Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A world-class story, but one hopefully "to be continued"

Al-Quds al-Arabi, the top pan-Arab defender of the Palestinian cause, runs a summary of David Rose's Vanity Fair story across the top of its front page this morning, and AlJazeera.net has promised readers a full text translation of the story in Arabic. The story as Al-Quds al-Arabi headlines it is
American Report: Bush administration pushed for civil war in Gaza with the cooperation of Dahlan, in order to topple Hamas
Bits and fragments of this narrative have surfaced over the last few months, since shortly before and after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007 (including my own humble effort here), but not the whole story linking the plan to Bush and showing the role of Dahlan and the specific civil-war character of the scheme. That's why this is big news in the mass-market, non-governmental Arab press.

Certainly anyone interested in the burgeoning field of "public diplomacy" will want to study this case as a model for showing the world the benefits of American freedom of the press. (Naturally they will want to carefully avoid mentioning the fact that the NYT and WaPo and the other big corporate publications passed this over in complete silence, out of respect for the dignity of constituted authority, and that the big mass-circulation play was in AlJazeera and Al-Quds al-Arabi. But still...)

In any event, without in any way taking away from the unique importance of the Vanity Fair story, I think it is useful to go over a bit of the background, in order to see how, ideally, this story fits in the overall scheme of things.

The Vanity Fair story opens with a description of a video recording of Dahlan's people torturing a Hamas member in Gaza City, a video Rose describes as having been "found in a Fatah security building by Hamas fighters last June". Missing links readers will recall that the discovery by Hamas of a trove of intelligence files, videos, and electronics equipment on their takeover of Gaza, was reported in various places soon after it occurred last June, first by something called DebkaFile (a site run by former Israeli intelligence people, which made some people think this might be disinformational in some way). But then the existence of such an intelligence trove was also reported by the Egyptian paper Al-Masriyoun, and by the pan-Arab paper Al-Quds al-Arabi, so there really was intelligence information Dahlan's people had left behind. As far as actual use of the material is concerned, the only reports I saw at the time were in the Egyptian paper, which said Hamas was sharing with the Egyptian government information about Dahlan having spied on Egypt for Israel, and as having had dealings with AlQaeda which he planned to pin on Hamas or Cairo. Hopes that information-sharing might help with Egypt-Hamas reconciliation don't appear to have gone anywhere. Rose's having been shown these videos is the second case I have seen, and historians should hope there will be more to come.

Another point: Hamas' acquisition of these documents and videos was a result of the sudden collapse of the Fatah forces in Gaza in June 2007, and one suggestion at the time was that the DebkaFile people, by publicizing this, were pointing up the sloppiness of Dahlan and his group for failure to destroy the material, the implicit idea being that any major intelligence leaks will not have been the fault of Israeli intelligence, but rather of those who sponsored an unreliable character like Dahlan. One aspect of Rose's narrative is to underline and take further that Dahlan-the-blunderer point of view. He quotes former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter as bluntly critical of Bush for allying in the way that he did with Dahlan. Moreover, neocon David Wurmser, who worked for Cheney but resigned in July 2007, a month after the Gaza takeover, joins in this line of criticism--with an expression of the moral rigor characteristic of the neocons as a group:
The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the hypocrisy it exposed. “There is a stunning disconnect between the president’s call for Middle East democracy and this policy,” he says. “It directly contradicts it.”
Even John Bolton gets a word in, naturally blaming the Dahlan-connection on Condi.

So there is an idea that runs consistently from the June 07 discovery of the intelligence-trove through the Rose story, and it is criticism by Israeli intelligence (first implied and now overt), and now by Washington Zionists as well, of the whole Dahlan episode, presumably on the basis that it was a stupid mistake for Bush (or Elliot Abrams or anyone) to have ever thought of relying on a character like Dahlan to be a reliable agent for Israel or for Bush. So if one of Rose's building-blocks for this story was material from Hamas' intelligence trove (perhaps not just the videos), another was the willingness of the Zionists both in Washington and TelAviv, to go public with their criticism of the scheme. Greeks bearing gifts, you might say.

