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Did Hezbollah thwart a planned Bush/Olmert attack on Lebanon?

NB Just in (18 May) see also this subsequent Israeli intel connected DEBKAfile piece Israel’s Missed Boat in Lebanon:

Sunday night, May 11, the Israeli army was poised to strike Hizballah. The Shiite militia was winding up its takeover of West Beirut and battling pro-government forces in the North. When he opened the regular cabinet meeting Sunday, May 11, prime minister Ehud Olmert had already received the go-ahead from Washington for a military strike to halt the Hizballah advance. The message said that President George W. Bush would not call off his visit to Israel to attend its 60th anniversary celebrations and would arrive as planned Wednesday, May 14 – even if the Israeli army was still fighting in Lebanon and Hizballah struck back against Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion airport. Read rest HERE

Franklin Lamb
Beirut

This week Israel’s Military Intelligence Chief Major General Amos Yadlin complained to the Israeli daily Haaretz that “Hezbollah proved that it was the strongest power in Lebanon… stronger than the Lebanese and if it had wanted to take the government it could have done it.” He said Hezbollah continued to pose a “significant” threat to Israel as its rockets could reach a large part of Israeli territory.

Yadlin was putting it mildly.

But what Intelligence Chief Yadlin did not reveal to the Israeli public was just how “significant” but also “immediate” the Hezbollah threat was on May 11. Nor was he willing to divulge the fact that he received information via US and French channels that if the planned attack on Lebanon’s capital went forward, that in the view of the US intelligence community Tel Aviv would be subject to “approximately 600 Hezbollah rockets in the first 24 hours in retaliation and at least that number on the following day”.

The Israeli Intel Chief also declined to reveal that despite Israel’s recent psyche-war camping about various claimed missile shields “the State of Israel is perfecting”, that this claim is being ridiculed at the Pentagon. “Israel will not achieve an effective shield against the current generation of rockets, even assuming no technological improvements in the current rockets aimed at it, for another 20 years. And that assumes the US will continue to fund their research and development for the hoped for shields”, according to Pentagon, US Senate Intelligence Committee, and very well informed Lebanese sources.

The planned attack on Beirut

According to US Senate Intelligence Committee sources, the Bush administration initially green-lighted the intended May 11 Israel ‘demonstration of solidarity’ with the pro-Bush administration militias, some with which Israel has maintained ties since the days of Bashir Gemayal and Ariel Sharon.

In the end, “the Bush administration got cold feet”, a Congressional source revealed. So did Israel.

Israel was not willing to proceed with the original Bush Administration idea which was to have Bush attend the May 15 Israel anniversary celebrations following the Israeli attack meant to hit Hezbollah hard, and give Bush the credit for coming to the dangerous region. The message was to be that Bush comes to the rescue on horseback and leads the US Calvary charge straight out of a B western movie where the bugle would sound and flag would be unfurled and the white hat good guys would show their stuff before riding into the sunset and back to Texas, leaving the results to the likely Obama administration to sort out.

The plan involved Israeli air strikes on South and West Beirut in support of forces it was assured would be able to surprise and resist Hezbollah and sustain a powerful offensive for 48 hours.

Also presumably disturbing to Israel was the report it received that Hezbollah had once again in all probability hacked its “secure” military intelligence communications and the fear that the information would be shared with others.

The Hezbollah rout of the militias in West Beirut plus the fear of retaliation on Tel Aviv, ruining 60th anniversary celebrations, forced cancellation of the supportive attack.

Israel limited its actions to sending two F-15’s and two F-16’s into as far North as Tyre, one of more of literally hundreds of violations of Lebanese airspace, sovereignty and UNSCR 170l.

Clearly frustrated, Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit said Israel should not yet take any action now, but warned “those things could change if Hezbollah takes over Lebanon”. (A few minutes earlier he had declared that Hezbollah had done just that and had treated the Lebanese army as a doormat).

Later in the Sunday cabinet meeting, Minister Ami Ayalon called for an emergency meeting of the political-security cabinet to discuss “the ongoing crisis in Lebanon and why Israel was not assisting friendly forces.”

Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) said that “Israel must immediately ask the [United Nations] Security Council to hold renewed discussions over Resolution 1701”. The minister was referring to the resolution that stopped the Israeli actions against Lebanon during the 34-day between in 2006, maintaining a fragile cease-fire.

