Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Bush Administration May Have Urged Israel to Attack Syria

The lead that was buried in a less interesting story from the Jerusalem Post is a credible assertion that the Bush administration may be pressuring the government of Ehud Olmert to attack Syria and, thus, start World War III.
[Israeli] Defense officials told the Post [] last week that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria. —The Jerusalem Post
Almost concurrently, English Aljazeera reports that Syria is in an increased "state of readiness", apparently in anticipation of an Israeli attack. The Israeli Jerusalem Post goes on to say that while "... Israel is not interested in opening a front against Syria" it will respond if Assad attacks Israel.
"We are continuing with our message that we are not interested in fighting with Syria," the officer said, "But we are fully prepared for a Syrian attack, in the case of which we will strike back extremely hard." —Jerusalem Post
In the meantime there are reports that Syria is on increased alert due to the possibility of an Israeli attack. Saturday's attack along a Syria/Lebanon road was said by Israel to have been an attempt to prevent weapons smuggling, presumably from Syria into Lebanon.

Allegations that Bush may be urging an attack on Syria come on the heels of widely reported assertions by American conservatives and liberals that Bush had given Olmert a "green light" to attack Lebanon. The Jerusalem Post has supported Israel's right-wing Likud party and is considered to be "conservative" media. Are Israeli officials deliberately leaking information to a "friendly" news outlet? Or —is it classic Karl Rove disinformation? If so, it risks destabilizing a region that has clearly become a tinder box already. Sophomoric Rovian tactics risk inflaming what George Will had called a "cascading escalation". Is the Bush administration so ruthless that it will risk a World War III that can only result in the utter destruction of its participants?

The possibility that Bush may be urging such an attack is widely circulated now throughout the Middle East. Whether Bush is playing a disinformation game or, indeed, planning a proxy war against both Syria and Iran, it is a dangerous game with lethal consequences, possibly World War III. Another word describes it: madness!

In the meantime, CBS News reports more tanks and troops have pushed further into Lebanon as the Security Cabinet, made up of senior ministers, decided to broaden ground operations in a resumed offensive. The United Nations Security Council will debate a cease-fire resolution this week —but will it come in time?
Some updates:

Bush Wants Wider War

by Robert Parry

George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers saw the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah as an opportunity to expand the conflict into Syria and possibly achieve a long-sought "regime change" in Damascus, but Israel's leadership balked at the scheme, according to Israeli sources.

One Israeli source said Bush's interest in spreading the war to Syria was considered "nuts" by some senior Israeli officials, although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has generally shared Bush's hard-line strategy against Islamic militants.

After rebuffing Bush's suggestion about attacking Syria, the Israeli government settled on a strategy of mounting a major assault in southern Lebanon aimed at rooting out Hezbollah guerrillas who have been firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

In an article on July 30, the Jerusalem Post hinted at the Israeli rejection of Bush's suggestion of a wider war in Syria. "Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria," the newspaper reported.

On July 18, reported that the Israel-Lebanon conflict had revived the Bush administration's neoconservative hopes that a new path had opened "to achieve a prized goal that otherwise appeared to be blocked for them – military assaults on Syria and Iran aimed at crippling those governments."

The article went on to say:

After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 – after only three weeks of fighting – the question posed by some Bush administration officials was whether the U.S. military should go "left or right," to Syria or Iran. Some joked that "real men go to Tehran."

According to the neocon strategy, "regime change" in Syria and Iran, in turn, would undermine Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that controls much of southern Lebanon, and would strengthen Israel's hand in dictating peace terms to the Palestinians.

But the emergence of a powerful insurgency in Iraq – and a worsening situation for U.S. forces in Afghanistan – stilled the neoconservative dream of making George W. Bush a modern-day Alexander conquering the major cities of the Middle East, one after another.

Bush's invasion of Iraq also unwittingly enhanced the power of Iran's Shiite government by eliminating its chief counterweight, the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein. With Iran's Shiite allies in control of the Iraqi government and a Shiite-led government also in Syria, the region's balance between the two rival Islamic sects was thrown out of whack.

The neocon dream of "regime change" in Syria and Iran never died, however. It stirred when Bush accused Syria of assisting Iraqi insurgents and when he insisted that Iran submit its nuclear research to strict international controls. The border conflict between Israel and Lebanon now has let Bush toughen his rhetoric again against Syria and Iran.

In an unguarded moment during the G-8 summit in Russia on July 17, Bush – speaking with his mouth full of food and annoyed by suggestions about United Nations peacekeepers – told British Prime Minister Tony Blair "what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit."

Not realizing that a nearby microphone was turned on, Bush also complained about suggestions for a cease-fire and an international peacekeeping force. "We're not blaming Israel and we're not blaming the Lebanese government," Bush said, suggesting that the blame should fall on others, presumably Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

Meanwhile, John Bolton, Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that the United States would only accept a multilateral U.N. force if it had the capacity to take on Hezbollah's backers in Syria and Iran.

