First Palestinian-Hizballah Deal as Operational Partners
The exploratory talks between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Israeli officials on security collaboration in Jerusalem – first revealed by debkafile on Jan. 21 – are being mirrored in Lebanon.
The talks between Maj. Gen. Majid Faraj, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence (the Mukhabarat), and Israeli Police and Shin Bet domestic security officials, centered on forming a new Palestinian militia to maintain order in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, expunge terrorism and counter ISIS penetration.
In Lebanon, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources disclose, the Lebanese army asked the Beirut government to approach Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) with a similar plan, i.e. the formation of Palestinian militias for the refugee camps of Beirut, Sidon in the south and Tripoli in the north.
Virtually autonomous, these camps are off-limits to Lebanese army and policy forces for fear of violent Palestinian Salafi extremists, some of whom are linked to the Islamic State.
Before approving the plan, the Lebanese government must have first cleared it with the Shiite Hizballah organization, without which no diplomatic, military or clandestine moves can go forward in the current state of Beirut politics.
Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah must therefore have given his nod for the approach to Ramallah and also demanded a hefty role in the new arrangement.
The Lebanese and Jerusalem camps have features in common, but also some fundamental differences. The extremists holding the Lebanese refugee sites in thrall are Salafis, while in the West Bank and Jerusalem they are primarily Palestinian nationalists or members of the fundamentalist Islamist Hamas or Islamic Jihad organizations.
The Lebanese army recommends the deployment of the Palestinian militias in 11 refugee camps, which house a combined population of over 500,000 Palestinians.
They are Bourj el-Barajneh, Sabra and Chatila in Beirut; Nahar al-Bared and Badawi in Tripoli; Wavel in Baalbek; El-Buss, Burj al-Shemali and Rashidieh outside Tyre; and Mieh Mieh and Ain al-Hilweh outside Sidon – both on the Mediterranean coast.
In his enthusiasm for the Lebanese project, Abu Mazen offered to advance $20m to cover the costs of establishing the new militias.
He has also rushed in with two appointments: Abbas Zaki, a high-ranking political figure, member of the Fatah’s central committee and former PLO representative in Lebanon, to take charge of the project; and
Col. Sultan Abu al-Aynayn, chief of Fatah forces in Lebanon until 2011 and resident in Ramallah, as the commander of the militias.
Hizballah’s involvement in the project poses a serious dilemma for Israel. The Netanyahu government will have to figure out how to respond to the Palestinian Authority’s first operational and intelligence ties with Israel’s archenemy.