Boston artist Steve Mills - realistic painting

Monday, May 31, 2010

NEW BOOK:'Israel and the Clash of Civilisations'

Jonathan Cook
Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East

Published by Pluto Press in Britain in January
and in the United States in February 2008

For details about how to buy the book
in the UK:  from Pluto Press, click here
or from Amazon UK click here
in the US:  from Palgrave Macmillan,  click here
 or Amazon US  click here


Praise for Clash of Civilisations: 
“One of the most cogent understandings of the modern Middle East I have read. It is superb, because the author himself is a unique witness who blows away the media debris and presents both a j’accuse of those who would destroy the lives of whole societies in their pursuit of power and myth, and a warning to the rest of us to speak up and act.”
John Pilger, author of Freedom Next Time (2006) and The New Rulers of the World (2003) 
“A compelling account of the recent wars for Middle East oil, untangling a complex web of interests shared by the neocons, Israel and the Bush White House. Cook’s timely book raises disturbing questions about where Israel and the US hope to push the region next.”
David Hirst, author of The Gun and the Olive Branch (2003) 

“Undeniably enriches and elevates the debate.”
Afif Safieh, Palestinian Ambassador in Washington


Extracts from the book:
To look at the contents page and index click here

From the preface (in PDF) click here
On Israel's 2006 assault on Lebanon (in PDF) click here HERE, DOWN THE PAGE

From the back cover: 
In his thought-provoking new book, journalist Jonathan Cook argues that Israel’s desire to be the sole regional power in the Middle East has shaped the Bush Administration’s objectives in the “war on terror”.

Examining a host of inter-related issues, from the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to the role of Big Oil and the demonisation of the Arab world, Cook shows that the current chaos in the Middle East, far from being a disastrous mistake, is the true goal of the Bush Administration. It is a policy that has been greatly to the benefit of Israel.

About the author:
Jonathan Cook, a former staff journalist of the Guardian and Observer newspapers, has also written for The Times, Le Monde diplomatique, international Herald Tribune, Al-Ahram Weekly and
He is based in Nazareth, Israel.

An Arabic edition is forthcoming from: Dar Al-Hadi Publishing in Beirut, Lebanon.

