US Moved To Create Civil War With Palestinians Part 2
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Here is part 2 of how the US acted to subvert the
democratic process that we profess to support in
the Middle East. Democracy is not a principle we
pursue, but an occasional tactic. When democracy
is at odds with our strategy, we discard it. The
Democracy has NEVER BEEN A GOAL FOR THE MIDDLE EAST.
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US Moved To Create Civil War With Palestinians Part 1
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"Very Clever Warfare"
Fatah's vulnerability was a source of grave concern to
Dahlan. "I made a lot of activities to give Hamas the
impression that we were still strong and we had the
capacity to face them," he says. "But I knew in my heart
it wasn't true." He had no official security position at
the time, but he belonged to parliament and retained the
loyalty of Fatah members in Gaza. "I used my image, my
power." Dahlan says he told Abbas that "Gaza needs only
a decision for Hamas to take over." To prevent that from
happening, Dahlan waged "very clever warfare" for many
According to several alleged victims, one of the tactics
this "warfare" entailed was to kidnap and torture members
of Hamas's Executive Force. (Dahlan denies Fatah used
such tactics, but admits "mistakes" were made.) Abdul
Karim al-Jasser, a strapping man of 25, says he was the
first such victim. "It was on October 16, still Ramadan,"
he says. "I was on my way to my sister's house for iftar.
Four guys stopped me, two of them with guns. They forced
me to accompany them to the home of Aman abu Jidyan," a
Fatah leader close to Dahlan. (Abu Jidyan would be killed
in the June uprising.)
The first phase of torture was straightforward enough,
al-Jasser says: he was stripped naked, bound, blindfolded,
and beaten with wooden poles and plastic pipes. "They put
a piece of cloth in my mouth to stop me screaming." His
interrogators forced him to answer contradictory
accusations: one minute they said that he had collaborated
with Israel, the next that he had fired Qassam rockets
But the worst was yet to come. "They brought an iron bar,"
al-Jasser says, his voice suddenly hesitant. We are speak-
ing inside his home in Gaza, which is experiencing one of
its frequent power outages. He points to the propane-gas
lamp that lights the room. "They put the bar in the flame
of a lamp like this. When it was red, they took the cover-
ing off my eyes. Then they pressed it against my skin.
That was the last thing I remember."
When he came to, he was still in the room where he had been
tortured. A few hours later, the Fatah men handed him over
to Hamas, and he was taken to the hospital. "I could see
the shock in the eyes of the doctors who entered the room,"
he says. He shows me photos of purple third-degree burns
wrapped like towels around his thighs and much of his lower
torso. "The doctors told me that if I had been thin, not
chubby, I would have died. But I wasn't alone. That same
night that I was released, abu Jidyan's men fired five
bullets into the legs of one of my relatives. We were in
the same ward in the hospital."
Dahlan says he did not order al-Jasser's torture: "The only
order I gave was to defend ourselves. That doesn't mean
there wasn't torture, some things that went wrong, but I
did not know about this."
The dirty war between Fatah and Hamas continued to gather
momentum throughout the autumn, with both sides committing
atrocities. By the end of 2006, dozens were dying each
month. Some of the victims were noncombatants. In December,
gunmen opened fire on the car of a Fatah intelligence
official, killing his three young children and their
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
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."
Avi Dichter, Israel's internal-security minister and the
former head of its Shin Bet security service, was taken
aback when he heard senior American officials refer to
Dahlan as "our guy." "I thought to myself, The president
of the United States is making a strange judgment here,"
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
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
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?"
Under Bill Clinton, Dahlan says, commitments of security
assistance "were always delivered, absolutely." Under
Bush, he was about to discover, things were different.
At the end of 2006, Dayton promised an immediate package
worth $86.4 million—money that, according to a U.S.
document published by Reuters on January 5, 2007, would
be used to "dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism
and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza."
U.S. officials even told reporters the money would be
transferred "in the coming days."
The cash never arrived. "Nothing was disbursed," Dahlan
says. "It was approved and it was in the news. But we
received not a single penny."
Any notion that the money could be transferred quickly
and easily had died on Capitol Hill, where the payment
was blocked by the House Subcommittee on the Middle
East and South Asia. Its members feared that military
aid to the Palestinians might end up being turned
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
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."
