Administration officials have often said Iran plays an unproductive role in Iraq. Reporters in Iraq were recently given a background briefing by a senior military official on Iranian involvement and were shown parts of "shape charges" -- sophisticated roadside bombs designed to direct the energy of an explosion so powerfully that they can penetrate an M-1 Abrams tank -- that the military official said was evidence the parts were made in Iran.
But the statements about American intentions toward Iran have been equivocal.
"For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a Feb. 15 news conference at the Pentagon.
But asked about military options for Iran in a recent interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Cheney used harsher phrasing, saying, "We haven't taken any options off the table."
Asked on Friday to square his statement with Cheney's seemingly more bellicose language, Gates said simply, "I think that there's nothing incompatible between those two statements."
The New Yorker article said the administration has kept the Central Intelligence Agency out of the loop out of fear of another Iran-Contra scandal, in which American officials negotiated trading arms for hostages with Iran without required congressional approval.
Hersh cites sources who said Ambassador John Negroponte's decision to resign as national intelligence director were colored in part by that concern.
Hersh said he obtained a rare meeting for the story in December with Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, a leader of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon who has been in hiding and has moved frequently since ordering the kidnapping last July of two Israeli soldiers. That kidnapping set off a 33-day war between Israel and Lebanon.
"We just wanted to capture prisoners for exchange purposes," Hersh quotes Nasrallah as saying. "We never wanted to drag the region into war."
Hersh said Nasrallah believes President Bush seeks partition between Sunni and Shiite regions in Iraq, which the Bush administration has said is the opposite of what the president seeks.
"If the United States says that discussion with the likes of us can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region, we have no objection to talks or meetings," Hersh quotes Nasrallah as saying.
The author also writes that Nasrallah said the Hezbollah militia would operate only within Lebanon unless attacked and would disarm when the Lebanese Army was able to stand up. Hersh said Nasrallah was not eager for another war with Israel, but expected another attack later this year.