Jonathan Cook News Archive,  last updated on Thursday, 04 February 2010

On 24 May 2006, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was invited 
to address a joint session of Congress. In his widely publicised 
speech, he claimed that Iran stood ‘on the verge of acquiring 
nuclear weapons’, a development that would pose ‘an existential 
threat’ to Israel. He added: ‘It is not Israel’s threat alone. It is a 
threat to all those committed to stability in the Middle East and 
to the well-being of the world at large.’52 Less than two months 
later, on 12 July 2006, Israel launched a war against the Lebanese 
Shia militia Hizbullah, publicly – if simplistically – identifi ed by 
Israel and the US as a proxy for Iran. After a month’s futile 
fi ghting, 119 soldiers and 43 civilians had been killed in Israel, 
and at least 1,000 civilians and a small but unknown number of 
Hizbullah fi ghters had died in Lebanon. 
There were obvious reasons why Israel and the US might have 
regarded the destruction of Hizbullah as the necessary gambit 
before an attack on Iran. Were Tehran to be targeted fi rst, Israel 
would be vulnerable to retaliation not only from long-range 
Iranian missiles but also, as Israel’s defence offi cials had suggested 
two years earlier, from Hizbullah’s short-range Katyusha rockets 
across the northern border. And if Israel launched a combined 
attack on Iran and Hizbullah, almost inevitably drawing in 
Syria too, Israel would face military reprisals on three fronts at 
once. Instead, dealing with Hizbullah’s rockets fi rst – and at the 
very least intimidating the Syrian army – would isolate Tehran 
militarily and free Israel and the US to attack Iran at a time of their 
choosing. That was the assessment of the White House, according 
to Seymour Hersh’s conversations with offi cials.54 
The July 2006 hostilities began with a relatively minor incident 
by regional standards: Hizbullah launched a raid on an Israeli 
military post on the border with Lebanon, during which three 
Israeli soldiers were killed and two captured. A brief Hizbullah 
rocket strike on sites close to the northern border left no one 
seriously hurt and was described at the time by the Israeli army as 
a ‘diversionary attack’.55 Five more soldiers died shortly afterwards 
when their tank crossed over into Lebanon in hot pursuit of the 
captured Israelis and hit a landmine. This was the latest in a long- 
running round of tit-for-tat strikes by Israel and Hizbullah since 
Israel’s withdrawal from its military occupation of south Lebanon 
in May 2000. A few weeks before Hizbullah captured the two 
soldiers, for example, Mossad had been strongly suspected in the 
assassination of two Islamic Jihad militants in a car bombing in 
the port city of Sidon in south Lebanon.56 
Israel was well aware of the reasons for the Hizbullah attack. 
The Shia militia had several outstanding points of friction 
with Israel since the latter had withdrawn from its two-decade 
occupation of south Lebanon in May 2000. First, as recorded by 
United Nations peacekeepers stationed in south Lebanon, Israeli 
war planes had been fl ying almost daily over Lebanon to carry 
out spying operations in violation of the country’s sovereignty, 
and to wage intermittent psychological warfare by creating sonic 
booms to terrify the local civilian population.57 Second, since 
Israel’s withdrawal, its army had continued occupying a small 
corridor of land known as the Shebaa Farms. Israel, backed by 
the United Nations after Tel Aviv had exerted much pressure 
on the international body,58 claimed that the Farms area was 
Syrian – part of the Golan – and that it could only be returned 
in negotiations with Damascus; Lebanon and Syria, meanwhile, 
argued that the land was Lebanese and should have been handed 
back when Israel withdrew. 
But third and most important in explaining the July 2006 
border raid was a bitter dispute between Hizbullah and Israel over 
prisoners. Israel had refused after its withdrawal in 2000 to hand 
over a handful of Lebanese prisoners of war (the exact fi gure was 
diffi cult to establish as Israel had opened a secret prison, called 
Facility 1391, into which many Lebanese captives disappeared 
during the occupation of south Lebanon).60 Regarding this issue 
as a point of honour, Hizbullah had vowed to capture Israeli 
soldiers so that they could be exchanged for the remaining 
Lebanese prisoners. It had seized three soldiers in October 2000, 
six months after the Israeli withdrawal, without incurring major 
reprisals.61 Although on that occasion the soldiers had died during 
their capture, Israel later agreed an exchange of 23 Lebanese, 
other Arab nationals and 400 Palestinians it was holding for the 
return of the soldiers’ bodies and a captured Israeli businessman.62 
According to reports in the Israeli media, there had subsequently 
been three unsuccessful attempts by Hizbullah to capture soldiers 
to ensure the return of the last two or three remaining Lebanese 
prisoners, and especially Samir Kuntar, who had been held by 
Israel since 1979.63 The day after the eruption of the July 2006 
hostilities, a Ha’aretz editorial noted: 
The major blow Israel suffered yesterday, the circumstances of which will 
