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Monday, March 3, 2008

Vanity Fair: "The Gaza Bombshell": Conspiracy to Topple Hamas

To read the entire article at Vanity Fair, (8 pages, link HERE)

Vanity Fair: Abbas, Dahlan conspired with Israel, US, to topple Hamas

From Khalid Amayreh in Ramallah

March 3, 2008

The famous American magazine Vanity Fair has publishing a meticulously-researched expose showing that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, his aide Muhammed Dahlan actively conspired with the Bush administration to topple the democratically-elected government of Hamas and engineer civil war in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a lengthy article in the magazine’s latest issue, Vanity Fair said it obtained "confidential documents" corroborated by sources in the US and Palestine, which lay bare a covert American operation, approved by the President Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war

According to the magazine, the plan was for forces led by Dahlan and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power.

The following are excerpts from the article:

"We were sitting in Abbas's office in Ramallah, and I explained the whole thing to Condi. And she said, 'Yes, we have to make an effort to do this. There's no other way."

"Walles and Abbas both knew what to expect from Hamas if these instructions were followed: rebellion and bloodshed. For that reason, the memo states, the U.S. was already working to strengthen Fatah's security forces. "If you act along these lines, we will support you both materially and politically," the script said. "We will be there to support you." Abbas was also encouraged to "strengthen [his] team" to include "credible figures of strong standing in the international community." Among those the U.S. wanted brought in, says an official who knew of the policy, was Muhammad Dahlan."

"Abbas, one official says, agreed to take action within two weeks. It happened to be Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast during daylight hours. With dusk approaching, Abbas asked Rice to join him for iftar—a snack to break the fast. Afterward, according to the official, Rice underlined her position: "So we're agreed? You'll dissolve the government within two weeks?" "Maybe not two weeks. Give me a month. Let's wait until after the Eid," he said, referring to the three-day celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. (Abbas's spokesman said via e-mail: "According to our records, this is incorrect.") Rice got into her armored S.U.V., where, the official claims, she told an American colleague, "That damned iftar has cost us another two weeks of Hamas government."

"Bush has met Dahlan on at least three occasions. After talks at the White House in July 2003, Bush publicly praised Dahlan as "a good, solid leader." In private, say multiple Israeli and American officials, the U.S. president described him as "our guy."

"With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever."

"Within the Bush administration, the Palestinian policy set off a furious debate. One of its critics is David Wurmser, the avowed neoconservative, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, a month after the Gaza coup. Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of "engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory." He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand.

"It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen," Wurmser says. The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the hypocrisy it exposed. "There is a stunning disconnect between the president’s call for Middle East democracy and this policy," he says. "It directly contradicts it."

"Dahlan worked closely with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., and he developed a warm relationship with Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, a Clinton appointee who stayed on under Bush until July 2004. "

"Dahlan says he warned his friends in the Bush administration that Fatah still wasn’t ready for elections in January. Decades of self-preservationist rule by Arafat had turned the party into a symbol of corruption and inefficiency—a perception Hamas found it easy to exploit. Splits within Fatah weakened its position further: in many places, a single Hamas candidate ran against several from Fatah.

"Everyone was against the elections," Dahlan says. Everyone except Bush. "Bush decided, 'I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’ Everyone is following him in the American administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, 'The president wants elections.’ Fine. For what purpose?"

The elections went forward as scheduled. On January 25, Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council.

Few inside the U.S. administration had predicted the result, and there was no contingency plan to deal with it. "I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming," Condoleezza Rice told reporters. "I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing."

"Everyone blamed everyone else," says an official with the Department of Defense. "We sat there in the Pentagon and said, 'Who the fuck recommended this?"

"In public, Rice tried to look on the bright side of the Hamas victory. "Unpredictability," she said, is "the nature of big historic change." Even as she spoke, however, the Bush administration was rapidly revising its attitude toward Palestinian democracy.

"Washington reacted with dismay when Abbas began holding talks with Hamas in the hope of establishing a "unity government." On October 4, 2006, Rice traveled to Ramallah to see Abbas. They met at the Muqata, the new presidential headquarters that rose from the ruins of Arafat’s compound, which Israel had destroyed in 2002.

"America’s leverage in Palestinian affairs was much stronger than it had been in Arafat’s time. Abbas had never had a strong, independent base, and he desperately needed to restore the flow of foreign aid—and, with it, his power of patronage. He also knew that he could not stand up to Hamas without Washington’s help."