One explanation suggests itself: The Zionist right is trying to distance itself from the scheme, as the implications of what resulted from it--militarization vis-a-vis Gaza--become clearer, and the global reputation of Israel plummets. "It was not our fault," they may be saying. "This was a catastrophe brought about by Bush's stupid choice of agents."

But there is still the question of the preternaturally sudden turnover of Gaza. For instance, at the time, Charles Levinson talked to a number of Fatah fighters in Gaza following their defeat, and he summed up his findings this way:
Fatah never fought. Gaza was essentially handed over to Hamas. Soldier after soldier said they felt betrayed and abandoned by their leadership. There was a seemingly willful lack of decision making by the senior most political leadership. Up and down the Gaza Strip from the first moments of fighting, the military leadership disintegrated while the political leadership remained eerily silent.
Moreover, the Gaza turnover was what finally permitted the authors of this scheme to have the Hamas-led government dissolved and replaced by a Fatah-appointed one, which was their main objective. And it facilitated (in theory at least) the another important part of the scheme, namely trying to make the Fatah-linked community flourish while punishing the Hamas-linked community. Physical separation should have made that easier, particularly under the auspices of the new Abbas-appointed president, Salam Fayyad, who had been the IMF director for the West Bank. So at the time, for the US/Fatah side, this didn't necessarily look like a mistake or a blunder, but more like a step realization of the scheme, albeit in an unorthodox way. Because the political isolation of Hamas could be intensified via physical isolation, blockade, and eventually if necessary military attack, on Gaza itself . All of this flowing from an unexpected blunder brought about by Bush's ill-advised reliance on the buffoon Dahlan?

(At the time, Dahlan said Hamas had "fallen into a trap" by taking exclusive control of Gaza, suggesting this was prearranged, but he doesn't repeat that in the Vanity Fair interview, nor is he asked about it. In the Vanity Fair interview, his point is that his group was in fact very weak).

A very important part of Rose's story is that the turnover of Gaza to Hamas was not planned, and can be blamed in one way or another on the shortcomings of Dahlan. This is an important point for the Zionists to stress, because it means that the atrocities that have followed, and more to come, are not part of a prearranged plan either. On the contrary, there was a huge "mistake". In that sense, Rose's story is somewhat exculpatory. And an argument could be made that this is exactly the spin that Dichter, Wurmser, and presumably other unnamed sources were able to put on this story, in exchange for their agreeing to talk.

Don't get me wrong. The Vanity Fair story is a very important contribution to everyone's understanding of what happened, highlighting as it does the ways which the civil war between Fatah and Hamas was being promoted, with arms and in many other ways, in Washington. And the fact that AJ and Al-Quds al-Arabi feature it while the NYT and its sisters are silent, is proof of its unique importance. Still, it is surely not yet the whole story.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted links to the article, your new posts and the older ones by you and Conflicts Forum at TPM. I posted the older pieces when they came out months ago as well. I sent a link today to Laura Rozen, and even got a thank you note.
I'm not expecting much.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Compulsive Reader said...

Another thing I find interesting in the article is how no one came forward to try and somehow remove or at least relieve the quisling status of Abbas.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Compulsive Reader said...

I guess Abbas is going to try and distance himself on his own, because Rice's recent comments hardly made an attempt to strengthen Abbas position.

9:04 AM  
Blogger badger said...

CR, that second link of yours (Kessler on the plane) is fascinating in many ways, including for its groupthink. The western reporters travelling with Condi discussed the VF article and decided that "many of us" had already covered it!

9:33 AM  
Blogger Nell said...

Badger, you help assure me I'm not going mad.

I've tried to take on this "oh, this is old news" reaction to the Vanity Fair story in comments at American Footprints.

And yours is the first plausible and serious examination of the positions taken in the Rose article by people described in the Conflicts Forum January account as the architects of the policy.

12:01 PM  
Blogger badger said...

They'll drive you crazy for sure.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks again for offering your analysis
and additional information. I also like the fact that you label "speclulation" as such. I guess all participants have their
"smoke and mirror kits" constantly at the ready, or indeed, in use.

Hannah K. O'Luthon

3:36 AM  

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