Finally Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed Israeli supporters in Lebanon, through the media, and presumably other means that “Israel was following the violence in Lebanon closely, but would refrain from intervening”. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio Sunday that Israel was prepared for the possibility that the situation in Lebanon will deteriorate into another civil war (meaning future opportunities for Israeli influence and intervention in Lebanon) and that the current fighting could end with a Hezbollah takeover of the government. “We need to keep our eyes peeled and be especially sensitive regarding all that is happening there”, Vilnai told Army Radio.

The Bush administration, also disappointed, switched tactics and is opting for domination of the narrative of the fairly complicated events of the past week and using their media and confessional allies to launch a media blitz (minus Future TV for a few days) to flood the airways with:

  1. ‘Hezbollah staged a coup d’état’. Even Israel, if not the Bush administration, concedes Hezbollah has no interest in taking over the Government. One observer, paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s comment, deadpanned, “Some Hezbollah Coup! Some Hezbollah Etat!”;
  2. ‘Hezbollah brought its forces from the South and occupied West Beirut’: Hezbollah did not bring their forces from the South to Beirut, they remained on alert for an Israel attack down South;
  3. ‘Hezbollah broke its pledge not to use Resistance arms against Lebanese militias and shot up West Beirut’: The facts are very different when viewed close up on the streets here. When the Lebanese Resistance took the decision during the early hours of Friday morning to engage in civil disobedience, it delayed its actions so as not to preempt the Labor movement strike for higher wages which it supported. When the marching strikers were prevented from moving into West Beirut the Opposition extended its civil disobedience manifestation.

Various militias, including the smartly outfitted Hariri “Secure Plus” with its distinctive maroon tee-shirts and beige trousers (now known locally by some as “Secure Minus” and a hoped for future Blackwater operation in Lebanon, disintegrated surprisingly quickly because many of its green recruits brought down from Tripoli felt misled and betrayed regarding their job description as they were handed weapons and instructed to fight Hezbollah. Snipers from anti-Opposition factions killed civilians from rooftops in Beirut trying to ignite a civil war.

Hezbollah, acting in self-defense according to and acknowledged by various officials including John Dockham at the office of Defense Intelligence-Middle East at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), quickly clamped down on the trouble makers, took control of the streets, within hours handed them over to the army, and virtually evacuated West Beirut, retaining one position near Bay Rocks manned by unarmed representatives.

Meanwhile, the Hariri influence has been greatly weakened in Akkar near the Palestinian Refugee camp of Nahr al Bared and in the Tripoli area. According to some political analysts, including Fida’a Ittani, a regular columnist for the independent pro-opposition newspaper Al-Akhbar writing on May 14, the Future Movement, defeated in Beirut, no longer has any serious influence in the North.

Several Salafi al Qaeda-admiring movements are present in Lebanon and like Fatah al Islam’s declaration this week that they will fight for the Sunnis, they vary in their attitudes from silent opposition to Future leader Saad Al-Hariri to fully supporting him as the leader of the Sunnis. These groups are valued by certain ‘leaders’ in Lebanon because are the only ones with coherent structures at the ideological, political, technical, and field levels.

Judging from Saad Hariri’s confused statements at his subsequent news conference and statements by other parties, the bitterness of promised but unforthcoming assistance was evident.

For two days following the debacle of his forces imploding, the head of the Future Movement said nothing. Finally on the 14th he broke his silence.

The Halba massacre, committed by Hariri’s Mustaqbal militiamen who brutally and barbarically murdered 11 people from the opposition, did not seem worthy of discussion as he spoke. In a press conference on Tuesday, Hariri simply ignored what all the Lebanese had seen on TV from weapons, ammunition and alcohol found in Future movement offices, and instead listed a series of delusions.

“We awaited an open war on Israel, and yet here is an open war on Beirut and its people”, he stated. Some interpreted this rather odd statement either as a subconscious slip of the tongue on Hariri’s part expressing his frustration that the Israeli help did not arrive or that his reported earlier incoherent state persisted.

Hariri’s original speech was reportedly so confused that the Saudi channel al-Arabiyya decided to cease broadcasting it and subsequently only read excerpts from what he said. It was only when US criticism resumed, and Hezbollah fighters drew back from the streets surrounding his house that Hariri was urged to stand up and speak again with a stronger tone: “This has been decided by the Iranian and Syrian regimes that wanted to play a political game in Lebanon’s streets. For us nothing has changed. We will not negotiate with someone having a pistol pointed to our heads.”

Anger at the Bush administration and Israel by certain warlords in Lebanon must feel much like the frustration of Secure Minus personnel who rushed from Tripoli and felt misled, abandoned and cheated.