"At their joint press conference, Rice smiled as she expressed her nation’s "great admiration" for Abbas’s leadership. Behind closed doors, however, Rice’s tone was sharper, say officials who witnessed their meeting. Isolating Hamas just wasn’t working, she reportedly told Abbas, and America expected him to dissolve the Haniyeh government as soon as possible and hold fresh elections.

"Weeks passed with no sign that Abbas was ready to do America’s bidding. Finally, another official was sent to Ramallah. Jake Walles, the consul general in Jerusalem, is a career foreign-service officer with many years’ experience in the Middle East. His purpose was to deliver a barely varnished ultimatum to the Palestinian president.

"We know what Walles said because a copy was left behind, apparently by accident, of the "talking points" memo prepared for him by the State Department. The document has been authenticated by U.S. and Palestinian officials.

"We need to understand your plans regarding a new [Palestinian Authority] government," Walles’s script said. "You told Secretary Rice you would be prepared to move ahead within two to four weeks of your meeting. We believe that the time has come for you to move forward quickly and decisively."

The memo left no doubt as to what kind of action the U.S. was seeking: "Hamas should be given a clear choice, with a clear deadline: … they either accept a new government that meets the Quartet principles, or they reject it The consequences of Hamas’ decision should also be clear: If Hamas does not agree within the prescribed time, you should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly committed to that platform."

Walles and Abbas both knew what to expect from Hamas if these instructions were followed: rebellion and bloodshed. For that reason, the memo states, the U.S. was already working to strengthen Fatah’s security forces. "If you act along these lines, we will support you both materially and politically," the script said. "We will be there to support you."

Abbas was also encouraged to "strengthen [his] team" to include "credible figures of strong standing in the international community." Among those the U.S. wanted brought in, says an official who knew of the policy, was Muhammad Dahlan.

"There was still no sign that Abbas was ready to bring matters to a head by dissolving the Hamas government. Against this darkening background, the U.S. began direct security talks with Dahlan."

"He’s Our Guy"

"In 2001, President Bush famously said that he had looked Russian president Vladimir Putin in the eye, gotten "a sense of his soul," and found him to be "trustworthy." According to three U.S. officials, Bush made a similar judgment about Dahlan when they first met, in 2003. All three officials recall hearing Bush say, "He’s our guy."

They say this assessment was echoed by other key figures in the administration, including Rice and Assistant Secretary David Welch, the man in charge of Middle East policy at the State Department. "David Welch didn’t fundamentally care about Fatah," one of his colleagues says. "He cared about results, and [he supported] whatever son of a bitch you had to support. Dahlan was the son of a bitch we happened to know best. He was a can-do kind of person. Dahlan was our guy."

Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, who had been appointed the U.S. security coordinator for the Palestinians in November 2005, was in no position to question the president’s judgment of Dahlan. His only prior experience with the Middle East was as director of the Iraq Survey Group, the body that looked for Saddam Hussein’s elusive weapons of mass destruction.

In November 2006, Dayton met Dahlan for the first of a long series of talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Both men were accompanied by aides. From the outset, says an official who took notes at the meeting, Dayton was pushing two overlapping agendas.

"We need to reform the Palestinian security apparatus," Dayton said, according to the notes. "But we also need to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas."

Dahlan replied that, in the long run, Hamas could be defeated only by political means. "But if I am going to confront them," he added, "I need substantial resources. As things stand, we do not have the capability."

The two men agreed that they would work toward a new Palestinian security plan. The idea was to simplify the confusing web of Palestinian security forces and have Dahlan assume responsibility for all of them in the newly created role of Palestinian national-security adviser. The Americans would help supply weapons and training.

As part of the reform program, according to the official who was present at the meetings, Dayton said he wanted to disband the Preventive Security Service, which was widely known to be engaged in kidnapping and torture. At a meeting in Dayton’s Jerusalem office in early December, Dahlan ridiculed the idea. "The only institution now protecting Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is the one you want removed," he said.

Dayton softened a little. "We want to help you," he said. "What do you need?"

Dahlan did not hesitate to voice his exasperation. "I spoke to Condoleezza Rice on several occasions," he says. "I spoke to Dayton, to the consul general, to everyone in the administration I knew. They said, 'You have a convincing argument.’ We were sitting in Abbas’s office in Ramallah, and I explained the whole thing to Condi. And she said, 'Yes, we have to make an effort to do this. There’s no other way." At some of these meetings, Dahlan says, Assistant Secretary Welch and Deputy National-Security Adviser Abrams were also present.

