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Last Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006, 23:17 GMT 00:17 UK
US 'knew of Israeli bombing plan'
Israeli Air Force plane takes off, 23 July 2006 file photo
Israel had planned its bombing in advance, Mr Hersh claims
Israel and the United States were in close contact about Israel's war on Hezbollah long before it began, a US investigative journalist has claimed.

"Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah, and shared it with Bush administration officials, well before" 12 July, Seymour Hersh wrote.

The article in the New Yorker magazine relies on many anonymous sources and includes denials from US officials.

It does not claim that the US put Israel up to attacking Hezbollah.

Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, whose past work includes exposing the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and Vietnam's My Lai massacre.

'Pre-emptive visit'

Israel's "immediate security issues were reason enough to confront Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush administration wanted," Mr Hersh cites "Israeli military and intelligence experts" as saying.

We did not plan the campaign - the decision was forced on us
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman

But, Hersh says, Israeli officials visited Washington to secure US support for its plans before Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on 12 July, the ostensible cause of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon.

"Israel began with [Vice-President Dick] Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of ... the National Security Council," an unnamed US government consultant told Mr Hersh.

With Mr Cheney's backing secured, "persuading [President] Bush was never a problem, and [Secretary of State] Condi Rice was on board," the source added.

Convergent interests

Israel's plan for an air war to turn the Lebanese people against Hezbollah was "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran," the article quotes an unnamed former senior intelligence official as saying.

Vice-President Dick Cheney listens to President Bush speak, 14 Aug 2006
The Israelis got Mr Cheney's backing first, the article says

And different US government departments which do not always see eye-to-eye all had their own reasons for backing an Israeli assault on Hezbollah, Mr Hersh claims.

The State Department reportedly saw it as "a way to strengthen the Lebanese government", which does not control the south of the country dominated by Hezbollah.

The White House wanted Hezbollah's missiles eliminated so they could not be used as retaliation against Israel in case the US bombed Iran's nuclear facilities, Mr Hersh says.

But both the Pentagon and the National Security Council deny that the US knew of Israel's plans in advance.

Meanwhile, an Israeli embassy spokesman said Israel "did not plan the campaign" to attack Hezbollah, adding: "The decision was forced on us."

Ward Carroll, a retired US Navy officer and editor Military.com, was sceptical of some of Mr Hersh's claims.

Israel would not have relied on any American intelligence or support in its campaign, he told the BBC.

"If the inference is that we are fundamentally interwoven [in the Israeli air campaign], that is a flawed thesis," Mr Carroll said.

He did not doubt that there had been communication between the US and Israel, but suggested Mr Hersh was reading too much into it.

"This would have been a courtesy brief [from Israel to the United States], and the Bush administration saying, 'We got the message.'"

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