Franklin Lamb can be reached at fplamb@gmail.com

You might also be interested in:
Franklin Lamb: Franklin of America-Arabia

16 comments on “Did Hezbollah thwart a planned Bush/Olmert attack on Lebanon?

  1. Pingback: ‘Did Hezbollah thwart a planned Bush/Olmert attack on Lebanon?’ « DetainThis

  2. Emmanuel
    17 May, 2008

    This sounds more like a conspiracy theory than fact. First of all, Israel does not have allies in the Lebanese government, at least not officially. An intervention by Israel would not help the moderates, our supposed allies, since it would only make them seem like traitors in the eyes of Lebanon’s people.

    Also, Israel knows very well that an attack on Lebanon would bring missiles raining down on Northern Israel (and possibly further south as well). The government doesn’t want that, especially not ahead of President Peres’s “Tomorrow Conference”, with distinguished guests from around the world, and not just Bush. This cowboy theory where a war is planned for Bush’s visit so he can come and look like a hero sounds absolutely ridiculous.

    Israel had been burned twice in Lebanon. It wouldn’t be too quick to get in there a third time.

  3. Ann Elk
    17 May, 2008

    You overlook or seem not to be aware of a number of things, quite apart from the existence of the Welch Club, and leaving aside for the moment what I presume would be your definition of “moderates”.

    First of all, it is not at all implausible that most bilateral relations between even enemy states have back channels open. This is not tantamount to being “allies” but it doesn’t have to be. There is strong evidence that certain members in or close to the ruling coalition of Lebanon’s current unconstitutional government also wanted to see Hezbollah pegged down because of their own political ambitions, and there is credible evidence of contact with the Olmert government with this common goal in mind. It would be like Likud gaining from an attack on their political opponents, or the US Republicans gaining from seeing the Democrats thwarted. Internal rivalries everywhere can be more bitter than those between states. That is the game of politics.

    It is in fact Israeli sources that corroborate this. First, political analyst Emmanuel Rosen has disclosed that a “well informed political source” told him the Olmert government had “received a letter from the Lebanese government in the last 24 hours of the war asking them not to stop the war before Hezbollah was crushed …” (as drawn from Rannie Amiri).

    Second, according to Ha’aretz correspondent Avi Issacharoff and based on his sources as detailed in his book Spider Webs – The Story of the Second Lebanon War (published in the US as 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah and the War In Lebanon):

    “For the first time, we reveal that moderate Arab states and the people close to the Lebanese government have conveyed messages to the Israeli government via different sides demanding Israel continue the war until Hezbollah was completely crushed.”

    Of course, these Israeli sources may or may not be proven true, but it is not at all implausible.

    As for Israel knowing “very well that an attack on Lebanon would bring missiles raining down on Northern Israel”, it presumably knew this full well when it attacked the country in July of 2006, too. That knowledge did not halt its 34 day bombing campaign of the whole country, on the pretext of a few Israeli soldiers being either captured or killed.

    You acknowledge it is a cowboy theory and I can only agree with the cowboy part, and that is in part why Dr Lamb says it was rejected if you read what he writes carefully. Also note that he does not suggest that it is just the timing per se that underpinned the rationale. And on matters of ridiculous stances and decisions, please, don’t ever “misunderestimate” George W. Bush.

  4. Emmanuel
    18 May, 2008

    My main problem here is not the part about the Lebanese government and the Hariri-Jumblatt faction having covert, unofficial ties with Israel. First, I doubt the Israeli government would decide to display these ties out in the open. Second of all, unlike in July 2006, Israeli public opinion would not support going to war in Lebanon, both because we’ve learned from last time and because this time there was no direct attack on us. In addition, the most important international conference to ever take place in Israel would have been a failure because most of its participants would would not have shown up.

    If this plan did exist, it was probably only a contingency plan for a worst case scenario. If it was anything more than that then the judgment of the Israeli and American governments is even poorer than I thought.

  5. Ann E
    18 May, 2008

    “this time there was no direct attack on us.”

    Are you then implying there was a direct attack that precipitated and warranted Israel’s invasion and destruction of much of Lebanon in 2006, ostensibly because of the capture of two soldiers and killing of eight others (four of whom died running over a land mine in Lebanese territory)? To be sure, it was Hezbollah who launched a raid against an army border post, a violation of Israeli sovereignty that Israel commits much more frequently and flagrantly against Lebanon (another occurred most recently this month with fly-overs in Lebanese air-space) for the express purpose of securing the release of just some of the thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners illegally held in Israeli prisons, many of them women and children.

