture that emerges is of a long-standing plan by the Israeli army, approved by senior US officials, for a rapid war against Lebanon — followed by possible intimidatory strikes against Syria — using the pretext of a cross-border incident involving Hizbullah. The real purpose, we can surmise, was to weaken what are seen by Israel and the US to be Tehran’s allies before an attack on Iran itself.

That was why neither the Americans nor Israel wanted, or appear still to want, to negotiate with Assad over the Golan and seek a peace agreement that could — for once — change the map of the Middle East for the better.

Despite signs of a slight thawing in Washington’s relations with Iran and Syria in the past few days, driven by the desperate US need to stop sinking deeper into the mire of Iraq, Damascus is understandably wary.

The continuing aggressive Israeli and US postures have provoked a predictable reaction from Syria: it has started building up its defences along the border with Israel. But in the Alice Through the Looking Glass world of Israeli military intelligence, that response is being interpreted — or spun — as a sign of an imminent attack by Syria.

Such, for example, is the opinion of Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli professor of military history, usually described as eminent and doubtless with impeccable contacts in the Israeli military establishment, who recently penned an article in the American Jewish weekly, the Forward.

He suggests that Syria, rather than wanting to negotiate over the Golan — as all the evidence suggests — is planning to launch an attack on Israel, possibly using chemical weapons, in October 2008 under cover of fog and rain. The goal of the attack? Apparently, says the professor, Syria wants to “inflict casualties” and ensure Jerusalem “throws in the towel”.

What’s the professor’s evidence for these Syrian designs? That its military has been on an armaments shopping spree in Russia, and has been studying the lessons of the Lebanon war.

He predicts (of Syria, not Israel) the following: “Some incident will be generated and used as an excuse for opening rocket fire on the Golan Heights and the Galilee.” And he concludes: “Overall the emerging Syrian plan is a good one with a reasonable chance of success.”

And what can stop the Syrians? Not peace talks, argues Van Creveld. “Obviously, much will depend on what happens in Iraq and Iran. A short, successful American offensive in Iran may persuade Assad that the Israelis, much of whose hardware is either American or American-derived, cannot be countered, especially in the air. Conversely, an American withdrawal from Iraq, combined with an American-Iranian stalemate in the Persian Gulf, will go a long way toward untying Assad’s hands.”

It all sounds familiar. Iran wants the nuclear destruction of Israel, and Syria wants Jersualem to “throw in the towel” — or so the neocons and the useful idiots of “the clash of civilisations” would have us believe. The fear must be that they get their way and push Israel and the US towards another pre-emptive war — or maybe two.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His book “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State” is published by Pluto Press. His website is www.jkcook.net

 Global Research Articles by Jonathan Cook

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