The administration went back to Congress, and a reduced, $59 million package for nonlethal aid was approved in April 2007. But as Dahlan knew, the Bush team had already spent the past months exploring alternative, covert means of getting him the funds and weapons he wanted. The reluctance of Congress meant that "you had to look for different pots, different sources of money," says a Pentagon official.

A State Department official adds, "Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, 'Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this.’ The expectation was that this was where it would end up—with a military showdown." There were, this official says, two "parallel programs"—the overt one, which the administration took to Congress, "and a covert one, not only to buy arms but to pay the salaries of security personnel."

But there are also important differences—starting with the fact that Congress never passed a measure expressly prohibiting the supply of aid to Fatah and Dahlan. "It was close to the margins," says a former intelligence official with experience in covert programs. "But it probably wasn’t illegal."

Legal or not, arms shipments soon began to take place. In late December 2006, four Egyptian trucks passed through an Israeli-controlled crossing into Gaza, where their contents were handed over to Fatah. These included 2,000 Egyptian-made automatic rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips, and two million bullets. News of the shipment leaked, and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli Cabinet member, said on Israeli radio that the guns and ammunition would give Abbas "the ability to cope with those organizations which are trying to ruin everything"—namely, Hamas.

Avi Dichter points out that all weapons shipments had to be approved by Israel, which was understandably hesitant to allow state-of-the-art arms into Gaza. "One thing’s for sure, we weren’t talking about heavy weapons," says a State Department official. "It was small arms, light machine guns, ammunition."

Plan B

The State Department quickly drew up an alternative to the new unity government. Known as "Plan B," its objective, according to a State Department memo that has been authenticated by an official who knew of it at the time, was to "enable [Abbas] and his supporters to reach a defined endgame by the end of 2007 The endgame should produce a [Palestinian Authority] government through democratic means that accepts Quartet principles."

Like the Walles ultimatum of late 2006, Plan B called for Abbas to "collapse the government" if Hamas refused to alter its attitude toward Israel. From there, Abbas could call early elections or impose an emergency government. It is unclear whether, as president, Abbas had the constitutional authority to dissolve an elected government led by a rival party, but the Americans swept that concern aside.

Security considerations were paramount, and Plan B had explicit prescriptions for dealing with them. For as long as the unity government remained in office, it was essential for Abbas to maintain "independent control of key security forces." He must "avoid Hamas integration with these services, while eliminating the Executive Force or mitigating the challenges posed by its continued existence."

In a clear reference to the covert aid expected from the Arabs, the memo made this recommendation for the next six to nine months: "Dahlan oversees effort in coordination with General Dayton and Arab [nations] to train and equip 15,000-man force under President Abbas’s control to establish internal law and order, stop terrorism and deter extralegal forces."

The Bush administration’s goals for Plan B were elaborated in a document titled "An Action Plan for the Palestinian Presidency." This action plan went through several drafts and was developed by the U.S., the Palestinians, and the government of Jordan. Sources agree, however, that it originated in the State Department.

The early drafts stressed the need for bolstering Fatah’s forces in order to "deter" Hamas. The "desired outcome" was to give Abbas "the capability to take the required strategic political decisions … such as dismissing the cabinet, establishing an emergency cabinet."

The drafts called for increasing the "level and capacity" of 15,000 of Fatah’s existing security personnel while adding 4,700 troops in seven new "highly trained battalions on strong policing." The plan also promised to arrange "specialized training abroad," in Jordan and Egypt, and pledged to "provide the security personnel with the necessary equipment and arms to carry out their missions."

A detailed budget put the total cost for salaries, training, and "the needed security equipment, lethal and non-lethal," at $1.27 billion over five years. The plan states: "The costs and overall budget were developed jointly with General Dayton’s team and the Palestinian technical team for reform"—a unit established by Dahlan and led by his friend and policy aide Bassil Jaber. Jaber confirms that the document is an accurate summary of the work he and his colleagues did with Dayton. "The plan was to create a security establishment that could protect and strengthen a peaceful Palestinian state living side by side with Israel," he says.

The final draft of the Action Plan was drawn up in Ramallah by officials of the Palestinian Authority. This version was identical to the earlier drafts in all meaningful ways but one: it presented the plan as if it had been the Palestinians’ idea. It also said the security proposals had been "approved by President Mahmoud Abbas after being discussed and agreed [to] by General Dayton’s team."

On April 30, 2007, a portion of one early draft was leaked to a Jordanian newspaper, Al-Majd. The secret was out. From Hamas’s perspective, the Action Plan could amount to only one thing: a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup."

Source: Uruknet

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