certainly demand explanations, is particularly harsh primarily because this 
did not come as a surprise. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned in 
April that he planned to get back Samir Kuntar, even by force ... Freeing 
Kuntar along with the other Lebanese prisoners and captives may have 
prevented yesterday’s kidnapping.64 
As expected, following the border raid, Hizbullah’s leader, Hassan 
Nasrallah, offered a prisoner swap for the two soldiers.65 
Israel, however, was in no mood to compromise or negotiate.66 
Calling the seizure of the soldiers an ‘act of war’, Israel began 
bombing Lebanon from the air the same day and launched 
a limited ground invasion. (Notably, a senior Israeli army 
commander later admitted that the point of destroying Lebanon 
was not the return of the two Israeli soldiers but to weaken 
Hizbullah.67) The next day Israeli war planes destroyed airports, 
roads and bridges, factories, power stations and oil refi neries 
– part of Israel’s campaign to ‘turn back the clock in Lebanon 20 
years’, as the Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, phrased it.68 Was Halutz 
referring, even if unconsciously, to better times for Israel, before 
Hizbullah’s establishment in the early 1980s? The civilian death 
toll in Lebanon rose rapidly. Hizbullah responded, cautiously 
at fi rst, by fi ring its primitive rockets at areas near the northern 
border, including the towns of Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya, that 
were well prepared for such strikes. The Shia militia waited four 
days before extending its reach and hitting Haifa with a volley of 
rockets that killed eight railway workers. By then more than 100 
Lebanese civilians were dead from the Israeli bombing.
When Israel failed over the course of four weeks to signifi cantly 
dent Hizbullah’s military capabilities – the rocket attacks 
continued and expanded, and the army’s attempts at invading 
south Lebanon were repeatedly repulsed – Israel and the US were 
forced to go down diplomatic channels, seeking a United Nations 
resolution, 1701, that they hoped would limit Hizbullah’s ability 
in the future to resist Israel. The two demanded disarmament 
of the militia by the Lebanese army and enforcement by UN 
peacekeepers. However, given the weakness of Lebanon’s army 
and the reluctance of the international community to commit 
troops, the chances of defanging Hizbullah looked remote. Israel, 
therefore, spent the last three days before the ceasefi re was due 
to come into effect dropping some 1.2 million US-made cluster 
bombs over south Lebanon.70 The use of these old stocks of US 
munitions, which were reported to have a failure rate as high 
as 50 per cent,71 meant that hundreds of thousands of bomblets 
– effectively small land mines – were left littering south Lebanon 
after the fi ghting fi nished. The intention seemed clear: to make 
the country’s south as uninhabitable as possible, at least in the 
short term, and the job of isolating Hizbullah fi ghters that much 
easier should Israel try another attack. 
There were three early indications that Israel might be seeking 
to widen the war to Iran and Syria. First, within hours of the 
attack, the deputy director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, 
Gideon Meir, was trying to implicate Iran in Hizbullah’s capture 
of the two soldiers, and by extension Syria too: ‘We have concrete 
evidence that Hezbollah plans to transfer the kidnapped soldiers 
to Iran. As a result, Israel views Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran 
as the main players in the axis of terror and hate that endangers 
not only Israel, but the entire world.’72 The ‘concrete evidence’ 
never emerged from the dark corridors of the Mossad. 
Second, Israel claimed that Hizbullah’s arsenal of some 12,000 
rockets hidden across south Lebanon – from which it managed to 
fi re as many as 200 a day into northern Israel – had been supplied 
by Iran and Syria.73 This may have been true but applied a double 
standard typical of Israel’s relations with its neighbours: Israel 
was supplied by the US with the latest weaponry, including cluster 
bombs. Arriving at the Haifa railway depot where the workers 
had been killed, Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s Transport Minister and 
a former Chief of Staff, said the fatal rocket contained Syrian 
ammunition.74 At the same time, Israeli military commanders 
held a press conference at which they claimed that they had 
destroyed a Syrian convoy trying to re-supply Hizbullah. ‘These 
are rockets that belong to the Syrian army. You can’t fi nd them in 
the Damascus market, and the Syrian government is responsible 
for this smuggling’, said the army’s head of operations, Gadi 
Eisenkott.75 Both Iran and Syria had good reasons to want 
Hizbullah strong: Israel’s diffi culties invading Lebanon might 
deter it from attacking them; and Israel’s problems with Hizbullah 
on the northern border were one of the few leverage points Syria 
and Iran possessed in international negotiations. 
And third, Israel’s leaders took advantage of the Western media’s 
instant and convenient amnesia about the chronology of Hizbullah’s 
rocket strikes. Israel argued that its army’s massive bombardment 
of Lebanon, far from being an act of barely concealed aggression, 
