Friday, June 29, 2007

Next question: Will Mubarak and the Saudi king withstand American pressure on the question of Hamas

Editorially, Al-Quds al-Arabi takes up the question whether the surprising Egyptian (and Saudi) shift away from the US-mandated anti-Hamas position is going to be a permanent and solid feature of their policy, or end up being merely transitory.

On Mubarak, the editorialist says the change has two reasons: first the realization that eliminating Hamas from the Gaza Strip would mean, in a nutshell, that its place would be taken by AlQaeda; and second reason is the hardening of the position of Olmert. With respect to the first point, the context includes the risk of radicalizing the military wing of Hamas in the event of a confrontation with Egypt, and the particular vulnerability of the Sinai region from the point of view of Egyptian national security. The editorialist puts it this way:
The Egyptian government has grasped the fact that any collusion on its part with the American-Israeli policy of destroying Hamas could well be tantamount to handing over the Gaza Strip in its entirety to the AlQaeda organization, which is the alternative to Hamas. [Moreover], the military wing of Hamas, which settled the question of control of the Gaza Strip in less than three days, has impressive field experience, and is under the control of a rigorous leadership that could turn entirely against the Egyptian regime in the event Egypt were to declare war on their organization.

And it is capable of damaging domestic Egyptian security by virtue of its neighborly relations with Sinai, and by virtue of its strong relationship with certain Bedouin islamist elements there. Sinai is considered the weak link in Egyptian national security because of its size and its exposure, and also because of its experience of four decades of efforts to marginalize it, on the part of the central government in Cairo.
As for the Saudi position, the paper notes both in its front-page news story and in this editorial, that a planned meeting between the Saudi king and Abbas that was to have taken place during the king's visit to Amman, and that had been carefully arranged by Jordanian king Abdullah, has been "postponed" indefinitely, supposedly because of the pressure of other engagements. The editorialist writes:
As far as the Saudi king is concerned, and we are talking about the sponsor of the Mecca accord, perhaps he grasped the fact that siding with one party in the Gaza dispute against the other would result in closing off any possibile role for him as an influential honest broker, and this explains his declining to meet with Abbas in the Jordanian capital--a meeting that the Jordanian government played the main role in arranging, reflecting its clearly having placed its bet on president Abbas, and reflecting its [Jordan's] complete devotion to Abbas' camp, and its firm and almost enemy-like boycotting of the Hamas movement.
And so the net question arises: Are these new Egyptian and Saudi attitudes permanent, because if they are this would indicate a new and less US-friendly political configuration for the region. The editorialist isn't sure:
It is hard to be definitive on the question whether these Egyptian and Saudi changes are permanent and solid or not, because president Mubarak, like the Saudi king, [like to] keep away from provoking the United States of America, so probably the best thing right now is to take a little more time before drawing any absolute conclusion about this.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Egypt-Hamas rapprochement said to be helped by AlQaeda intelligence

Al-Quds al-Arabi devotes its lead story this morning to an explanation why the Egyptian government has abandoned its original aim of eliminating Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, and is now instead preparing to engage in constructive negotiations with the movement. Journalists Walid Awwad and Ashraf al-Hawwar write:
Palestinian sources said the Egyptian authorities have resumed contacts with Hamas, in spite of their anger over the movement's seizure of control of the Gaza Strip. Al-Quds al-Arabi has learned that the backing-down that has occurred in Egypt's attitude--which had been to isolate Hamas and follow the American line in putting an end to their military presence in the Gaza Strip--came about as a result of Egypt's acquisition of information confirming that its [Hamas'] replacement would be the AlQaeda organization.

Palestinian sources who are following the talks between Egypt and the Palestinian side [meaning Hamas] said that an official with the Hamas movement told the Egyptian authorities that the military wing of Hamas could become more extreme, and could change to an attitude [even] more implacable than that of the AlQaeda organization. Moreover, [the Egyptians were told] that AlQaeda itself has already been able to make substantial inroads in the Gaza Strip, and has been able to set up cells involving young people.

