Mussa Arafat Targeted in Bloody Palestinian Turf War over Post-Withdrawal Gaza

The huge car bomb blast that rocked Gaza City Tuesday night, October 12, sounded more like Baghdad than a Palestinian-controlled area. It was timed to blow up as the convoy carrying Mussa Arafat, commander of the Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip and chief of Palestinian military intelligence, was leaving his headquarters. The attack missed. Arafat survived unhurt from the first Palestinian car bomb attack on a fellow Palestinian.
Mussa never foregoes the trapping of the boss, any more than his uncle and superior, Yasser. Whenever he goes out, he presents his many foes with a very large and noisy target. The streets of Gaza empty as his convoy of six to eight armored cars tears about with sirens wailing and lights flashing.
Lying in wait for this grand convoy Tuesday night was a booby-trapped car activated by remote control, a device never seen in the Gaza Strip from 1994 when Yasser Arafat and his top men took charge of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the Oslo Accords. This form of assassination was much practiced by the Hizballah against US forces in Beirut and Israeli forces in south Lebanon. It is now the preferred weapon of Abu Mussab al Zarqawi’s terrorists in Iraq.
According to debkafile‘s Palestinian and intelligence sources, the would-be assassin was Moussa Arafat’s foremost rival, the former Gaza strongman and Palestinian minister, Mohammed Dahlan. The two men spurned Egypt’s recent attempts to make peace between them.
The failed hit was an open declaration of war between the feuding Gazan kingpins and their followers. It is clear to both and to ordinary Gazans that both are determined to fight to the death, their own and those of their loyalists and whoever gets in the way. The crunch will undoubtedly come before Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon gets his Gaza pullout plan endorsed and in motion.
The first round in the Dahlan-Arafat duel was fought in July. It was marked by civil strife, assassinations, kidnappings and the torching of Palestinian government buildings, at the end of which Dahlan was defeated. The two Arafats mean to keep the Gaza Strip in an iron grip before and after Israel’s exit while spearheading the offensive aimed at making Israel’s departure as costly and painful as possible. It is commonly accepted that, as long as the Gaza Strip is under Arafat’s thumb, Sharon cannot go forward with the pullout of settlements and troops without first carrying out another fierce and unpredictable military campaign.
The Operation Rainbow battle of the tunnels in Rafah and the current Days of Penitence operation in the northern Gaza Strip to halt Qassam missile raids on Sderot, were but the opening shots of this campaign.
Dahlan is not expected to cede the field to the Arafat camp and so more Mafia-style settlings of accounts are in store. If Mussa Arafat is removed from his path, Sharon can more easily press ahead with the withdrawal, for then he will only have to contend with Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees instead of the entire Palestinian security establishment.
However, time is eroding the vaunted unilateralism of the Israeli prime minister’s disengagement plan.
All the key players, Sharon, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and the two Arafats, are caught up in a swirling maelstrom of difficulties that were not anticipated when the plan to quit Gaza was first broached.
Interviewed Tuesday in Rome, Mubarak called the car bombings of Egypt’s Sinai resorts last week “different’ or “peculiar” (although the following morning, the state-controlled Al Aharam daily said they bore al Qaeda hallmarks and reported the vehicles all came from Egypt). But he knows more of these outrages are in store for his country if Cairo helps Israel put its disengagement plan in place.
Sharon is in dire straits and getting in deeper. Losing control of the ruling Likud party, a large faction of which is in open revolt against his leadership, the Israeli prime minister faces terrorist offensives from two directions, al Qaeda and from Yasser Arafat, both of which are girding up.
Yasser and Mussa Arafat, for their part, are challenged on all sides – by Dahlan who leads the domestic opposition, and also by Sharon, Mubarak and the Americans, who have launched a new initiative to bear down on the Ramallah-based regime through European go-betweens and the UN secretary’s Middle East envoy Terje Larsen. They have told him he must re-appoint Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen as prime minister and sign all the reform decrees already made up and lacking only his signature. His reward will be freedom of movement between Gaza and Ramallah. Arafat has been given until the US election on November 2 to comply. And if not, he will be finally dumped by the Europeans, who will end supplies of funds and diplomatic support.
Mubarak is at a crossroads and no use to the Palestinian leader.
To face his enemies, Yasser Arafat needs help. The choices left to him as war allies are the Hizballah and al Qaeda.
The Sinai bombings demonstrated to him that both organizations have joined battle and already begun to mount terrorist attacks. Arafat welcomed the string of bombings at Egypt’s Sinai resorts as positive and a great help to his own cause.
Sharon’s best strategic response to the gathering terror threats to Israel would be to slow down his plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and instead wipe out at least one of the perils in a no holds barred offensive. The military operations now in their third week in the northern Gaza Strip, the pinpointed killing of terrorist leaders and the sustained roundups of terrorists in the West Bank, cripple Palestinian capabilities per tem but bite only at the edges of their terror machine. As long as their kingpin is free to plot one terror campaign after another, the danger is ever-present and will doom the Gaza pullout, regardless of whether Sharon wins or loses his battle for its parliamentary endorsement. But Sharon, who is so obsessed with disengagement that he is not averse to dividing his Likud and fracturing the country’s political system to get it passed, lacks the broad vision for addressing national and regional policy-making to meet the looming national emergency.
The Sinai bombings and attempt to assassinate Mussa Arafat were only a taste of what’s to come.

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