Israel's bombing of Lebanon over the past month was not merely a response to the unprovoked attack by Hizbullah on July 12 but a planned operation coordinated ahead of time with the Bush administration - this, at least, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, in an article published in this week's The New Yorker magazine. Hersh wrote that Israeli officials "visited Washington separately to get a green light for the bombing," and that the IAF bombing offensive could "serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground." Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev expressed outrage at the allegations. "The whole idea that the Israeli campaign in Lebanon was a premeditated military operation that we chose to initiate in coordination with others is simply not true," he said. "We were attacked. We had no interest in the escalation of violence in the North. The escalation was forced upon us by a premeditated, deliberate and unprovoked act of aggression of Hizbullah. "They succeeded in having tactical surprise. They killed some of our soldiers and took two as hostages. Anyone who looks at those events can clearly witness that Israel was responding to an act of aggression, the timing of which was chosen by Hizbullah." The American Embassy did not respond to requests for a comment. Hersh, quoting many unnamed US diplomatic and intelligence sources, elaborated his assertion that the US had prior knowledge of Israel's plans for Hizbullah. An unnamed "Middle East expert" said the State Department "had several reasons for supporting the Israeli bombing campaign... It was seen as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government so that it could assert its authority over the south of the country." According to the piece, the White House believed that if a "military option against Iran's nuclear facilities" became necessary, Hizbullah's arsenal must be destroyed as it could be used "in a potential retaliation at Israel." The article began with a statement given by President George Bush at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg on July 16: "It's now become clear why we don't have peace in the Middle East." Bush went on to describe the relationship between Hizbullah and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one of the "root causes of instability" in the region. The article also claimed that since Hizbullah is supported by Syria and Iran, the need to strengthen the Lebanese government is part of larger US hopes for democratizing the region. Another long-term US goal, wrote Hersh, is to set up a Sunni coalition with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, which will pressure Shi'ite Iran. Vali Nasr, an expert on Shi'ites and Iran, is quoted as saying, "Every negative American move against Hizbullah was seen by Iran as part of a larger campaign against it. And now Hizbullah is testing Iran's new weapons. Iran sees the Bush administration as trying to marginalize its regional role, so it fomented trouble." Regev remarked that everyone "knew of Iran's involvement with Hizbullah." But, that information did not factor into Israel's response to Hizbullah's provocation. Shabtai Shavit, national security adviser to the Knesset and former head of the Mossad, is quoted as saying, "We do what we think is best for us, and if it happens to meet America's requirements, that's just part of a relationship between two friends. It was just a matter of time."