The Egyptian authorities were [already] worried about increased AlQaeda activity in Sinai, [particularly insofar as the activity represents] a threat to tourism and investment projects in Sharm el-Sheikh and Taha. In the last few weeks, they have come upon quantities of weapons and explosives in Sinai that came from the Gaza Strip.
(Recall that the article in the Egyptian paper Al-Mesryoun last week about Dahlan-linked intelligence information passed on by Hamas to Egypt included a couple of references to the Sinai/tourism angle, in fact this appeared to be the main AlQaeda-linked topic of concern).

The Al-Quds piece continues:
It is said that the Hamas movement apologized officially to the Egyptian authorities for their having stormed the headquarters of the Egyptian security mission in Gaza and the arrest of some Fatah leaders who had taken refuge there, and immediately undertook to release them, and this has resulted in an Egyptian decision to return its embassy to Gaza City, after it had moved it to Ramallah.
(The rest of this article is devoted to Fatah plans for tarring and feathering of Hani al-Hassan, a senior Fatah person with a long and honorable history in the resistance, including expelling him from the movement, along with an official Fatah "trial", as punishment for what he said on AlJazeera TV about the legitimacy of the Hamas reponse to the Dahlan-Dayton threat. Abbas is being rather defensive about this. The journalists say this is so important to Abbas that he "has decided to call a special meeting of the Fatah central committee on an urgent basis to take the necessary steps to protect the program of the movement [Fatah] and of its stance, in the light of this distortion which has been spewed out by Hani al-Hassan").

"Picture coming into focus"

Hamas described the Israeli attacks that killed 13 in Gaza yesterday as the result of an unannounced agreement between Olmert and Abbas, and Al-Akhbar spells this out, as follows:
As each day goes by, a little more is revealed about the "agreements" that weren't announced at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. The day after Mahmoud Abbas announced the ban on [non-"government"] weapons in the West Bank, yesterday it was Israel's turn to carry out its part of the bargain, targeting the resistance in the Gaza Strip, leading to the martyrdom of 13 Palestinians and the wounding of a large number of others.

With this Israeli operation, the shape of the what went down at Sharm el-Sheikh starts to become clearer little by little: The West Bank and its resistance was handed over to the jurisdiction of Abbas, to issue his "presidential orders" at will, as long as he adds the expression "criminal" to the qualification "armed". Meanwhile, Olmert will focus his attention on Gaza....And as Hamas said: This marked the start of implementation of the secret agreements that were reached at Sharm el-Sheikh between Abbas and his coterie on the one side, and Olmert and his retinue on the other.

The Palestinian resistance factions in the West Bank joined in rejecting the "Abbas decree" and they said he should first remove the occupation from the streets of the West Bank, accusing him of putting the weapons of the resistance on the same footing as weapons of celebration or of disorder....
Even within the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of Fatah, only part of the group agreed with the order, while the majority rejected it. There were other signs that the post Sharm el-Sheikh battle for the hearts and minds of Palestinians was not going well:

The Abbas government decided to reject the Olmert proposal for release of 250 prisoners (who were to be all Fatah, and none with Israeli blood on their hands), on the basis that it is insulting for Olmert to differentiate in this way among participants in the resistance. Hani al-Hassan, a member of the PLO central committee and a top Abbas adviser, had to be fired from the latter position for saying that the events in Gaza were the result of what was being attempted by US General Keith Dayton and his ally Dahlan. So it goes.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Mesriyoun cited unnamed sources in the Eguptian foreign ministry to the effect that there has been a policy shift in the direction of more diplomatic involvement with Hamas: The paper said there is a plan to move Egypt's security delegation back to Gaza City (it was moved to Ramallah following the Hamas takeover, in what was interpreted at the time as a cutting of the relationship with Hamas), in order to be ready to promote Hamas-Fatah negotiations. There is also a plan to invite the head of the political wing of Hamas Khaled Meshaal and a delegation for a discussion of various issues including the possibility of Hamas-Fatah negotiations, and also the possibility of a deal for the release of the Israeli soldier Shalit in exchange for a large number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails (this would reportedly be a larger number than the 250 proposed by Olmert at Sharm el-Sheikh). The Egyptian sources went out of their way to stress what a big change this is in the Egyptian approach to Hamas, citing as one indication the remarks of Mubarak in an interview with the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot, where he emphasized Egypt's intention to work hard for resumption of Hamas-Fatah talks.

Finally, the Egyptian government sources talked about the possibility of bilateral Egypt-Syrian meetings, either in Cairo or in Damascus, as a further stimulus for Palestinian talks, given the growing Syrian importance.