In essence, the program was simple. According to State
Department officials, beginning in the latter part of
2006, Rice initiated several rounds of phone calls and
personal meetings with leaders of four Arab nations—
Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
She asked them to bolster Fatah by providing military
training and by pledging funds to buy its forces lethal
weapons. The money was to be paid directly into accounts
controlled by President Abbas.
The scheme bore some resemblance to the Iran-contra
scandal, in which members of Ronald Reagan's administration
sold arms to Iran, an enemy of the U.S. The money was used
to fund the contra rebels in Nicaragua, in violation of a
congressional ban. Some of the money for the contras, like
that for Fatah, was furnished by Arab allies as a result
of U.S. lobbying.
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
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."
Perhaps the Israelis held the Americans back. Perhaps
Elliott Abrams himself held back, unwilling to run afoul
of U.S. law for a second time. One of his associates says
Abrams, who declined to comment for this article, felt
conflicted over the policy—torn between the disdain he
felt for Dahlan and his overriding loyalty to the
administration. He wasn't the only one: "There were
severe fissures among neoconservatives over this," says
Cheney's former adviser David Wurmser. "We were ripping
each other to pieces."
During a trip to the Middle East in January 2007, Rice
found it difficult to get her partners to honor their
pledges. "The Arabs felt the U.S. was not serious," one
official says. "They knew that if the Americans were
serious they would put their own money where their mouth
was. They didn't have faith in America's ability to raise
a real force. There was no follow-through. Paying was
different than pledging, and there was no plan."
This official estimates that the program raised "a few
payments of $30 million"—most of it, as other sources
agree, from the United Arab Emirates. Dahlan himself
says the total was only $20 million, and confirms that
"the Arabs made many more pledges than they ever paid."
Whatever the exact amount, it was not enough.
On February 1, 2007, Dahlan took his "very clever warfare"
to a new level when Fatah forces under his control stormed
the Islamic University of Gaza, a Hamas stronghold, and
set several buildings on fire. Hamas retaliated the next
day with a wave of attacks on police stations.
Unwilling to preside over a Palestinian civil war, Abbas
blinked. For weeks, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had been
trying to persuade him to meet with Hamas in Mecca and
formally establish a national unity government. On
February 6, Abbas went, taking Dahlan with him. Two days
later, with Hamas no closer to recognizing Israel, a deal
Under its terms, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas would remain
prime minister while allowing Fatah members to occupy
several important posts. When the news hit the streets
that the Saudis had promised to pay the Palestinian
Authority's salary bills, Fatah and Hamas members in Gaza
celebrated together by firing their Kalashnikovs into the
Once again, the Bush administration had been taken by
surprise. According to a State Department official,
"Condi was apoplectic." A remarkable documentary record,
revealed here for the first time, shows that the U.S.
responded by redoubling the pressure on its Palestinian
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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
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
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, train-
ing, 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
"We Are Late in the Ball Game Here"
The formation of the unity government had brought a measure
of calm to the Palestinian territories, but violence
erupted anew after Al-Majd published its story on the
Action Plan. The timing was unkind to Fatah, which, to add
to its usual disadvantages, was without its security chief.
Ten days earlier, Dahlan had left Gaza for Berlin, where
he'd had surgery on both knees. He was due to spend the
next eight weeks convalescing.
In mid-May, with Dahlan still absent, a new element was
added to Gaza's toxic mix when 500 Fatah National Security
Forces recruits arrived, fresh from training in Egypt and
equipped with new weapons and vehicles. "They had been on
a crash course for 45 days," Dahlan says. "The idea was
that we needed them to go in dressed well, equipped well,
and that might create the impression of new authority."
Their presence was immediately noticed, not only by Hamas
but by staff from Western aid agencies. "They had new
rifles with telescopic sights, and they were wearing black
flak jackets," says a frequent visitor from Northern
Europe. "They were quite a contrast to the usual scruffy
On May 23, none other than Lieutenant General Dayton
discussed the new unit in testimony before the House
Middle East subcommittee. Hamas had attacked the troops
as they crossed into Gaza from Egypt, Dayton said, but
"these 500 young people, fresh out of basic training,
were organized. They knew how to work in a coordinated
fashion. Training does pay off. And the Hamas attack
in the area was, likewise, repulsed."
