Margaret Thatcher summed up her first impression of Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader in the dying moments of the Cold War, with the succinct comment: “I can do business with this man.”
Similarly, President George W. Bush gave the nod to Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian internal security chief on whom Washington is pinning its hopes of crushing the Islamic militants striving to derail the U.S.-backed Middle East peace offensive.
“I like this man,” said the president when he attended two Middle East summits earlier this month – at Sharm el Sheikh and Aqaba. “He’s somebody we can work with.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources describe the no-nonsense Texan as being impressed by Dahlan’s lucid and detailed presentation of his plan for winning the war against terrorism. They met at the June 4 summit hosted at Jordan’s Red Sea resort by King Abdullah and attended also by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas.
“I shall move my forces from point A to point B,” said the Palestinian official. “Afterwards, I’ll pour additional units into new areas as they are transferred to my control.”
His confidence in describing the way he meant to deploy tens of thousands of troops and security officers made it sound as easy as raking in the cash from the Gaza extortion rackets he is notorious for running.
With a straight face, Dahlan told the president he had so far marshaled a 4,000-strong force ready to leap into action against Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
“And what about Hamas?” Bush asked.
“Hamas will not be a problem. They will have no choice but to sit back and give up terrorism,” Dahlan replied.
Bush may be forgiven for viewing the Palestinian official through rose-colored glasses. He had received a glowing commendation of the security chief’s ability from CIA director George Tenet, a personal friend since the Agency undertook to train members of Dahlan’s Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip in the early 1990’s as a corollary of the Oslo interim peace accords. Officials close to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, particularly his bureau chief Dov Weisglass – who got to know Dahlan during the Oslo period – also sang his praises.
Dahlan – A Bottomless Pit
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources point to two flies in the ointment.
1. The Palestinians do not share the US president’s enthusiasm for their new leaders, Abbas and Dahlan.
2. Shortly after his gung-ho presentation, the security chief’s assessment of his forces turned out to be highly embellished. According to one credible estimate, he can muster at most 1,500 men; according to a second, none at all.
In a short, sharp encounter this week in Jericho, Dahlan rocked European Union member diplomats back on their heels when he rapped out that he needs at least $400 million from the EU to create a security force for combating terror, on top of the funds secretly pledged by Washington.
Reporting on the meeting, a European diplomat confided to our sources:
“Here was a man who had the cheek to demand millions of dollars on the table without even presenting us with a program.”
One of the Europeans present, who knew exactly how much Washington had pledged, did some fast arithmetic. He then passed a note round which said, “According to my reckoning, Dahlan’s demands add up to each pair of shoes provided a Palestinian counter-terror officer costing $400,000!”
While European diplomats were taken aback by his brazenness, Palestinian and Israeli security officials know that the gimlet for bursting the Dahlan bubble sits in a drawer in the Palestinian prime minister’s desk. It is an unpublished 275-page report from an inquiry Abbas commissioned five years ago into his future interior minister’s complicity in the arms smuggling trade in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Also probed were his protection rackets. A silent partner in most Palestinian-owned companies, Dahlan also made sure of his cut from the special levies his preventive security service imposed on every Palestinian entering or leaving the Gaza Strip from or to Egypt, Jordan or the West Bank.
Dahlan and his underlings were described as taking over legitimate businesses by expropriating “in the interests of national security” the lots on which factories or office premises stood”. To recover their property, those businesses were forced to take the head of preventive security, namely Dahlan as their partner.
He soon became one of the richest men in the Palestinian Authority.
Dahlan embodies Arafat-al Qaeda link
More ominously, information gathered but never released by Pentagon intelligence, reveals how deeply Dahlan has always been immersed in Palestinian anti-Israel terror and international terrorism against US targets. In the 1990s Bosnian civil war, Dahlan is recorded by US intelligence as operating from the Palestinian embassy in Sarajevo to set up training camps for Muslim terrorists and provide them with false Middle Eastern and European passports. Upon graduating from his training camps, those recruits were equipped for overseas travel, whether to join al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the separatists in Chechnya or the extremist groups of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Some even headed for the Middle East.