    In the fighting on that day in July 2006, Hezbollah killed three soldiers and captured two others. Israel’s immediate response was to send a tank into Lebanon in pursuit of the Hezbollah fighters. The tank ran over a land mine, which exploded, killing four soldiers inside. Another soldier died in further clashes inside Lebanon as his unit tried to retrieve the bodies.

    Israeli news such as Y-Net reported as much on the 12th July:

    “The Hizbullah said its operatives destroyed an Israeli tank attempting to cross the border into Lebanon. Israeli ground troops entered southern Lebanon on Wednesday to search for two soldiers captured earlier in the day by Hezbollah. (AP) (07.12.06, 12:55)”

    Drawing upon respected investigative journalist and resident in the region Jonathan Cook:

    Rather than open diplomatic channels to calm the violence down and start the process of getting its soldiers back, Israel launched bombing raids deep into Lebanese territory the same day. Given Israel’s worldview that it alone has a right to project power and fear, that might have been expected.

    But the next day Israel continued its rampage across the south and into Beirut, where the airport, roads, bridges, and power stations were pummeled. We now know from reports in the U.S. media that the Israeli army had been planning such a strike against Lebanon for at least a year.

    In contrast to the image of Hezbollah frothing at the mouth to destroy Israel, its leader Hassan Nasrallah held off from serious retaliation.

    What could have been limited to a border incident blew out into an awful war due to Israeli bellicosity and hubris. The first large factories (not arms depots) to be spitefully destroyed by the IDF were ones in which Lebanese firms had won regional contracts over Israeli tenders. Israel targeted especially those large, modern, state of the art factories such as Liban Lait and others with which it was in direct economic competition and that it had lost lucrative contracts for to Lebanon (eg a medical supplies factory in Lebanon which UNIFIL awarded a contract to and which an Israeli contractor lost). So much for Israel’s vaunted economy — the only way it could compete was to destroy its Lebanese competition — literally.

    I would say the ‘attack’ was Israel’s — this border incident in no way justifies the massive military overkill on Israel’s part of over a thousand Lebanese civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure across the whole country, in contrast to the much smaller number of Israeli deaths, most of them combatants. All these deaths, on both sides, could have been averted.

    Second, you opine that “Israeli public opinion would not support going to war in Lebanon”. What’s the basis for your judgment — I would hope that this would be the case but I am interested in seeing polls or other evidence-based links to back up your assertion.

    As for the “most important international conference to ever take place in Israel”, I am in agreement with Uri Avnery’s characterisation, which you can read in full here:

    “God, save me from my friends, my enemies I can deal with myself!” says an old prayer.

    They disgust me.

    LET’S TAKE for example the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her pandering was free of any criticism and she reached new heights of obsequiousness in her speech to the Knesset. I was invited to attend. I relinquished the privilege.

    I shall also pass the pleasure when I am invited to the session with the hyper-active Nicholas Sarkozy, who will try to break the flattery record of his German rival.

    Before that we were visited by John McCain’s mentor, the evangelical pastor John Hagee, the one who described the Catholic Church as a monster. Oozing sanctimonious flattery from every pore, he forbade us, in the name of (his) God, to give up even one inch of the Holy Land and commanded us to fight to the last drop of (our) blood.

    However, not one of them has come close to George Bush. Approaching the end of the most disastrous presidency in the annals of the Republic, he really forced a lighted match into the hand of our government, encouraging it to ignite the barrel of gunpowder between our feet.

    … In the conference that took place this week there were also some good people, but the scene was stolen by the Has-Beens, from the retired war criminal Henry Kissinger to the dethroned peace hero Mikhail Gorbachev (whom I still consider a hero for preventing bloodshed during the collapse of the Soviet empire.) Pity to see him in this company.

    All the participants in this orgy heaped mountains of fawning adulation on Israel. Not one of them had a word of criticism. No occupation. No settlements. No Gaza blockade. No daily killings. Just a wonderful, peace-loving state that the bad, bad terrorists want to throw into the sea.

    Not one of the guests stood up to warn us against going on with the present policy. Not one of them stood up to proclaim the truth: that the continuation of this policy may lead our state to disaster.

    He who has friends like these has no need for enemies. A person who sees his friend playing Russian roulette and offers him bullets – is he a real friend? One who sees his friend standing on the brink of an abyss and tells him “go ahead” – is he a friend?