was a necessary defensive response to Hizbullah’s rockets.76 
The attacks were popularly referred to by Israeli offi cials and 
commentators as Hizbullah’s attempt to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ 
– a clear echo of a phrase closely (though wrongly, as we shall 
see later) associated with Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 
In fact, the Hizbullah rockets had been fi red in retaliation for the 
Israeli aerial onslaught, and Nasrallah had repeatedly used his TV 
appearances to call for a ceasefi re.77 When at one point the US 
Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, won Israel’s agreement to a 
48-hour suspension of air strikes on south Lebanon, Israel broke 
its promise within hours while Hizbullah largely honoured the 
pause in hostilities, even though it was not party to it.78 Nasrallah 
appeared keen to show that his militia was disciplined and that it 
had a specifi c aim: namely, a prisoner swap.79 The Western media, 
however, concentrated on Israeli arguments that Hizbullah was 
seeking the Jewish state’s destruction – with the implication that 
Iran was really behind the plan.80 
There was one sense, however, in which Hizbullah’s rockets 
may have been fi red for Tehran’s benefi t – though few seemed to 
understand the signifi cance. Most critics, including international 
human rights organisations, regarded the rocket fi re from south 
Lebanon either as ‘indiscriminate’ or as targeted at Israeli civilians. 
But while Hizbullah’s projectiles were not precise enough to hit 
specifi c or small targets, they were often accurate enough to 
suggest the intended target. Though not reported by the local 
and international media, some observers on the ground, including 
myself, saw that a signifi cant proportion of the rockets landed 
close by – and in some cases hit – military sites in northern Israel, 
including weapons factories, army bases, airfi elds, communication 
towers and power stations.81 Israel was able to conceal this fact 
through its military censorship laws, which ensured that reporters 
were unable to explain what had been hit, or what military 
targets might exist, at the site of Hizbullah strikes. Nazareth, for 
example, was repeatedly mentioned as a target of rocket attacks, 
with the implication that the Shia militia was trying to hit a 
‘Christian’ city (most observers appeared not to appreciate that 
the city has a Muslim majority),82 without journalists noting that 
military facilities were located close by Nazareth. I can reveal 
this information now only because a subsequent Ha’aretz article 
noted in another context the existence of an armaments factory 
in Nazareth.83 
The same conclusion – that Hizbullah had been trying, at least on 
some occasions, to target military sites in Israel – was subsequently 
reached by the Arab Association for Human Rights, based in 
Nazareth. Its researchers found a close correlation between the 
existence of a military base or bases close by Arab communities 
in the north and the high number of Hizbullah strikes offi cially 
recorded against the same communities.84 After the war, the 
Israeli media admitted a few successful strikes on military sites, 
including a hit on an oil refi nery in Haifa.85 Hizbullah’s ability 
to direct its fi re towards such targets, if less often hit them, was 
possible because on several earlier occasions pilotless Hizbullah 
drones, supplied by Iran, photographed much of northern Israel, 
mimicking on a small scale Israel’s own spying operations.86 
Another direct hit was reported by Robert Fisk, a British 
journalist based in Beirut who was not subject to the censor. 
Fisk revealed that the army’s most important military planning 
centre in the Lebanon war, an underground bunker in the hillside 
of Mount Miron close to the border, had been repeatedly struck 
by rockets – a fact later confi rmed by Israel’s leading military 
correspondent Ze’ev Schiff. Fisk wrote: 
Codenamed ‘Apollo’, Israeli military scientists work deep inside mountain 
caves and bunkers at Miron, guarded by watchtowers, guard-dogs and 
barbed wire, watching all air traffi c moving in and out of Beirut, Damascus, 
Amman and other Arab cities. The mountain is surmounted by clusters of 
antennae which Hizbollah quickly identifi ed as a military tracking centre. 
Before they fi red rockets at Haifa, they therefore sent a cluster of missiles 
towards Miron. The caves are untouchable but the targeting of such a secret 
location by Hizbollah deeply shocked Israel’s military planners. The ‘centre 
of world terror’ – or whatever they imagine Lebanon to be – could not only 
breach their frontier and capture their soldiers but attack the nerve-centre 
of the Israeli northern military command.
Hizbullah’s futile targeting of these well-protected military 
sites with their Katyusha rockets served a purpose, however. It 
suggested to Israel not only that Hizbullah knew where Israel’s 
military infrastructure was located but that Iran knew too. Why 
reveal this to Israel? Because, we can surmise, Tehran may have 
hoped that, by showing just how exposed Israel was militarily to 
Iran’s more powerful, long-range missiles, Israel’s leaders might 
think twice before attacking Iran after Hizbullah. 