The troops' arrival, Dayton said, was one of several
"hopeful signs" in Gaza. Another was Dahlan's appointment
as national-security adviser. Meanwhile, he said, Hamas's
Executive Force was becoming "extremely unpopular I would
say that we are kind of late in the ball game here, and
we are behind, there's two out, but we have our best
clutch hitter at the plate, and the pitcher is beginning
to tire on the opposing team."
The opposing team was stronger than Dayton realized. By
the end of May 2007, Hamas was mounting regular attacks
of unprecedented boldness and savagery.
At an apartment in Ramallah that Abbas has set aside
for wounded refugees from Gaza, I meet a former Fatah
communications officer named Tariq Rafiyeh. He lies
paralyzed from a bullet he took to the spine during the
June coup, but his suffering began two weeks earlier.
On May 31, he was on his way home with a colleague when
they were stopped at a roadblock, robbed of their money
and cell phones, and taken to a mosque. There, despite
the building's holy status, Hamas Executive Force members
were violently interrogating Fatah detainees. "Late that
night one of them said we were going to be released,"
Rafiyeh recalls. "He told the guards, 'Be hospitable,
keep them warm.' I thought that meant kill us. Instead,
before letting us go they beat us badly."
On June 7, there was another damaging leak, when the
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Abbas and Dayton
had asked Israel to authorize the biggest Egyptian arms
shipment yet—to include dozens of armored cars, hundreds
of armor-piercing rockets, thousands of hand grenades,
and millions of rounds of ammunition. A few days later,
just before the next batch of Fatah recruits was due to
leave for training in Egypt, the coup began in earnest.
Fatah's Last Stand
The Hamas leadership in Gaza is adamant that the coup
would not have happened if Fatah had not provoked it.
Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas's chief spokesman, says the leak
in Al-Majd convinced the party that "there was a plan,
approved by America, to destroy the political choice."
The arrival of the first Egyptian-trained fighters, he
adds, was the "reason for the timing." About 250 Hamas
members had been killed in the first six months of
2007, Barhoum tells me. "Finally we decided to put an
end to it. If we had let them stay loose in Gaza,
there would have been more violence."
"Everyone here recognizes that Dahlan was trying with
American help to undermine the results of the elections,"
says Mahmoud Zahar, the former foreign minister for the
Haniyeh government, who now leads Hamas's militant wing
in Gaza. "He was the one planning a coup."
Zahar and I speak inside his home in Gaza, which was
rebuilt after a 2003 Israeli air strike destroyed it,
killing one of his sons. He tells me that Hamas launched
its operations in June with a limited objective: "The
decision was only to get rid of the Preventive Security
Service. They were the ones out on every crossroads,
putting anyone suspected of Hamas involvement at risk
of being tortured or killed." But when Fatah fighters
inside a surrounded Preventive Security office in
Jabaliya began retreating from building to building,
they set off a "domino effect" that emboldened Hamas
to seek broader gains.
Many armed units that were nominally loyal to Fatah did
not fight at all. Some stayed neutral because they feared
that, with Dahlan absent, his forces were bound to lose.
"I wanted to stop the cycle of killing," says Ibrahim abu
al-Nazar, a veteran party chief. "What did Dahlan expect?
Did he think the U.S. Navy was going to come to Fatah's
rescue? They promised him everything, but what did they
do? But he also deceived them. He told them he was the
strongman of the region. Even the Americans may now feel
sad and frustrated. Their friend lost the battle."
Others who stayed out of the fight were extremists. "Fatah
is a large movement, with many schools inside it," says
Khalid Jaberi, a commander with Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs'
Brigades, which continue to fire rockets into Israel from
Gaza. "Dahlan's school is funded by the Americans and
believes in negotiations with Israel as a strategic choice.
Dahlan tried to control everything in Fatah, but there are
cadres who could do a much better job. Dahlan treated us
dictatorially. There was no overall Fatah decision to
confront Hamas, and that's why our guns in al-Aqsa are
the cleanest. They are not corrupted by the blood of our
Jaberi pauses. He spent the night before our interview
awake and in hiding, fearful of Israeli air strikes. "You
know," he says, "since the takeover, we've been trying
to enter the brains of Bush and Rice, to figure out their
mentality. We can only conclude that having Hamas in
control serves their overall strategy, because their
policy was so crazy otherwise."
