Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has set in motion a hush-hush operation which rather than lowering Palestinian Israeli-tensions threatens to kindle a second center of strife after the Gaza Strip. He is using the clamor of the explosive Israel-Hamas contest and the murders of three Israeli and one Palestinian teenager to cloak his surreptitious activities, which are revealed here by DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources for the first time.
Abbas (better known as Abu Mazen), has ordered the reactivation of Tanzim, the dormant paramilitary force of his Fatah movement, whose ideology spawned the Al Aqsa Brigades which led the deadly suicide bombings of the Second Intifada in the years 2000-2005.
Abbas plans to wait until Israel and Hamas have finished fighting it out in Gaza, before shifting the battleground to the West Bank. By then, he will have the Tanzim (Arabic for “organization’) ready and waiting for battle.
Three Fatah stalwarts are assigned to the task of bringing Tanzim back to life:
Amin Makbul, Secretary of the Fatah Revolutionary Council; Jibril Rajoub, deputy secretary of the Fatah Central Committee; and Ziad Abu Ein, the PA’s deputy minister for prisoner affairs.
Tanzim was home for Fatah warriors
Makbul was one of the few Fatah officials to speak publicly – and in fact welcome – the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli teens Gil-Ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach, as a step toward securing the release of more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Then, the day after 16-year-old Palestinian Muhammed Abu Khdeir was found murdered in Jerusalem, for which six Jews were quickly arrested on suspicion, Rajoub vowed the PA would take steps to defend “unarmed Palestinians in cities, rural areas and refugee camps from Israel’s organized terrorism.”
This vow was a telling reference to the task placed on him by Abbas.
The three men are taking up the Tanzim torch from Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for five Israeli deaths, some as a result of suicide attacks he orchestrated. He was captured in the course of the March 2002 Operation Defensive Shield.
Founded by the late Yasser Arafat in 1995 as the paramilitary wing of Fatah with a membership of 7,000-10,000, Tanzim was always an integral part of the main movement. After the Oslo Framework Peace accord was signed in 1994, Tanzim became the home and platform for opponents of peace with Israel and radicals who advocated violent resistance and the path of terror.
Arafat used Tanzim to control his terror campaign and deny responsibility
As such, it maintained longstanding ties with the radical Hizballah, which was wont to furnish its Palestinian ally with logistical support, arms, and explosives.
As a terrorist organization, Tanzim had the dubious distinction of being the only Palestinian group save Hamas which used women and children in its suicide operations.
For Arafat, Tanzim served in its early years as hit squad for liquidating his rivals and moderates within the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), whether by assassination or imprisonment.
During the Second Intifada, Arafat made Tanzim his primary channel for pumping funds and instructions to the Palestinian cells entrusted with terrorist attacks. It was also a convenient device which enabled him to keep his hands firmly on the action, while at the same time striking a pose of distance and deniability from the violence he orchestrated. This kept the Palestinians’ foreign sympathizers and donors, especially in the West, convinced of his respectability as a national leader.
The group and its stepchild Al Aqsa Brigades were organized into neighborhood or village-based cells. They consistently drew young radicals as a kind of popular resistance movement.
Tanzim still has a following and some of its strongest cells in Palestinian universities, such as An-Najah in Nablus, Bir Zeit in Ramallah and the University of Bethlehem.
Abbas talks peace and prepares secretly for bloody strife
When US President Bill Clinton convened the Camp David Summit with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the summer of 2000, Clinton and Barak were both armed with intelligence revealing that the Palestinian leader was all geared up to launch a Palestinian-Israeli war, in which the Tanzim would play a starring role.
The Second Intifada broke out just a month later, in the first week of September.
Fourteen years on, US and Israeli intelligence agencies have dug up the same sort of information – the main difference being the name of the mastermind; Abbas is preparing to step into the shoes of his former boss, Arafat.
This intelligence has been passed to the White House’s National Security Council and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem with a full dossier on Tanzim and its dangerous proclivities.
This report reveals four parts of the Palestinian leader’s master plan:
1. Abbas is rebuilding the group as an independent paramilitary militia that answers to him alone. His orders will be relayed through Rajoub, Makbul, and Abu Ein.
2. The new Tanzim will relieve Abbas of his dependence on the seven Palestinian security brigades set up and trained by the US, Britain and Canada, as part of the Oslo framework accord. But if the previous intifada is any guide, these brigades and their accoutrements will be swallowed up by Tanzim. At the very least they will cooperate with its agenda and directives and share intelligence.
3. With the rise of Tanzim’s stature and capabilities, the US and Israel will lose their influence and intelligence assets among the Palestinians, and their access to local knowledge about Hamas activities.
4. Once the Tanzim is fully operational, Abbas will command 20,000 Palestinian troops under arms, the same number that Arafat had at his beck and call in the darkest days of the intifada.