A Proxy War in Gaza

Posted by Cutler on April 25, 2007
Iran, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia

The Financial Times is reporting that the “military wing” of Hamas has declared an end to a five-month-old ceasefire with Israel.

Be that as it may, however, the “news” of the day is best understood as the collapse of the Saudi-backed ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah.

Battles within the Palestinian Authority look increasingly like proxy wars between Vice President Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

If King Abdullah’s “Mecca Agreement” aimed to pressure Fatah to end its attacks on Hamas and develop new power-sharing mechanisms in cooperation with the Hamas-led government, the White House has been working overtime to undermine King Abdullah’s efforts.

US efforts have centered on bolstering the power of Fatah’s Gaza strongman, Muhammad Dahlan.  During the factional fighting between Fatah and Hamas in late 2006 and early 2007, Hamas accused Dahlan of conspiring to undermine the Hamas government.

“Dahlan is leading a group of Fatah members who are trying to topple the Hamas government on orders from the Israelis and Americans,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. “The American-Zionist scheme is aimed at eliminating the infrastructure of the Palestinian resistance groups and forcing the Palestinians to make political concessions.”

If King Abdullah pulled the rug out from under Dahlan’s efforts, the US wasted little time moving to bolster Fatah’s forces.  According to Reuters, that effort has been led by White House envoy Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton.

With Iranian help, Hamas forces are expanding fast and getting more sophisticated weapons and training than those under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s control, according to the U.S. security coordinator.

U.S. Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton said Hamas’s growing military strength, if left unchecked, would erode Abbas’s already limited ability to enforce any ceasefire in the Gaza Strip…

Sources familiar with the Bush administration’s deliberations said a revised spending plan would be submitted… [providing] aid to Abbas’s presidential guard…

In his first act after swearing in the new government, Abbas appointed Hamas’s long-time foe, Mohammad Dahlan, as national security adviser, angering the Islamist movement.

[I]n fierce fighting before Abbas agreed to join the unity government, Hamas’s Executive Force and armed wing were beating their Fatah rivals, Dayton said, according to two sources familiar with his comments.

By the end of March, the Bush administration finalized the details of the US funding plan.

The United States plans to provide $59 million to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential guard and support his new national security adviser, a long-time foe of Hamas…

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the money for Abbas and security adviser Mohammad Dahlan was meant to fuel divisions among Palestinians and undercut the unity government formed by the ruling Hamas Islamists and Abbas’s Fatah faction.

The White House got its cash and Abbas took the bait.  On April 12, 2006 Reuters reported:

Forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are getting newer bases at home and more advanced training abroad for an expanded security role that could put them on a collision course with militants…

Western and Palestinian officials said Abbas’s goal was to create a Palestinian “gendarmerie,” a force trained in military tactics that operates in civilian areas and is capable of carrying out police duties, restoring law and order, and enforcing any existing and future agreements with Israel.

In addition to basic training conducted at facilities in the West Bank city of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, about 500 men loyal to Abbas’s Fatah faction recently crossed from Gaza into Egypt for more advanced instruction in police tactics, Western security officials said.

Hundreds of members of Abbas’s presidential guard will take similar courses in the coming months at a facility in Jordan as part of a $59.4 million U.S. security program that received a green light from Congress this week….

Palestinian sources say Dahlan was personally coordinating the training programs and seeking additional assistance.

The Mecca Accord now looks set to crumble as the “compromise” technocrat chosen as Interior Minister has complained about at Dahlan’s growing influence.

A struggle to control Palestinian security forces escalated on Monday when the obscure bureaucrat named by rival factions as a compromise choice of interior minister submitted his resignation after just six weeks.

Hani al-Qawasmi was persuaded to stay on in the job by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and attended the weekly cabinet meeting.

But the day’s turbulence put a spotlight on deep differences within the unity government that Haniyeh’s Hamas Islamists and the secular Fatah movement…

In his role as interior minister, Qawasmi was supposed to oversee the security services. But President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah appointed Mohammad Dahlan, one of Hamas’s main rivals, to serve as national security adviser…

A government official said the dispute with Qawasmi centered on the role of internal security chief Rashid Abu Shbak, an Abbas loyalist who has assumed effective control over the security forces within the Interior Ministry.

Some Palestinian analysts saw the growing clout of Abu Shbak and Abbas’s appointment of Dahlan as national security adviser as a bid to sideline Qawasmi and minimize his control over the security services, which are mostly loyal to Fatah.

For those keeping score in the running battle between Saudi King Abdullah and Vice President Cheney, the “Mecca Accord” should have been coded as a “surprise” victory for Abdullah.

The White House has been quietly at work on several fronts to reverse this victory.

Code the coming clashes between Fatah and Hamas as a victory for Cheney.

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