"The real problem is Hezbollah," Bolton said. "Would it [a U.N. force] be empowered to deal with countries like Syria and Iran that support Hezbollah?" [NYT, July 18, 2006]

Strategy Meetings

Though the immediate conflict between Israel and Hezbollah was touched off by a Hezbollah cross-border raid on July 12 that captured two Israeli soldiers, the longer-term U.S.-Israeli strategy can be traced back to the May 23, 2006, meetings between Olmert and Bush in Washington.

At those meetings, Olmert discussed with Bush Israel's plans for revising its timetable for setting final border arrangements with the Palestinians, putting those plans on the back burner while moving the Iranian nuclear program to the front burner.

In effect, Olmert informed Bush that 2006 would be the year for stopping Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb and 2007 would be the year for redrawing Israel's final borders. That schedule fit well with Bush's priorities, which may require some dramatic foreign policy success before the November congressional elections.

At a joint press conference with Bush on May 23, Olmert said "this is a moment of truth" for addressing Iran's alleged ambitions to build a nuclear bomb.

"The Iranian threat is not only a threat to Israel, it is a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the entire world," Olmert said. "The international community cannot tolerate a situation where a regime with a radical ideology and a long tradition of irresponsible conduct becomes a nuclear weapons state."

Olmert also said he was prepared to give the Palestinians some time to accept Israel's conditions for renewed negotiations on West Bank borders, but – if Palestinian officials didn't comply – Israel was prepared to act unilaterally.

The prime minister said Israel would "remove most of the [West Bank] settlements which are not part of the major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria. The settlements within the population centers would remain under Israeli control and become part of the state of Israel, as part of the final status agreement."

In other words, Israel would annex some of the most desirable parts of the West Bank regardless of Palestinian objections. That meant the Israelis would need to soften up Hamas, the Islamic militants who won the last Palestinian elections, and their supporters in the Islamic world – especially Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Olmert added that the possibility of Iran building a nuclear weapon was "an existential threat" to Israel, meaning that Israel believed its very existence was in danger.

Nuclear Face-Off

Even before the May 23 meetings, Bush was eyeing a confrontation with Iran as part of his revised strategy for remaking the Middle East. Bush was staring down Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over demands Iran back off its nuclear research.

By spring 2006, Bush was reportedly weighing military options for bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. But the President encountered resistance from senior levels of the U.S. military, which feared the consequences, including the harm that might come to more than 130,000 U.S. troops bogged down in neighboring Iraq.

There was also alarm among U.S. generals over the White House resistance to removing tactical nuclear weapons as an option against Iran.

As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker, a number of senior U.S. officers were troubled by administration war planners who believed "bunker-busting" tactical nuclear weapons, known as B61-11s, were the only way to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities buried deep underground.

"Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap," a former senior intelligence official told Hersh. "'Decisive' is the key word of the Air Force's planning. It's a tough decision. But we made it in Japan."

This former official said the White House refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they're shouted down," the ex-official said. [New Yorker, April 17, 2006]

By late April, however, the Joint Chiefs finally got the White House to agree that using nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, less than 200 miles south of Tehran, was politically unacceptable, Hersh reported.

"Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning," one former senior intelligence official said.

But – even without the nuclear option – senior military officials still worried about a massive bombing campaign against Iran. Hersh wrote:

"Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President's plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States."

Hersh quoted a retired four-star general as saying, "The system is starting to sense the end of the road, and they don't want to be condemned by history. They want to be able to say, 'We stood up.' " [New Yorker, July 10, 2006]

The most immediate concern of U.S. military leaders was that air strikes against Iran could prompt retaliation against American troops in Iraq. U.S. military trainers would be especially vulnerable since they work within Iraqi military and police units dominated by Shiites who are sympathetic to Iran.

Iran also could respond to a bombing campaign by cutting off oil supplies, sending world oil prices soaring and throwing the world economy into chaos.

Israel's Arsenal

While the Joint Chiefs may have had success in getting the White House to remove the use of nuclear weapons from its list of options on Iran, the rising tensions between Israel and Iran may have put the nuclear option back on the table – since Israel has the largest and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal in the Middle East.

As Hersh reported, "The Israelis have insisted for years that Iran has a clandestine program to build a bomb, and will do so as soon as it can. Israeli officials have emphasized that their 'redline' is the moment Iran masters the nuclear fuel cycle, acquiring the technical ability to produce weapons-grade uranium."

In spring 2006, Iran announced that it had enriched uranium to the 3.6 percent level sufficient for nuclear energy but well below the 90-percent level for making atomic bombs. The U.S. intelligence community believes that Iran is still years and possibly a decade away from the capability of building a nuclear bomb.

