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Amid the political and diplomatic fallout from Israel's faltering invasion of Lebanon, some Israeli officials are privately blaming President George W. Bush for egging Prime Minister Ehud Olmert into the ill-conceived military adventure against the Hezbollah militia in south Lebanon.
Bush conveyed his strong personal support for the military offensive during a White House meeting with Olmert on May 23, according to sources familiar with the thinking of senior Israeli leaders.
Olmert, who like Bush lacks direct wartime experience, agreed that a dose of military force against Hezbollah might damage the guerrilla group's influence in Lebanon and intimidate its allies, Iran and Syria, countries that Bush has identified as the chief obstacles to U.S. interests in the Middle East.
As part of Bush's determination to create a "new Middle East" one that is more amenable to U.S. policies and desires Bush even urged Israel to attack Syria, but the Olmert government refused to go that far, according to Israeli sources.
One source said some Israeli officials thought Bush's attack-Syria idea was "nuts" since much of the world would have seen the bombing campaign as overt aggression.
In an article on July 30, the Jerusalem Post referred to Bush's interest in a wider war involving Syria. 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 newspaper reported.
While balking at an expanded war into Syria, Olmert did agree on the need to show military muscle in Lebanon as a prelude to facing down Iran over its nuclear program, which Olmert has called an "existential" threat to Israel.
With U.S. forces bogged down in Iraq, Bush and his neoconservative advisers saw the inclusion of Israeli forces as crucial for advancing a strategy that would punish Syria for supporting Iraqi insurgents, advance the confrontation with Iran and isolate Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
But the month-long war has failed to achieve its goals of destroying Hezbollah forces in south Lebanon or intimidating Iran and Syria.
Instead, Hezbollah guerrillas fought Israeli troops to a virtual standstill in villages near the border and much of the world saw Israel's bombing raids across Lebanon which killed hundreds of civilians as "disproportionate."
Now, as the conflict winds down, some Israeli officials are ruing the Olmert-Bush pact on May 23 and fault Bush for pushing Olmert into the conflict.
Soon after the May 23 meeting in Washington, Israel began to ratchet up pressure on the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories and on Hezbollah and other Islamic militants in Lebanon. As part of this process, Israel staged low-key attacks in both Lebanon and Gaza. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com "A 'Pretext' War in Lebanon."]
The tit-for-tat violence led to the Hamas seizure of an Israeli soldier on June 24 and then to Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza. That, in turn, set the stage for Hezbollah's attack on an Israeli outpost and the capture of two more Israeli soldiers on July 12.
Hezbollah's July 12 raid became the trigger that Bush and Olmert had been waiting for. With the earlier attacks unknown or forgotten, Israel and the U.S. skillfully rallied international condemnation of Hezbollah for what was called an unprovoked attack and a "kidnapping" of Israeli soldiers.
Behind the international criticism of Hezbollah, Bush and Olmert justified an intense air campaign against Lebanese targets, killing civilians and destroying much of Lebanon's commercial infrastructure. Israeli troops also crossed into southern Lebanon with the intent of delivering a devastating military blow against Hezbollah, which retaliated by firing Katyusha rockets into Israel..