Iran and Hizbullah had good reason to fear that the assault 
on Lebanon – and whatever was supposed to follow it – had 
been planned well in advance. Nasrallah’s deputy, Sheikh Naim 
Qassem, certainly thought so. He told the an-Nahar daily that two 
days into the fi ghting Hizbullah learnt that Israel and the United 
States had been planning an attack on Lebanon in September or 
October. ‘Israel was not ready. In fact it wanted to prepare for 
two or three months more, but American pressure on one side and 
the Israeli desire to achieve a success on the other ... were factors 
which made them rush into battle.’88 Are there any grounds for 
Qassem’s belief that Israel was working to a prepared, if secret, 
script with the Americans rather than, as the offi cial version 
suggests, improvising after the two soldiers’ capture? There are 
several strong indications that it was. 
First, in an interview and separate article published shortly after 
the ceasefi re between Israel and Hizbullah was agreed, respected 
American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed that 
Vice-President Dick Cheney and his offi cials, led by neocon 
advisers Elliott Abrams and David Wurmser, had been closely 
involved in the war. US government sources told him that earlier 
the same summer several Israeli offi cials had visited Washington 
‘to get a green light for the bombing operation and to fi nd out how 
much the United States would bear. Israel began with Cheney. It 
wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his 
offi ce and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council.’ 
After that, ‘persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi 
Rice was on board’.89 With these agreements in place between 
Washington and Tel Aviv, a war of reprisal could be launched the 
moment a Hizbullah violation of the border took place. A hawkish 
former head of intelligence at Mossad, Uzi Arad, expressed it this 
way: ‘For the life of me, I’ve never seen a decision to go to war 
taken so speedily. We usually go through long analyses.’90 
The main concern in Tel Aviv and Washington, Hersh pointed 
out, was with Hizbullah’s rockets. ‘You cannot attack Iran 
without taking them [the rockets] out, because obviously that’s 
the deterrent. You hit Iran, Hezbollah then bombs Tel Aviv and 
Haifa. So that’s something you have to clean out fi rst.’91 But the 
neocons had other reasons for supporting an Israeli attack on 
Hizbullah, according to Hersh. First, they wanted the Lebanese 
government of Fuad Siniora, seen as loyal to Washington, to be 
able to challenge a weakened Hizbullah and assert the Lebanese 
army’s control over south Lebanon.92 And second, the US air 
force was hoping that their Israeli counterparts would be able 
to fi eld-test US bunker-busting bombs against Hizbullah before 
they were turned on Iranian sites. From the spring, he added, 
the US and Israeli military worked closely together. ‘It was clear 
this summer, the next time Hezbollah made a move ... the Israeli 
Air Force was going to bomb, the plan was going to go in effect 
... I think the best guess people had is it could have been as late 
as fall, September or October, that they would go. They went 
quickly.’93 Hersh noted that a US government consultant had 
confi ded in him: ‘The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war 
with many benefi ts.’94 
Second, a report by Matthew Kalman in the San Francisco 
Chronicle, published a week into the war, supported Hersh’s 
More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army offi cer 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. Under the ground rules of the briefi ngs, the offi cer could 
not be identifi ed. In his talks, the offi cer described a three-week campaign: 
The fi rst week concentrated on destroying Hezbollah’s heavier long-range 
missiles, bombing its command-and-control centers, and disrupting trans- 
portation and communication arteries. In the second week, the focus shifted 
to attacks on individual sites of rocket launchers or weapons stores. In the 
third week, ground forces in large numbers would be introduced, but only 
in order to knock out targets discovered during reconnaissance missions 
as the campaign unfolded. 
And third, there is the self-serving, though nonetheless revealing, 
evidence about the build-up to war from Israel’s Prime Minister, 
Ehud Olmert, to the Winograd Committee, a panel he set up 
to investigate the army’s dismal performance against Hizbullah. 
Olmert told the Committee that he spoke to the Israeli General 
