Mohammed Dahlan, whose CV includes service as head of the Gaza Strip Palestinian preventive terrorist agency turned terrorist mastermind and initiator, is now bent on demonstrating to the Americans and Israelis that he has turned his latest new leaf for keeps. As internal security minister in Abu Mazen’s government he wants to show them he is the ultimate terror exterminator.
In early May, when the Middle East Aqaba summit was first mooted, he submitted a 42-page master-plan to Washington detailing his plan for fighting terrorism. US Secretary of State Colin Powell was paying his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in more than a year to get the presidential postwar peace initiative rolling in earnest. A few days later, the Americans sent the plan back with a low grade; US counter-terror experts determined it was unrealistic and unfeasible.
What rankled most was a glaring omission. Dahlan harped at length on the prospects of a ceasefire deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but not a word did he offer on how he intended to fight to the finish the groups under the direct command of Yasser Arafat – the Fatah, the Fatah-Tanzim and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the main engines of anti-Israel terror.
The Americans understood that a ceasefire deal with Hamas depended on a power-sharing agreement between the Damascus-based Hamas leaders and Abu Mazen.
(In the meantime, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources report that Ramadan Salah will travel from Damascus to Cairo next week expressly to discuss such a deal with Abu Mazen.)
As for Islamic Jihad, the United States told Dahlan it had no information of this group maintaining an operational structure on the ground. When ordered from Damascus to carry out a suicide attack, Jihad’s cashiers hire a squad from one of Arafat’s groups, paying the fee up front to the commanders.
(In a separate article in this issue we evaluate the genuineness of Saudi efforts to combat terrorism)
Two Palestinian Forces and Uprooted Settlements
Dahlan took the American comments to heart, amended his plan of action and re-submitted it just before the Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba summits.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly, Dahlan proposes to establish two armed forces. The first hinges on detaching 20,000 to 25,000 armed men from Arafat’s terrorist army and pressing them into service under the new anti-terror regime. They will be sent out of Palestinian West Bank towns and segregated from their power and support bases in the civilian population. After reorganizing them into military frameworks, Dahlan proposes converting these recruits into a new Palestinian border police, commanded by loyalists of the new Abu Mazen-Dahlan administration and trained by US military advisers. President Bush’s offer at Aqaba of training and assistance will be taken up.
Dahlan intends to deploy this force along the Palestinian Authority’s borders with Israel, the Golan Heights and Jordan
(Click here for a debkafile Special Map showing Dahlan’s plan for Palestinian control of borders with Israel and Jordan and evacuated Israeli settlements.)
The second force will be made up of recruits with no links past or present with the Fatah, Tanzim or the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Its units will be programmed to police Palestinian cities, towns and villages as a counter-terror force. One of their tasks will be to act as buffer to prevent the former terrorists-turned border police from heading back to their old lairs in the city centers and casbahs, their traditional hangouts and hideouts for weapons and explosives.
Dahlan wants Israeli military units to continue to hold strategic points in the West Bank in order to block terrorist squads from access to Israel, as well as keeping the new Palestinian border policemen from reverting to their old habits and infiltrating Israel as terrorists on behalf of their former masters.
Under this blueprint, the creation of the Palestinian border police will drain Arafat of much of his terrorist manpower and trap the former terrorists in a tactical Israeli-Palestinian sandwich held together by American military advisers and monitors.
With the help of the program, Dahlan and Abu Mazen are leaning hard on President Bush, Secretary Powell and Security Adviser Rice to extract from Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon much more than the promised evacuation of unauthorized outposts on the West Bank. They want to reverse the order of the road map and have Israel uproot two blocks of veteran West Bank communities in the very first stage of its implementation – one in the north and one in the south. (See attached debkafile Special Map).
The two Palestinian leaders contend that those eight settlements stand in the way of the Palestinian territorial contiguity Sharon promised at Aqaba. They argue that the presence of autonomous Israeli enclaves will obstruct passage between their loyal troops and the new border police force and lure the new officers back into the terror business. “They will provide the perfect inducement for creating new terrorist bases,” Dahlan told the Americans and Israelis.
Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz is the strongest opponent of the Dahlan program as an instrument for fighting terror – disputing the value of both Palestinian forces he is proposing to establish. These are his arguments:
A. The organization of tens of thousands of armed Palestinians, well trained by US advisers and established in new bases built at US taxpayer expense along the West Bank’s borders with Israel – would be a dream come true for Palestinian terrorist chiefs. Even Arafat is not hindering the Abu Mazen-Dahlan dialogue with the Americans and Israelis and simply waiting to cash in on the plan.
Once ensconced in its new bases, the fledgling Palestinian force will turn them into strongholds and shut them against the new Palestinian leaders’ loyalists and the American monitors.
Israel will be in a much worse position than before, confronted now with a hostile Palestinian army capable not only of terrorist forays, but of embarking on professional military operations against Israel, its military and its communities.
B. A Palestinian border force stationed in the Jordan Valley along the Israeli-Jordanian border – even in limited areas – will directly threaten the Hashemite kingdom. Palestinian control of the Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian frontier will preserve operational links and gunrunning routes between the two Palestinian communities of Jordan and the West Bank.
Similarly, once the new Palestinian border force takes command of the northern West Bank frontier near the Sea of Galilee and the Golan, there will be no bar to the operational give-and- take between the border police and the heads of Palestinian terror groups based in Syria and Lebanon. Interchanges with the Hizballah will be eased and smuggling routes for fighters and weapons into the central West Bank will be smoothed from both the east and the north.
C. The expensive state of the art security fence Israeli had not finished building along the Green Line to divide Israel from the West Bank will be nullified by Dahlan’s border police – which is what most Palestinians want. While Israel pours resources into an electronic barrier to keep the terrorists out, the Palestinians will be spending American dollars to put up a human fence equipped with equally sophisticated resources – a military front line to confront Israel’s defensive wall.
D. The completion of the Palestinian deployment a la Dahlan will leave the 250,000 Israelis living on the West Bank high and dry. They will only be able to reach Israel without going through Palestinian checkpoints by traveling first to Jerusalem. This will condemn Israeli West Bank settlements to a slow death. As matters stand now, Israel dare not roll up these communities and forego the security provided by this minimal strategic depth.
Sharon brushes off critics
When Mofaz brought his arguments against the Dahlan plan before Sharon, he received the same off-putting answer the Israeli prime minister gives everyone these days: It is too soon to talk about this.
The defense minister was not the only one given the brush-off. The Shin Beit director Avi Dichter went unheeded when he complained that releasing imprisoned Palestinian terrorists guilty of murdering Israelis – some were even included in the first batch of 100 freed as a goodwill gesture to mark the Aqaba summit – threatened to negate the effect of the IDF’s counter-terror crackdown. Terrorists would expect to escape scot-free of punishment while Arafat would celebrate the triumph of terror to achieve his goals.
American officials at Aqaba chose to blunt Mofaz’s objections to the Dahlan program by staging a reconciliation between the former Palestinian terrorist and Israel’s chief terror hunter. Mofaz knows ever detail of Dahlan’s record in the first eighteen months of the Palestinian uprising as well as his current shady business activities – and doesn’t trust him an inch. Still, Powell spent three quarters of an hour getting the two men to talk, maintaining that without dialogue and a certain amount of good will, there was no hope for any change in the terror situation.
After the three finally conversed, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s behind the scenes sources in Aqaba quote the Israeli defense minister as saying: “I still hold that your strategy for fighting terrorism is no good and will not work. But in the final reckoning it is important for you to succeed. Just remember, if you fail, failure will be yours alone.”
Dahlan responded: “I gave the United States president my word that within one month (i.e. early July), my men will be in full control and Palestinian terrorism at an end. I mean to stand by my promise.”
Hours after the Aqaba summit broke up Wednesday June 4, two young Israelis were murdered in a wood behind the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Karem in southern Jerusalem. The crime bore the brutal hallmarks of Palestinian terrorist slayings. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that Dahlan assured the Americans earlier this week that under his anti-terror plan, southern Jerusalem and Bethlehem would be the first terror-free zones.
The Palestinian killers chose that very zone for their crime as a way of boasting that Abu Mazen, Dahlan, the Arab rulers at Sharm a-Sheikh, the Americans and the Israelis were all powerless to halt Palestinian terror.
No one was surprised. All this week’s summiteers entertained no illusions about the new Palestinian government’s ability to crush Arafat and his terror offensive.