The Impossibility of Getting a Grip on Palestinian Gaza

The unreality of the US policy for the Gaza Strip is stunning.

It has three parents, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, deputy director of the National Security Council Elliott Abrams and President George W. Bush’s security coordinator to the Palestinian Authority, Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton.

They operate almost as though they are on the ground and running things. In fact, they live in a bubble. The real masters of the chaotic Gaza Strip are al Qaeda, Iran, Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinian terrorist groups, Hamas and Jihad Islami. These groups ignore the American trio, which ignores them.

Washington has chosen four men as tenuous links with Gaza’s mad disarray.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is under orders from the Bush administration to keep the Gaza Strip’s borders open to Egypt and also to the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen, with whom the Americans deal under the illusion that he and the PA enjoy some authority in Gaza and that on his say-so, the Palestinian organizations will stop shooting Qassam missiles into Israel and release the Israeli soldier they kidnapped.

Then there is Mohammed Dahlan, once known as Gaza’s strongman, now grandly dubbed Palestinian national security adviser and coordinator of Palestinian security services in Gaza. He is expected to get them ready for an armed showdown – should this become necessary – with Hamas, Jihad Islami and the Popular Resistance Committees, elements of which collaborate with al Qaeda.

The fourth man is the Egyptian minister of intelligence, Gen. Omar Suleiman, who retains a permanent mission of three or four generals in the Gaza Strip. They are supposed to twist the arms of Palestinian terror groups until they see the light and start working with Abu Mazen instead of against him.

Gaza has been declared a no-go area for US Central Intelligence Agency officers because they are prime targets for murder or abduction by Palestinians or al Qaeda. The only Western intelligence presence in the territory is the British Secret Service MI6, which maintains two stations in Gaza City and Rafah. They were helpless to prevent the abduction of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston or secure his release.


A rainbow of sponsors feeds the forces of violence


While Washington and the EU support the tottering Palestinian Authority, a rainbow gallery of sponsors nourishes the forces of violence, chiefly Saudi Arabia which bankrolls the faction of Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya; Iran, which funds Hamas’ military arm and Jihad Islami, and al Qaeda, which is the patron of Al Qaeda-Palestine.

An appropriation of $60m was approved by the US Congress two weeks ago for Chairman Abbas’ presidential force which, under Gen. Dayton’s supervision and with Jordanian training, was established and equipped to assert control of the Gaza Strip.

Can this mixed bag of warring elements possibly mesh together in a working whole? Not really.

Olmert’s hands are tied by the refusal of all but one Palestinian faction to talk terms, while three, Hamas, the Popular Committees and al Qaeda, are holding Gilead Shalit. Abu Mazen keeps on promising to secure his release; it is but a hollow show of authority which convinces no one. The erratic Qassam missiles keep on coming from the Gaza Strip. In every other sense, the situation slips further out of control day by day, as Iran adds to and upgrades Hamas and Jihad Islami’s stockpile of tools of war. Both were recently provided by Tehran with anti-air missiles.

Abbas is further undercut by the inability of his chief aide, Mohammed Dahlan, to control Fatah, which dominates the security services. Half the officers have declared a mutiny against him. Prime minister Haniya, whom the Saudis finance in the hope of him weaning Hamas from terrorism to diplomacy, likewise faces a revolt by the Hamas military arm, while Gen. Suleiman and his mission are routinely flouted by the Palestinian militias, who defer to Tehran, Damascus, the Hizballah command in Beirut, rather than Cairo. The Egyptian generals are afraid to sleep in the Gaza Strip and drive out every night to stay in an Israeli town.

In some ways, the bedlam in Gaza may be less bloody at the moment than Iraq but there is no certainty that Palestinian violence will not recur in another surge. It cannot be lost on the American officials trying hopelessly to get a grip that as soon as one problem is solved, three more pop up.

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