The fighting was over in less than five days. It began
with attacks on Fatah security buildings, in and around
Gaza City and in the southern town of Rafah. Fatah
attempted to shell Prime Minister Haniyeh's house, but
by dusk on June 13 its forces were being routed.
Years of oppression by Dahlan and his forces were avenged
as Hamas chased down stray Fatah fighters and subjected
them to summary execution. At least one victim was
reportedly thrown from the roof of a high-rise building.
By June 16, Hamas had captured every Fatah building, as
well as Abbas’s official Gaza residence. Much of Dahlan's
house, which doubled as his office, was reduced to rubble.
Fatah's last stand, predictably enough, was made by the
Preventive Security Service. The unit sustained heavy
casualties, but a rump of about 100 surviving fighters
eventually made it to the beach and escaped in the night
by fishing boat.
At the apartment in Ramallah, the wounded struggle on.
Unlike Fatah, Hamas fired exploding bullets, which are
banned under the Geneva Conventions. Some of the men in
the apartment were shot with these rounds 20 or 30 times,
producing unimaginable injuries that required amputation.
Several have lost both legs.
The coup has had other costs. Amjad Shawer, a local
economist, tells me that Gaza had 400 functioning
factories and workshops at the start of 2007. By December,
the intensified Israeli blockade had caused 90 percent
of them to close. Seventy percent of Gaza's population
is now living on less than $2 a day.
Israel, meanwhile, is no safer. The emergency pro-peace
government called for in the secret Action Plan is now
in office—but only in the West Bank. In Gaza, the exact
thing both Israel and the U.S. Congress warned against
came to pass when Hamas captured most of Fatah's arms
and ammunition—including the new Egyptian guns supplied
under the covert U.S.-Arab aid program.
Now that it controls Gaza, Hamas has given free rein to
militants intent on firing rockets into neighboring
Israeli towns. "We are still developing our rockets;
soon we shall hit the heart of Ashkelon at will," says
Jaberi, the al-Aqsa commander, referring to the Israeli
city of 110,000 people 12 miles from Gaza’s border. "I
assure you, the time is near when we will mount a big
operation inside Israel, in Haifa or Tel Aviv."
On January 23, Hamas blew up parts of the wall dividing
Gaza from Egypt, and tens of thousands of Palestinians
crossed the border. Militants had already been smuggling
weapons through a network of underground tunnels, but
the breach of the wall made their job much easier—and
may have brought Jaberi's threat closer to reality.
George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice continue to push the
peace process, but Avi Dichter says Israel will never
conclude a deal on Palestinian statehood until the
Palestinians reform their entire law-enforcement system—
what he calls "the chain of security." With Hamas in
control of Gaza, there appears to be no chance of that
happening. "Just look at the situation," says Dahlan.
"They say there will be a final-status agreement in
eight months? No way."
"An Institutional Failure"
How could the U.S. have played Gaza so wrong? Neocon
critics of the administration—who until last year were
inside it—blame an old State Department vice: the rush
to anoint a strongman instead of solving problems
directly. This ploy has failed in places as diverse as
Vietnam, the Philippines, Central America, and Saddam
Hussein's Iraq, during its war against Iran. To rely
on proxies such as Muhammad Dahlan, says former U.N.
ambassador John Bolton, is "an institutional failure,
a failure of strategy." Its author, he says, was Rice,
"who, like others in the dying days of this administration,
is looking for legacy. Having failed to heed the warning
not to hold the elections, they tried to avoid the result
With few good options left, the administration now
appears to be rethinking its blanket refusal to engage
with Hamas. Staffers at the National Security Council
and the Pentagon recently put out discreet feelers to
academic experts, asking them for papers describing
Hamas and its principal protagonists. "They say they
won't talk to Hamas," says one such expert, "but in
the end they're going to have to. It's inevitable."
It is impossible to say for sure whether the outcome
in Gaza would have been any better—for the Palestinian
people, for the Israelis, and for America's allies in
Fatah—if the Bush administration had pursued a different
policy. One thing, however, seems certain: it could not
be any worse.
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