There you have it: Collapse of the land-of-milk-and-honey narrative of the Israel-Fatah-US alliance; but also the collapse of that part of the plan that was supposed to see Mubarak turn on Hamas...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Qassam leader: "We have strong cards to exert pressure", a Muslim Brotherhood site, publishes excerpts of an interview with a leader of the military wing of Hamas, the Izaddin al-Qassam Brigades, in Gaza. The discussion first of all takes up the question whether what happened in Gaza was a "coup", to which "Abu Hamza" replies that the government in question is controlled by Hamas, and the "coup" in question was by "a corrupt security apparatus" trying to seize power, just like the coups in all countries, and he names Mohammed Dahlan and his group in particular, adding it is clear that given all the crimes commited by this group, it is no wonder Fatah opposed an Arab [League] commission to investigate what happened.

Then there is this:
Q: More than once a leader from Hamas or the government or even from Qassam comes forward and tells us of the existence of important documents critical of Fatah leaders, but still nothing has been published. What is the reason for that? Is this a public relations stunt?

A: We did indeed obtain a lot of documents pertaining to a number of Fatah leaders, and some of them we had obtained even before the decisive military determination (meaning before the capture of the two main Fatah-linked security headquarters buildings), and some of those have been turned over to Egyptian authorities via Dr Musa abu Marzouq. And during the final military determination we obtained many [other] documents confirming the involvement of the coup faction (Dahlan's groups) in illegal activities, and there are recordings and documents of a serious nature that [point to] a threat not only to Palestine, but that threaten Arab national security as a whole!

Q: Is it possible for you to disclose to us any part of those documents?

A: These documents belong to the leadership of the movement and to the government, so it is not up to us (Qassam Brigades) to disclose any of it. I'm sure the leadership of the movement will publish these documents at the appropriate time.
For my part, I think it is only logical to think the issue of these documents is connected to overall Hamas strategy. And perhaps it is possible to read the following exchange partly in that way. The questioner asks "Abu Hamza" what they are going to do about the blockade, and he replies: "The blockade won't last long!..." arguing among other points that Gaza is enough of a military threat to Israel to discourage provocation. And he adds this:
On another point, we are relying a lot on Egypt, which doesn't have any important role in Lebanon, or in Iraq, and whose regional role is limited to Palestine, and if it lost that it would become like any other country, so it wants to retain that role. Moreover, Egypt is determined to retain a [good] relationship with the powerful factions in Gaza, so as to retain security on its border. As for our facing up to the blockade--we will face it with more than people imagine!

Q: Do you have a forward scenario ?

A: The only possibility in front of everyone is a political solution, and Hamas is in possession of strong cards [to exert] pressure, for breaking the blockade, and for arriving at another Gaza in the West Bank.

"The Western program for Lebanon"

