Arafat Fights Gazan Terror Ace Dahlan’s Candidacy for Anti-Terror Slot

Even in the topsy-turvy world of Palestinian-Israeli relations, Mohammed Dahlan’s appointment as interior minister in charge of security in Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen’s so-called reformed Palestinian government is bizarre.
As director of the Gaza Strip’s Palestinian “Preventive” Security body, Dahlan was the prime mover of Arafat’s confrontation with Israel from 2001 in the region he controlled. His brainchildren included the use of cell phones by the first Palestinian terrorists and suicide killers to trip bombs and activate explosive belts in multi-casualty strikes at Israeli crowd centers. It was Dahlan who brought the extremist Islamic Hamas and Jihad Islami into Arafat’s fold as full partners of the Fatah Tanzim and Palestinian security services. He played host to the Lebanese Hizballah experts imported by Arafat. And Dahlan, whose organizational ability is not in question, set up the Karin-A arms smuggling ship that Israeli commandos intercepted on its way to the Gaza Strip with 50 tons of weapons for restocking Arafat’s arsenal of terror.
Yet we find Arafat flatly opposed to Dahlan holding any executive position in Abu Mazen’s lineup, while Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon supports it! Sharon’s chief of staff Dov Weisglass is actively promoting Dahlan’s appointment to a job that would make him responsible for fighting Palestinian terror. This strange reversal is the chief stumbling block in Abu Mazen’s path towards setting up the first Palestinian government.
In an important sense, the dispute undoes Sharon’s efforts to prove Arafat irrelevant. Those efforts climaxed in April 2002 when Israel’s Operation Defensive Wall confined Arafat to his Ramallah headquarters. The Dahlan issue has made Arafat more relevant than ever.
As seen by Arafat
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources recall that Arafat agreed to the Abu Mazen appointment only when he was assured of retaining control of the key Palestinian security-intelligence bodies and the Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs (Suicides) Brigades. The two shook hands on the deal which was brokered by Palestinian legislature’s speaker Abu Ala. Arafat relied on that handshake to effectively eviscerate before it was conceived the prospective reformist administration, the key to resumed Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, by leaving him in full control of the Palestinian centers of power and funds. The appointment of a strongman type like Dahlan’s appointment to an executive post would upset Arafat’s plan by placing him inside the seat of government in Ramallah.
In any case, Arafat no longer trusts his former Gazan lieutenant.
In recent months, Dahlan has spread his wings in the world of finance and business, shrewdly exploiting the inside information and contacts he gathered as intelligence and terrorist chief, to go into business for himself. He has also cemented his friendship with Arafat’s former personal financial manager, Muhammad Rashid. Arafat suspects them both of having designs on his secret accounts and trust funds, in which an estimated $3 b is thought to be buried.
According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, the Palestinian leader’s first reaction upon hearing of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – and the loss of the friend who sponsored and funded the Palestinian campaign of suicidal terror – was to relocate his secret financial assets in fresh hiding places out of reach of any of his former allies, whether Palestinian or foreign. Arafat suspects not only his fellow-Palestinians, but also some of his closest European supporters, of seeking access to his financial empire, which is why although their relations seem as warm as ever, Arafat no longer heeds their advice. Since he whisked his money further underground, debkafile‘s sources believe they are as inaccessible as Saddam’s fortune of roughly double that amount.
As seen from Washington
In private conversations, American officials explain their objections to Dahlan’s appointment to any position of authority in the new government on two counts: First, they have serious doubts about the nature of his business dealings and associates. Second, the United States in the throes of his global war on terror can hardly accept Dahlan fitness for authority in a reformed Palestinian administration, given his intense operational links with the most brutal terrorist groups – Iran’s proxies, the Lebanese Hizballah, the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami.
As seen from Israel
Sources close to the Israeli prime minister explain that Sharon believes Dahlan is the only member of the Palestinian Authority powerful enough to contend with Arafat’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and knowledgeable enough about the group’s inner workings to dismantle it. Over the weekend, unidentified official sources in Washington defined Abu Mazen as having the right policies but lacking the assertiveness and charisma for standing against Arafat as a rival national figure. Sharon’s espousal of Dahlan for a central security portfolio would therefore point the way to his emerging before long as the lead figure of the reformed Palestinian government. The prime minister has made a number of gestures to promote Abu Mazen. After his confirmation, Sharon has offered to meet him, turn certain Palestinian areas over to the new security bodies, restore Palestinian jobs. But Sharon accepts that the real boss of the new setup will not be Abu Mazen, but Dahlan.
debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report that Israeli military and intelligence leaders, immersed for 20 long months in tough combat against Palestinian terrorists, are far from happy with Sharon’s perception. Although no public utterance pointing out its dangers has come from either circle or any political figure, the heads of the national counter-terror war are certain that Dahlan is the last man to take on the terrorists. At best, he will not raise a finger to stop the Hamas and the Jihad Islami from continuing their attacks; at worst, he will revive his operational ties with Iranian terrorist groups and their offshoots in Lebanon, Beirut and Damascus. Two years ago, he exploited his association with influential Israelis to keep his relations with Tehran and the Hizballah dark while setting up the Karin-A project and bringing Qassem rocket manufacturing to the Gaza Strip without interference. Installed in the Palestinian “reformist” government of Abu Mazen, Dahlan is versatile enough to use his position as cover for developing ties with the new underground groups, Shiite and Sunni, beginning to raise their heads against the American presence in post-Saddam Iraq with backing from Tehran and Damascus.
Road Map as future model
So why have the Americans not pursued vigorous action to keep Dahlan out of the Abu Mazen lineup?
Contrary to some media reports, the policy-makers of the Bush administration are very simply not all that interested in being directly involved in the new Palestinian government or even the “road map” drawn up by the Middle East Quartet. Some Israelis present the road map as Washington’s vehicle for buying its way back into the good graces of the Arabs, the Europeans and the United Nations, after occupying Iraq. debkafile‘s Washington sources say the Bush administration has a quite different use for the “road map”, namely, to demonstrate that reaching Baghdad was not the be-all and end-all of America’s strategy, but a move in the larger design for reshaping the Middle East – and not only by military means. An example of America’s non-military options for achieving change would be the “road map”.
At the same time, Bush and his advisers are under no illusion about the malign nature of Arafat, Abu Mazen’s ability to stamp out the terror he perpetuates, or Mohamed Dahlans’ intentions. Washington means to avail itself of the “road map” as a device for charting its next steps in Iraq and in relation to Syria. It will be kept handy for future actions in the Middle East against the Hizballah, the Jihad Islami, the Hamas and other Palestinian groups.
America’s victory in Iraq has exposed a stark reality for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. In a lightening operation, US military forces conquered Baghdad and toppled Saddam Hussein whom the Palestinians judged invincible. Ariel Sharon in two years of bitter warfare captured Ramallah and disabled key sections of the Palestinian machine of terror, but was not able to overthrow Arafat. His regime is still in place however after severe jolting. The Americans are pushing Sharon, Abu Mazen and the Europeans into taking the final step of Palestinian regime change. Washington will meanwhile busy itself in other parts of the Middle East.

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