Staff in January 2006, as he became acting prime minister after 
Ariel Sharon was felled by a brain haemorrhage, about preparing 
a contingency plan for attacking Lebanon should a soldier be 
captured by Hizbullah, an event Israel was expecting but seems to 
have done little to prevent. Olmert said he then held further talks 
with the military in March about drawing up more defi nite plans. 
He claimed that he was the one directing the army to ready itself 
for war.96 There is good reason to believe that Olmert’s testimony 
is right in respect of there existing by July 2006 a military plan for 
attacking Lebanon, but wrong about when the plan was drawn 
up and about his role in its preparation. 
In fact, after Olmert’s testimony was leaked to the media, 
members of the General Staff criticised him for having kept them 
out of the loop: if Olmert was planning a war against Lebanon, 
they argued, he should not have left them so unprepared. That 
claim can quickly be discounted as a red herring. Apart from the 
improbability of Olmert being able to organise a war without 
the senior command’s knowledge, references can be found in the 
Israeli media from the time of the war acknowledging the fact that 
the army was readying for a confrontation with Lebanon, just 
as Olmert claimed. On the fi rst day of fi ghting, for example, the 
Jerusalem Post reported of the planned ground invasion: ‘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.’98 
But even more importantly, there is every reason to doubt that 
in Israel’s highly militarised system of government – where prime 
ministers are almost always generals too – Olmert, a military novice, 
would have been allowed to take a signifi cant role in the army’s 
plans for how to deal with a regional enemy. The General Staff 
would have had their own plans for such an eventuality, regularly 
revised according to changing circumstances and coordinated 
in part with Washington. Olmert would at best have been able 
to choose from the plans on offer. That was certainly the view 
of General Amos Malka, a former head of military intelligence, 
when he testifi ed to the Winograd Committee. He told the panel 
that politicians came to the army to discuss a military operation 
‘as if coming for a visit’, adding that the politician 
does not come with anything of his own, he has no [military] staff, no 
one prepared papers for him, he has not held a preliminary discussion, he 
comes to a talk more or less run by the army. The army tells him what its 
assessment is, what the intelligence assessment is, what the possibilities 
are, option A, option B and option C. 
Malka also dismissed Chief of Staff Dan Halutz’s claim that he 
was following the orders of politicians in prosecuting the war 
against Lebanon. Such a relationship, he said, ‘does not exist in 
Israeli decision making. The army is part of the political echelon.’ 
Giving the Committee members a brief history lesson, Malka 
concluded: ‘David Ben-Gurion [Israel’s fi rst Prime Minister] was 
both defense minister and prime minister, and the army was his 
executive branch, for education and establishing settlements as 
well. Since then, we’ve placed strategy in the hands of the army, 
but we forgot to take it back when the reasons for doing so ceased 
to exist.’99 Malka’s view was supported by Binyamin Ben Eliezer, 
the Infrastructures Minister and a member of the war cabinet, 
who told the Winograd Committee that Olmert had been ‘misled, 
to put it mildly’ by the army. ‘Olmert said to me: “I am not a 
company, platoon or brigade commander, nor am I a general, as 
opposed to my predecessor [Ariel] Sharon. All of the generals I 
met with did not present any plans”.’100 
Experienced military analysts also inferred the same conclusions 
from the Winograd Committee’s heavily censored interim 
report, published in May 2007. While endlessly castigating 
the Israeli leadership over its ‘failures’ in prosecuting the war 
against Lebanon, the report revealed almost nothing on the most 
important questions: what had happened at the start of the war 
and why had Israel’s leaders taken the decisions they did? The 
reporter Ze’ev Schiff of Ha’aretz observed: 
The main conclusion emerging from the testimony given to the Winograd 
Committee by the three most important players – Prime Minister Ehud 
Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of staff Dan Halutz 
– is that the army dominates in its relationship with the government ... 
The conclusion is that the Israel Defense Forces has too big an impact on 
