Washington’s House of Cards Teeters
Yasser Arafat’s cousin, Moussa Arafat, Gaza strongman, arms smuggler and master terrorist, was fired by Mahmoud Abbas in April as the too-powerful military intelligence and national security forces chief.
His Sept. 7 assassination is bound to affect US and Israeli perceptions of the Palestinian Authority, especially in view of the fact that one of its leading ministers and power brokers is civilian affairs minister Mohammed Dahlan.
Israel’s first knee-jerk reaction was to bring forward to Saturday night, September 10, the withdrawal of its troops from the anarchic territory and out of harm’s way – up to and including the Philadelphi Gaza-Egyptian border enclave. The snap pullout, five days ahead of schedule, will remove the last Israeli soldier from the Gaza Strip by day’s end Sunday.
Washington’s reaction sounded as though it came from another world.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack welcomed Abbas’s comments on bringing “those responsible to justice.” He went on to say: “It is the responsibility of any governing authority, any government, to provide an environment where people can realize a better life for themselves. And this is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.”
The US spokesman went on to urge “every effort…by the Palestinian Authority, particularly during this time of withdrawal, to maintain an atmosphere of calm free from violence and certainly of terrorist actions.”
None of these fine words addresses the breakdown of coordination among Israel, Egypt, Europe and the Palestinians to ensure that the Israeli pullout is orderly. The long talks, dramatic night sessions, public assurances, the two foreign coordinators and at least two visits by the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to the region for this very purpose were all blown away by the hot wind of violent Palestinian mayhem.
Palestinian refusal to monitor border crossings opens Gaza to lawlessness
It was initially feared that the Gaza Strip would be seized by Hamas before the Palestinian Authority could assert its control. The prospect now is even bleaker; it is already a lawless territory, prey to ungovernable terrorist and criminal gangs and the mobs they command. It is too late for Abu Mazen and Mohammed Dahlan to act firmly “to maintain an atmosphere of calm,” as urged upon them by Washington. They have persisted in a policy that opens the Gaza Strip wide to uncontrolled transit to and from Egypt and northern Sinai through unguarded border crossings.
On the Egyptian side of the border and in Lebanon, many thousands of Palestinians are waiting to enter the Gaza Strip. Armed militias operating in Lebanon, whether Palestinian, Hizballah or al Qaeda, are standing by with tons of war materiel ready to flock into Gaza. They will not waste time building or supporting governing institutions – or a democracy, but get straight down to their avowed mission of attacking Israel.
Hamid Karzai and even Ibrahim Jaafari look like resolute and commanding rulers compared with the wishy-washy Abu Mazen.
By his very passivity, lack of authority and ineptness, he has made the violent extremists of the Middle East the undreamed of gift of safe sanctuary with an outlet to the Mediterranean and a potential international airport.
This is “the environment where people can realize a better life for themselves,” urged on him by the US spokesman.
And it does not end there. The Gaza Strip is only a hop and a skip away from the West Bank. Installed there, the hodgepodge of terrorist groups can threaten not only Israel but Jordan too, gripping the Hashemite kingdom in a vice between Iraq, Syria and the West Bank.
Whether or not he was implicated in getting rid of the dangerous Gaza kingpin, Moussa Arafat, it is too late for Abu Mazen. He has missed his chance to create an orderly, sovereign Palestinian entity in the Gaza Strip as an example of a workable state.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources quote senior Bush administration officials, led by Rice, as refusing to heed what they call this “pessimistic scenario.” As usual when dealing with Abu Mazen, they say he needs time to stabilize.
Hamas seeks to get Israeli troops on the run
For Israel next door, the latest events have an additional dangerous dimension.
The Israeli army is being forced to break its own vow and withdraw from the Gaza Strip under fire. All thought of coordination has gone. The Palestinians of Gaza are on the offensive. In the last two days alone, infiltrators were sent to attack Israel troops guarding the former Morag, snipers shot at soldiers, grenades were lobbed at troops on the Philadelphi route, at least three shooting attacks were staged against IDF units and 50-kilo bombs disarmed on the Kissufim road. These assaults are intensifying with the approach of the Israeli withdrawal.
Hamas and its ilk are determined to prove their guns have run the Israeli army out of the Gaza Strip and deny the Sharon government the kudos of a voluntary pullout.
This is not just a battle of prestige.
The result of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon five years ago under the guns of a hostile terrorist organization had dire consequences: Hizballah still rules southern Lebanon to this day, Yasser Arafat was encouraged to launch his suicide terror war against Israel, and the same terrorists he armed and orchestrated are now determined to wrest the fruits of driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip.
After Moussa Arafat’s murder, no terrorist organization will agree for a moment to give up its weapons or its jihad against Israel. They will argue that the Palestinian Authority has not moral right to ban terrorism when it does not practice what it preaches.
The United States must share some opprobrium for nurturing Dahlan as its senior power broker in the Palestinian arena. In view of the relentless American drive to bring the killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri to justice, can Washington afford to whitewash the men who masterminded Arafat’s killers because they are high-ups in the Palestinian Authority without incurring damage?
Commenting on the Arafat assassination Wednesday, Israel’s vice premier Shimon Peres admitted Gaza was in a state of anarchy but insisted that “whatever now happens in there it is Palestinian business.” That is an illusion. Israel may yearn to disengage from the problems of Gaza, but no escape is possible.