Still, Iran's technological advance convinced some Israeli strategists that it was imperative to destroy Iran's program now. Yet to do so, Israel faces the same need for devastating explosive power, thus raising the specter again of using a nuclear bomb.

One interpretation of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict is that Bush and Olmert seized on the Hezbollah raid as a pretext for a pre-planned escalation that will lead to bombing campaigns against Syria and Iran, justified by their backing of Hezbollah.

In that view, Bush found himself stymied by U.S. military objections to targeting Iran's nuclear facilities outside any larger conflict. However, if the bombing of Iran develops as an outgrowth of a tit-for-tat expansion of a war in which Israel's existence is at stake, strikes against Iranian targets would be more palatable to the American public.

The end game would be U.S.-Israeli aerial strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities with the goal of crippling its nuclear program and humiliating Ahmadinejad.

Strangling an Axis

While U.S. officials have been careful not to link the Lebanon conflict to any possible military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, they have spoken privately about using the current conflict to counter growing Iranian influence.

Washington Post foreign policy analyst Robin Wright wrote that U.S. officials told her that "for the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East. ...

"Whatever the outrage on the Arab streets, Washington believes it has strong behind-the-scenes support among key Arab leaders also nervous about the populist militants – with a tacit agreement that the timing is right to strike.

"'What is out there is concern among conservative Arab allies that there is a hegemonic Persian threat [running] through Damascus, through the southern suburbs of Beirut and to the Palestinians in Hamas,' said a senior U.S. official." [Washington Post, July 16, 2006]

Another school of thought holds that Iran may have encouraged the Hezbollah raid that sparked the Lebanese-Israeli conflict as a way to demonstrate the "asymmetrical warfare" that could be set in motion if the Bush administration attacks Iran.

But Hezbollah's firing of rockets as far as the port city of Haifa, deep inside Israel, has touched off new fears among Israelis and their allies about the danger of more powerful missiles carrying unconventional warheads, possibly hitting heavily populated areas, such as Tel Aviv.

That fear of missile attacks by Islamic extremists dedicated to Israel's destruction has caused Israel to start "dusting off it nukes," one source told me.

Originally published at

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

Were plans for a Middle East war escalation exposed in Bush-Blair exchange?
A microphone unintentionally left open at the July 17, 2006 G-8 summit luncheon picked up snippets of unguarded talk between George Bush and Tony Blair. While most media coverage has focused on the embarrassing, stupid and profanity-laced portions of the comments uttered by Bush, a closer examination of the transcript confirms the multinational targeting of Syria and Syrian president Bashar Assad.

It also suggests that severe Anglo-American pressure, via the UN, will continue to be applied to Syria and Iran, both of which have been broadbrushed as the"terror masterminds behind Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists".

More than an idiot’s profanity

The worldwide media, Bush’s damage control apparatus, has spun the Bush-Blair exchange, in the most deceptive Bush-friendly manner. The New York Times spun it as a "blunt call for diplomacy", while another New York Times piece refers to "wise-guy Bush’s blunt and coarse chit-chat". Other headlines hailed the performance as "straight-talking Dubya", Bush "lets fly", "curses Hezbollah actions", "Bush urges Assad to end fighting", etc. All false.
First, Bush demonstrated what seasoned observers already know: Bush is a grotesque simpleton suffering from some mental afflication, who is also a ruthless intimidator wielding violence and power without intellect, and without regard. In short, a gangster. Gangsters do not need a great intellect to successfully conduct criminal activities, or head criminal empires. (In fact, intellect gets in the way.) Bush (and Cheney) routinely speaks using profanity. ...
A blockbuster from the Washington Post:

9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon

Allegations Brought to Inspectors General
By Dan Eggen

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; Page A03Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon's initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.
Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, according to several commission sources. Staff members and some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidence provided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials violated the law by making false statements to Congress and to the commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings, these sources said.
In the end, the panel agreed to a compromise, turning over the allegations to the inspectors general for the Defense and Transportation departments, who can make criminal referrals if they believe they are warranted, officials said.

"We to this day don't know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command] told us what they told us," said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. "It was just so far from the truth. . . . It's one of those loose ends that never got tied."
Although the commission's landmark report made it clear that the Defense Department's early versions of events on the day of the attacks were inaccurate, the revelation that it considered criminal referrals reveals how skeptically those reports were viewed by the panel and provides a glimpse of the tension between it and the Bush administration.

A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that the inspector general's office will soon release a report addressing whether testimony delivered to the commission was "knowingly false." A separate report, delivered secretly to Congress in May 2005, blamed inaccuracies in part on problems with the way the Defense Department kept its records, according to a summary released yesterday. ...
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