Monday, August 14, 2006

Seymour Hersh Strikes Again

Seymour Hersh, Probably Chatting with Unnamed Sources

In his latest piece in the New Yorker, "Watching Lebanon: Washington’s interests in Israel’s war," Seymour Hersh does his best to lull us into believing that he is merely a responsible investigative journalist. The article includes plenty of quotations from White House and Israeli sources, but the author’s thesis is clear: the US and Israel colluded to attack Hizbullah/Lebanon in order to conduct a test run of an upcoming strike against Iran.

Hersh’s thesis is buried in paragraph five behind an opaque screen of pseudo-authority:

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”

An unnamed “Middle East expert”? Who might this mysterious person be besides another incarnation of Hersh himself? And what does it mean to have knowledge of current American and Israeli “thinking”? Is that kind of like a sixth sense that gives you the ability to intuit people's real motives? It all sounds more like something one would read on DebkaFile (no offense intended to them) than in the New Yorker.

Although the expert’s judgment is preceded by a number of opinions disputing his claims of a premeditated attack hatched out by Big and Little Satan, it is clear that Hersh is betting on this horse. Thankfully, he does not go so far as to endorse the claims by various other conspiracy theorists that Israel started the war to annex Lebanese territory.

A bit later in Hersh’s article we read the following paragraphs in quick succession:

Uzi Arad, who served for more than two decades in the Mossad, told me that to the best of his knowledge the contacts between the Israeli and U.S. governments were routine, and that, "in all my meetings and conversations with government officials, never once did I hear anyone refer to prior coördination with the United States." He was troubled by one issue - the speed with which the Olmert government went to war. "For the life of me, I've never seen a decision to go to war taken so speedily," he said. "We usually go through long analyses."

Arad, like all of the Israeli intelligence and military sources whom Hersh cites by name, give the lie to his claims. But Hersh presents his sources either as unwitting fools or clever co-conspirators. Here, the author picks out a critique of the political leadership by Arad, that the decision to go to war was made too quickly, in order to insinuate something far more sinister than a mere reading of the facts would suggest. The great speed with which Israel launched its retaliatory operation, Hersh implies, can be explained by its previously orchestrated plot to attack Hizbullah and Lebanon.

In the next paragraph, Hersh reinforces his dubious claims that America and Israel designed the war a long time ago as an experiment that would model an attack on Iran:

The key military planner was Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the I.D.F. chief of staff, who, during a career in the Israeli Air Force, worked on contingency planning for an air war with Iran. Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem, and Peretz, a former labor leader, could not match his experience and expertise.

He is, of course, really pushing it. According to Hersh, Halutz, the Iran specialist, ran the war, turning the civilians Olmert and Peretz into his tools. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, there were plans to attack – the types of plans that all militaries prepare, especially ones faced with Hizbullah on the other side of their fence. But this was not a war run by the military! Olmert and Peretz went to war so quickly not because of an existing “plot” but 1) precisely because they are the quintessential civilians who had both been criticized for their weakness in military matters, and 2) because Israel is a democracy and most of the country’s citizens strongly supported some decisive action against Hizbullah, given that the latter’s attack had come after a withdrawal, the Shalit kidnapping, and a number of other smaller cross-border raids.

Of course, the Iranians never appear in Hersh’s story except as people reacting to nefarious American plans; same goes for Hizbullah vis-à-vis Israel. Nothing about theology and very little about politics.

BBC News rushed to turn Hersh’s story into an article in its own right. The piece ran under the title “US 'knew of Israel bombing plan,'” and its first paragraph reads

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.

Are they blogging or reporting?

Props to Big Pharaoh who, as usual, hits the right tone with his spoof of Hersh.

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