BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East." Did the Bush administration see the Israel- Hezbollah conflict as an opening for a U.S. strike against Iran? Joining us now from Washington is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and The New Yorker magazine staff writer, Seymour Hersh. He's got a major article on this subject that is just coming out.
Spectacular suggestions, allegations being made by you, Sy Hersh, allegations now being formally denied by the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department. But let me read to you from your article: "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" of those two Israeli soldiers.
Tell our viewers what you say you've learned because, as you know, the denials are coming in fast and furious.
SEYMOUR HERSH, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE: Well, one thing there's no question about, that this was known what Israel was going to do, it's attack on Hezbollah, the basically using air, primarily, was known to this White House. And I will tell you also to the State Department. They both had different reasons, the State Department and White House, for wanting Israel to do it, encouraging them to do it, supporting them.
Our Air Force worked very closely with the Israeli air force for months before this, not necessarily with a deadline knowing when it would happen. It was always going to be whenever there was an incident they would take advantage of an incident. The word I used was fortunate timing. When the Hezbollah grabbed some of the Israeli soldiers in early July, that was then a pretext -- I think that's the only word -- for a major offensive that had been in the works a long time.
The State Department always viewed what Israel was going to do, Condi Rice and her colleagues, as a way to stabilize -- going after Hezbollah would stabilize the Lebanese government and give them a chance under 1559 to take control. The White House, I write in this article, talking about specifically about Cheney's office, sort of center for the neocons, their view was different. Israel's attack on Hezbollah was going to be sort of a model, prototype, that is, a lot of air against a dug-in underground facility. Everything in southern Lebanon that Hezbollah had was underground.
For them it was going to be a test run for the bombing and the attack they really want to do, probably next year if they can. I'm not saying they've decided, but they want to go after Iran, and Iran, of course, the Persians have been dug in since, what, the 11th century so we know it's a tough call.
BLITZER: Because they're saying that these Sy Hersh conspiratorial theories so far-fetched they're rejecting them out of hand, especially this notion that what the Israelis have done now in Lebanon against Hezbollah is a prelude, a test run, if you will, for what the U.S. hopes to do against Iranian targets in Iran. And I want you to explain the nature of your sources, if you can -- I know you have confidential sources -- how good these sources are that are making this spectacular accusation.
HERSH: You know, when I did Abu Ghraib, the same kind of stuff was thrown at me, that I'm fantasizing, I'm a fantasizer, and I'll just put, you know -- I'm not writing from some off the wall weekly. The New Yorker is very solid. The editors of The New Yorker, my editor Dave Remnick and others know who my sources are. In many cases, they've talked to my sources. This is one of the procedures that The New Yorker -- very close fact-checking.
It's not about they're denying what I'm saying. It's about what these people have said to me. These are people inside, very much inside who are very concerned about the policy. And something else that was in the story is this, is that this White House will find a way to view what happened with the Israelis against Hezbollah as a victory. And they'll find a way to see it as a positive for any planning that is going on towards Iran.
I'm not saying Iran's a done deal. What I'm saying is, the idee fixe about Iran is almost as it was about in the first couple years after 9/11 in the White House as about Iraq. These guys, the president, Cheney and others, want to go. It's very much on their minds.
The nuclear weapons, whether they're there or not, have existential for this White House. This president does not want to leave the White House with that problem unsolved, and so, therefore, encouraging and abetting the Israelis to go after Hezbollah, after all, you cannot attack Iran as long as Hezbollah has missiles.
You have to get rid of those missiles, a potential deterrent, before you can go after Iran. That's the way they looked at it in the White House. I think it was something that really should be examined by a Congressional committee. It's sort of time to decide whether we're a democracy or not. This president's doing an awful lot of foreign policy without sharing it with the rest of us.
BLITZER: Because what they're criticizing your sourcing, they're saying you're speaking to former government officials, former intelligence officers, consultants to the U.S. government. The sourcing doesn't seem to include any current officials who are intimately involved with this type of planning.
HERSH: Well, it does. I mean, there are current officials talking to me, and if you read the sourcing carefully you'll see there are people, Middle East experts, you know, whether it's in or out of the government. The bottom line is, it's not a question -- you know, you and I have known each other a long time. Long of tooth we both are.
I would not write something, and I understand this is going to be all over the Middle East. It is already as far as I hear. And I understand the implications of the story. All of us do. And nobody is suggesting that Israel wouldn't have done what it did without the Americans. They didn't -- Israel didn't need the White House to go after Hezbollah, but it's the idea that they got tremendous amount of support from this White House.
That's the idea that -- why do you think this president has spent four and a half weeks doing nothing to get an immediate cease-fire, putting no pressure on the Israelis? It's all part of what they view as sort of a plan for what they want to do next. And it's not conspiratorial. It's simply the way...
BLITZER: Sy Hersh. Sy Hersh writing in The New Yorker magazine. And appreciated coming in Sy. Always appreciate speaking with you. Thanks very much.
HERSH: Great to be here.
More from Hersh, and the conclusions the Bush administration is drawing from the Israel/Hezbollah war, at Billmon.