Only last year, Dahlan on orders from Arafat took a personal hand in setting up the failed Karine-A arms smuggling venture, an attempt to ship to the Gaza Strip a cargo of Iranian-supplied weapons for the illicit uses of the Palestinian Authority and the Lebanese Hizballah.
Dahlan’s men purchased the freighter from a pair of shady ship-owners, a Greek named Dimitri Kokus and Rifaat Mahmoud, a Pakistani-American. Registered as partners in the Delaware-incorporated Nova Spirit Inc., they clandestinely maintain and operate a fleet of some 20 ships for al-Qaeda. Dahlan’s direct complicity in the Karine-A venture and his association with Kokus and Mohammed in Arafat’s behalf are concrete evidence of an operational relationship between Yasser Arafat and al-Qaeda.
That murky association continues.
On June 17, debkafile reported exclusively that Yousef Qaradawi, an influential preacher on al-Jazeera satellite television, had been recruited by Egypt and Dahlan to issue a fatwa, or Islamic religious edict, permitting the Hamas and Islamic Jihad to enter into a ceasefire, or hudna, with Israel.
(More about this episode in HOT POINTS below).
Sheikh Qaradawi is a key player in the so-called “axis of good”, an esoteric term known to Western circles dealing with global terrorism. Qaradawi also openly advocates suicide terror.
Abu Mazen – an honest cipher
As for Abu Mazen, he differs from Dahlan in that he is an honest man, untainted by the terrorism and corruption rampant in Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.
That said, Abbas lacks a political power base and the savvy for butting heads with the wily Arafat and making his mark in a Palestinian leadership role. Palestinians and other informed Middle East sources long acquainted with Abu Mazen told DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources that he is a good man who stands little chance of performing effectively as prime minister.
On June 17, Abbas called a meeting of his own Fatah faction heads in the Gaza Strip to try and negotiate a deal to end terrorist attacks on Israel. “We have nothing to say to you,” a Fatah functionary told him. “You are not one of us. We do not like you and cannot accept anything you do.”
Abu Mazen’s lack of credibility on the Palestinian street will offset any bid by the Bush administration to fit Abbas and Dahlan into the mold of its Middle East policy and lead it to a dead end.
Signs of disillusion with the new Palestinian leaders, Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan, were detected in Washington by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources late Thursday, June 19, despite the secretary of state Colin Powell’s imminent arrival in the region the following day. Powell had hoped to usher in a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, as a solid building block in the edifice American is building in the Middle East. However, as one dispirited source remarked: “With those two horses we won’t get far.”
On closer acquaintance, prime minister Abu Mazen strikes American officials as a strange bird with little drive for getting things done and less political sophistication. It is now evident that Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and ambassador Eliot Abrams wasted the hours they put in explaining why he must set up an autonomous political channel completely detached from Yasser Arafat. He nodded to show he understood, but in his everyday pursuits he never takes a step (if at all) without checking first with Arafat.
Dahlan is turning out even more disappointingly. One Washington sources notes: “He talks big but carefully dodges any practical action obliging him to shoulder responsibility for sending Palestinian security forces against terrorists in any part of Palestinian territory, whether the Gaza Strip or the West Bank.” Furthermore, whenever Abbas requires his support, Dahlan is nowhere to be seen.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources, the Bush administration is beginning to realize that even if a ceasefire – or partial halt in violence – is proclaimed as planned in Cairo next week by all the terrorist groups, including the Hamas and Jihad Islami, it will be evanescent. Within hours, Palestinian terrorists will be rampant again and Israel will not be able to avoid military action to rein them in. There will be no escaping the long-deferred large-scale assault on the terrorist strongholds of the Gaza Strip to break up the Hamas and Jihad Islami structures and root out their al Qaeda and Hizballah operational cells.
Bill Clinton had hoped to wind up his two terms of office on the eve of the US presidential election in 2000 with the flourish of a historic peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat sabotaged this effort by launching an armed confrontation, his Intifada, against Israel.
Bush may still hope to launch his 2004 bid for a second term by succeeding where Clinton failed – judging correctly that the Iraq War turned Middle East geo-strategically on its head. However, this epic transformation left Arafat in place, a fixture as Palestinian leader, capable at 75 of outfoxing any political foe – in Jerusalem or Washington.