decision making.101 
That may in part explain the Committee members’ failure to 
understand the process by which Olmert reached his decision to 
go to war. 
Our impression is that the prime minister came to the fateful discussions in 
those days with his decision already substantially shaped and formulated. 
We have no documented basis from which it is possible to obtain hints as 
to his process of deliberation, as to what alternatives he considered, nor as 
to the timeline of the decisions that he made and their context.102 
This passage echoed the conclusions of Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz 
two days into the war: ‘The brief time that passed between the 
abduction [of the two soldiers] and Olmert’s announcement of a 
painful response indicates that his decision to undertake a broad 
military operation in Lebanon was made with record speed. That 
he had no doubts or hesitations.’103 Unusually, the Committee 
could fi nd no evidence of the conversations between Olmert and 
Halutz that preceded the war, and therefore concluded that this 
was because the Prime Minister made the decision ‘in haste’ and 
‘informally’ – in other words, that Olmert did not consult with 
anyone. A more convincing explanation is that Olmert and the 
Israeli military concealed the true circumstances surrounding 
the launching of the war because the decision had been taken 
in advance. 
Both the General Staff and Olmert probably had additional 
reasons for wanting to muddy the waters on the issue of respon- 
sibility for the war. After the army’s dismal performance in 
Lebanon, commanders were keen to restore a little of their dignity 
and the army’s deterrence power by claiming that the politicians 
had interfered in ways that damaged their ability to defeat 
Hizbullah. Olmert, on the other hand, was facing some of the 
lowest popularity ratings ever for a serving prime minister, almost 
universally regarded as a leader without the military experience 
needed to cope with the new climate of confrontation in the Middle 
East. Admitting that he had simply rubber-stamped the General 
Staff’s plans would have damaged him even further, underlining 
to Israelis that he was not a warrior like Ariel Sharon they could 
trust in diffi cult times. It would also have set him on course for a 
clash with the army, a fi ght he would have inevitably lost against 
one of the institutions most respected by Israeli society. 
A far more probable scenario was that from the moment 
Olmert took up the reins of power, he was slowly brought 
into the army’s confi dence, fi rst tentatively in January and then 
more fully after his election in March. He was allowed to know 
of the senior command’s secret plans for war – plans, we can 
assume, his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, a former general, had been 
deeply involved in advancing and that had been approved by 
Washington. Olmert was brought into the picture relatively late. 
If the observations of Hersh and the Hizbullah leadership are to 
be believed, the hasty and chaotic nature of Israel’s prosecution 
of the war – and the resulting dismal military failures – refl ected, 
at least in part, the fact that the Israeli army was pushed into 
war too early, before it had fully prepared, by Hizbullah’s capture 
of the soldiers. Comments from an anonymous senior offi cer 
to Ha’aretz suggested that the army had intended an extensive 
ground invasion of Lebanon in addition to the aerial campaign, 
but that Olmert and possibly the Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, shied 
away from putting it into effect after the unexpected failure of 
the aerial bombardment in defeating Hizbullah. ‘I don’t know 
if he [Olmert] was familiar with the details of the plan, but 
everyone knew that the IDF had a ground operation ready for 

Had Hizbullah been beaten, what would this plan have required 
next? The answer, it seems, is an attack on Syria, with Israeli air 
strikes forcing Damascus into submission.105 According to reports 
in the Arab media during the early stages of the war against 
Lebanon, that was the fear in Syria and Iran. The newspaper 
al-Watan reported a phone conversation in which President 
Bashar Assad of Syria was supposedly told by the Iranian leader 
Ahmadinejad: ‘The Zionist-American threat on Damascus has 
reached a dangerous level, and there is no choice but to respond 
with a strong message so the aggressors will reconsider whether 
to launch a preventive attack against Syria.

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