US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not seem overly concerned when her much-publicized Israel-Palestinian peace push fell about her ears after three days in Jerusalem. Tuesday, Feb. 20, smiling as usual, she left Israel for her real mission in Amman after marking time in pretty aimless, though relaxed, chit chat with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Waiting in the Jordanian capital, ready for brass-tacks talks with the US secretary, was a whole galaxy of Arab decision-makers and intelligence chiefs: the two top Saudi security officials, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, national security adviser, and Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, head of the General Intelligence Presidency, as well as a string of secret service chiefs from various Arab countries, Jordan’s King Abdullah and, finally, an off-the-record encounter with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whom she had met a day earlier in the much-heralded, unproductive three-way meeting with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.
According to the official communique, the US secretary met in Amman with the heads of the secret services of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – nicknamed the Arab Quartet.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources describe the occasion as more far-reaching in scope, agenda and importance than the laconic statement suggests.
For one thing, a deputy of CIA Director General Michael Hayden, described as the agency’s No. 2, was present. So too were the US military intelligence chief in Iraq and Washington’s Security Coordinator for the Palestinians Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, as well as the head of the United Arab Emirates’ intelligence services, who is known as Emir Muhammad, and the head of Jordan’s intelligence services, Gen. Muhammad Zuaibi. There, too, was Egyptian intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman alongside high-ranking officials of the Kuwaiti and Moroccan secret services.
In the nature of their calling, these cloak and dagger officials are often shy of letting their identities be known.
The importance of this US-Arab intelligence summit for determining the future course of US strategies on Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Israel-Palestinian conflict cannot be overstated. This was quickly appreciated in Tehran. No sooner had the participants dispersed Tuesday night, than Iran’s national security adviser, Ali Larijani, was on a special plane to Riyadh and closeted with Princes Bandar and Muqrin.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly has not yet obtained full details of their talks. All that is known is that he pressed the Saudi princes for some insight on the US decisions generated by the Amman conference. That event clearly marked a secret turning-point, still to be revealed, in the Bush administration’s Middle East policies, which the Iranians will have to take into account in the decisions they must take on their nuclear policy in the next few days.
US-Iraq security sweep left only with Sunni targets
The Amman get-together was also unique in that there is surely no precedent for an American secretary of state, the top US top diplomat, chairing a Middle East gathering of the heads of seven Arab secret services for a conference on the sharing-out of tasks in their respective fields of intelligence and security for two common objectives:
How to encompass an American victory in Baghdad and how to curb Iranian expansionism and its nuclear program.
The encounter was weighed down by five signal developments in the three days leading up to the Amman conference:
1. The first stage of President George W. Bush‘s security plan for Baghdad, rather than getting off to a good start, as Condoleezza Rice said during her flying visit to Baghdad Saturday, Feb. 17, was in fact limping.
(See HOT POINTS: US Crackdown in Baghdad Finds Targets Hard to Pin Down).
It has run into two major problems: Sunni insurgents and their al Qaeda allies have gone on the offensive and are in action against American outposts and convoys – is one. The second: The targeted Shiite militias have evaporated; Moqtada Sadr‘s Mehdi Army and their death squads are gone from the streets of Baghdad.
The US-Iraqi special security operation is therefore caught fighting only Sunni targets.
As a result –
First, Sunni tribal chiefs and militias initially willing to jump aboard the campaign against insurgents and al Qaeda are alienated.
Second, the disappearance of the Mehdi Army and other Shiite militias has left their community unprotected and prompted al Qaeda to redouble its massacres of Shiites.
Sectarian tensions have therefore intensified in Baghdad and all of Iraq.
The Baghdad crackdown has thus been truncated and finds itself serving the ends of the Iraqi insurgency and al Qaeda, rather than executing the joint strategy charted by President Bush and the Nouri al Maliki government for stabilizing Baghdad.
(A separate article in this issue reveals the content of an Iraqi intelligence report on the rising strength of al Qaeda and its links with Iran.)
2. Secretary Rice learned during her brief stopover in Baghdad last Saturday that the radical Shiite militia leader Moqtada Sadr and his senior commanders were helped in their flight to Iran for sanctuary against the US-led operation by none other than Iraq’s Kurdish president Jalal Talabani.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources disclose that the Sadr party did not need to use Iran’s undercover corridors in Iraq for their getaway, but were allowed to exit through clandestine Kurdish routes. The Shiite fugitives transited Suleimaniyeh, in northern Kurdistan, with Talabani’s blessing.
This was no ordinary stab in the back for the Bush administration; it effectively disarmed a key element of the security operation before it had even got off the ground, by spiriting one of its prime targets out of range.
Ministers shy away from Hamas-led government after Rice’s boycott ultimatum
Our sources add that the Medhi Army militia chief proposes to return to Iraq and spend a few days in Najef before returning to Iran, to avoid the appearance of having run out.
3. Last weekend, Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin held a secret meeting with Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders in Kuwait. They agreed to strengthen their mutual ties and coordinate their moves for cutting down al Qaeda’s mounting grip on West Iraq and Baghdad. The Saudi prince encouraged them to work with the Americans.
4. Another complication cropped up last week when the Hashemite King Abdullah quietly informed Washington and Riyadh that he may have to close the Jordanian-Iraq border because the huge influx of Iraqi refugees flooding into Amman – 800,000 are already crowded in – poses a hazard to Jordan’s national security and economy.
5. When she met Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Rice could not persuade him to drop his Fatah-Hamas government coalition plan, i.e. the Mecca Reconciliation Accord, brokered by Riyadh. But two days later, in Amman, after she heard Jordan’s King Abdullah say: “The Mecca Accords are a disaster,” she arranged to see Abbas in Amman Tuesday to issue the following ultimatum:
Washington will boycott anyone who joins a Palestinian government headed by the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh (whom Abbas has entrusted with forming the new unity government), or any other Hamas member.
The threat was delivered as Abbas was about to set off to lobby for European acceptance of the Mecca Accords and a fresh flow of funds.
The Rice ultimatum was a bolt from the blue: All of Abbas’ Fatah associates thereupon decided not to run the risk of an American boycott. Even the unaffiliated Salim Fayed, designated finance minister and the only Palestinian official the Europeans would trust with their donations, decided to take no chances and opted out of the Hamas-led government.
Abbas has now run out of devices for releasing the Palestinians from the international economic embargo clamped down upon Hamas’ election more than a year ago.Or has he? The radical Palestinian Hamas still has a string to its bow.