  6. Emmanuel
    18 May, 2008

    Israel had every right to respond militarily to the capture of its two soldiers. I think the response should have been more limited and not a fullscale war.

    Whether you see the capture of the soldiers as an attack on us or not, most Israelis do see it that way. That’s why Israeli public opinion agreed with Olmert’s actions at the beginning of the war. Now, as long as Hesbollah is only turning its arms against its fellow Lebanese and not on Israel, the feeling I get is that Israelis don’t want another war. I couldn’t find any polls on the subject, but that’s the political climate here. Any war would be seen as a “wag the dog”-style scenario with all of Olmert’s legal troubles.

  7. peoplesgeography.com
    18 May, 2008

    First, where does one draw the line in your claimed “right to respond militarily” — attack only half the country instead of all of it, all over a border incident?

    Second, that’s a misrepresentation of Hezbollah’s actions but I won’t expect a nuanced assessment.

    Third, your country’s government is at war already in the OPT, and actively beating the drums of war against Iran. My impression is that a sizable number of Israelis presently are not against a new war front being opened, in this case against Iran. I think I may have pointed to them before, but I will again mention the regular surveys undertaken by the B. I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University with their homepage here.

  8. Emmanuel
    18 May, 2008

    With regard to public opinion, there’s a difference between the military action in the occupied territories and a war with Lebanon for two main reasons. One is that it has already become routine. Israelis are used to hearing about operations in places like Gaza and Nablus. Another difference is that the rockets coming out of Gaza keep coming, whether there are military operations or not (though rocket attacks are more frequent when there are).

    Regarding the Iranian nuke, Israelis would support a war to prevent Iran from getting the bomb because a war seems less risky than the risks from a nuclear Iran. The situation is different in Lebanon. The risk of getting into that quagmire again is greater than the risk of not intervening.

  9. Ann E
    19 May, 2008

    Critics of Israeli policy, including myself, would point out that most, if not all of Israel’s inappropriate military responses have become routine, be it in the OPT or in Lebanon, for which there have been several invasions, not only two. It is the militarist response you claim is a right—as if bombing civilian milk and medical product factories is a right or constitutes defence or a legitimately military response in any way—-which has become routinised and all too normalised as part of Israel’s ongoing existence in the unsustainable form which it has chosen for itself and imposed. The form that Israel takes requires a perpetual militarism. Your responses both on Lebanon and on a preemptive strike on Iran — who has a right to develop nuclear energy as well as nuclear weapons for that matter — is in line with this, that hypermilitarism in Israel has become normalised.

  10. Emmanuel
    19 May, 2008

    I agree that Israel is too militaristic. Israel often uses excess force, targets the wrong places, and turns to military solutions instead of diplomatic ones. But not everything has a diplomatic solution, unfortunately.

    For me, as an Israeli who doesn’t want to get nuked, the question of whether Iran has a right to develop a nuclear bomb seems irrelevant. What is relevant is the question of what will prevent Iran from being able to nuke us. The best case scenario would be a peace deal between Iran and Israel, but that certainly isn’t going to happen any time soon.

  11. Ann E
    19 May, 2008

    Just added:

    Israel’s Missed Boat in Lebanon from the Mossad-connected DEBKAFile

  12. Emmanuel
    19 May, 2008

    From DEBKA’s report it looks like this was an American plan that Olmert never really considered seriously. Even if he did, it is fortunate that he decided against it.

    I must say I can’t wait for the end of Bush’s term.

    By the way, you might enjoy my latest post, inspired by the recent finale of the Israeli version of Survivor.

  13. Ann E
    19 May, 2008

    That satirical piece is promising, just rife with possibilities.

    Let’s hope the Bush-Cheney era and their neocon-Christian Zionist enablers leave as little of their vestigial influence in the next US administration, though it will still be there. I’m baracking for Obama as the least worst candidate. I see you favour Hillary “we’d annihilate Iran” Clinton.

  14. Emmanuel
    19 May, 2008

    In Clinton’s defense, she said she’d obliterate Iran only if Iran nuked Israel. That’s an absolutely worst case scenario that hopefully will never happen.

    I think Clinton is the best candidate and is closest to my views on most of the issues. She has more experience than Obama and has her husband, who in my opinion is the best American president since FDR, there to advise her. I don’t like Obama or McCain, but between the two of them Obama does seem like the least worst right now.

  15. Pingback: The Last Ones Left Alive « DetainThis

  16. Pingback: Are they the last ones left alive? « DetainThis

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