There has been an intensive round of talks in Paris involving Lebanese president Siniora, Condoleeza Rice, Ban Ky Moon, Amru Musa, Sarkozy, and a large supporting cast of notables and informants. Insofar as the talks dealt with Lebanon, the Western press including the Lebanese paper the Daily Star, says these talks are mainly about re-affirmations of Western support for the Siniora government. The Lebanese opposition newspaper Al-Akhbar says there is a lot more to it than that, explaining that the talks are noteworthy for the way they "shed light on the Western program that has been set for Lebanon". The main point is that reports of various talks indicate there is a plan to get UN authorization for an expansion or a change in the mandate for the UNIFIL forces that would involve them along the Lebanon-Syria border, and perhaps change their rules of engagement. The initial step in this, having the UN send "experts in border security" to monitor the Lebanon-Syria border
...was the principal topic in the conversation yesterday in Paris between president Siniora and US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice....Sources close to Siniora said the conversation centered on the need to make the question of border-security with Syria the focus of efforts in the coming weeks.
It wasn't the only indication of things to come.
Paris has been the scene of noteworthy communications pointing in the direction of what [Lebanese culture minister] Tareq Mitri called "the need for changes in the principles of operation of the special [UN] forces in the South", a formulation that gave rise to...statements about the danger of [an attempted] exploitation of the criminal attack on a Spanish unit for the purposes of changing the rules of engagement for UNIFIL.
Yet another indication of what the West has in mind was provided by
...a source close to the Elysee Palace who said [describing talks between siniora and Sarkozy]: "The talks started out about Lebanon, but suddenly switched to Darfur, which reflects the French anxiety that the situation in Lebanon could explode, in the light of events on the ground there. The was discussion of the multilateral force proposed for Darfur, and that makes the issue of securing the Lebanon-Syria border the topic for the next round."
But the journalist seems to think the really tell-tale remark came from culture minister Mitri. He writes:
But the new point was what minister Mitri explained about Siniora studying with the UN secretary general conditions on the border with Syria. Mitri stressed: "The aims of Unifil open the door to talking about the entire security situation in Lebanon." And he said he sees the recent attack in the south as requiring a revision of the rules of engagement for UNIFIL... We have learned that the remarks of Mitri have triggered alarm in military and political circles, where it is pointed out that the daily operations of the UN force are defined in an agreement signed with the Lebanese army, so doesn't concern others.
And in the same vein, he says the UN forces in the south are starting to talk about the need for expanded powers. The journalist reminds readers of the complicated domestic-Lebanese negotiations that took place at the end of the Israeli attack last summer setting out the limited powers of the UN force. The idea is that Rice, Sarkozy and others appear to be engaged in a plan to upset that equlibrium, in the interests of creating a bigger foreign military presence in Lebanon, and even (as the Elysee source perhaps inadvertently indicated) seeing Lebanon through the lens of Darfur.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Contradicting the Sharm el-Sheikh story

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak made remarks in a speech on Egyptian television yesterday implicitly contradicting what was supposed to be the pro-Fatah, pro-Abbas gist of the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

Mubarak said Egypt supports all the Palestinians, and that differences between Fatah and Hamas are their own affair, and weren't any concern of the summit. He stressed the danger of the isolation which Gaza is being subjected to, and of any idea of an Israeli attack on Gaza, or of any idea of separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. He said we have to rely on time to calm the situation, and to permit the resumption of discussions between the two movements. To further underline his arms-length relationship with the Israelis, Mubarak said he challenged them to start peace talks with Syria.

The above is how Al-Hayat summarized the TV talk.

Moreover, an official Egyptian source told Al-Hayat that the same theme dominated the discussions between Mubarak and the Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who stopped off yesterday at Sharm el-Shaikh in the midst of his current Europe-Arab tour for talks with Mubarak. The Egyptian official said
The two leaders talked about how to contain the situation between Fatah and Hamas, the efforts that will be required to make Palestine whole again, and the means for getting the two groups to the discussion-table.
The two also talked about Lebanon, and interestingly, with respect to Lebanon too, they talked about the need to "preserve its national unity". (This is an implicit reference to concerns that America and others may be trying to split that country apart too, with the idea that a Christian dominated federal unit in the north could be a useful regional foothold for America and others, an issue that is so far not much talked about). But the gist of the Saudi-Egyptian summit of yesterday, according to this Egyptian-based account, was to show that the two countries stand shoulder-to-shoulder against any moves that would split Palestine.

Mubarak, in his TV address, went so far as to address the commonplace idea that Egypt-Saudi relations are in the doldrums. He said that isn't so, and he explained:
Our relationship is solid....We both welcome any agreement that leads to peace and stability in any region, whether Saudi Arabia works for it, or Egypt. We understand each other perfectly.
All of which is by way of showing that whatever the US-mandated rhetoric for international consumption at Sharm el-Sheikh two days ago, Egypt (along with Saudi Arabia), for the domestic audience at any rate, is emphatically not on board with the idea of punishing Hamas, splitting Palestine, or creating a Fatah-only Palestinian negotiating unit for the supposed peace talks.

You'd think nice sentiments like preserving national unity would be grist for the corporate media's mill, and you wouldn't have to go to a blog called Missing Links to read about it, but there you are. News gets filtered out of the corporate media not because it is shocking--it can be the nicest things in the world. It just has to be against the party line.

Pressure for action against Hamas to continue with a joint Mukhabarat meeting next week with America

After the speeches were over, the Sharm el-Sheikh get-together ended with a number of private chats between participants, including one between Olmert and Mubarak, about which the Al-Akhbar reporter has this to say:
It was clear that Mubarak was accompanied in his talk with Olmert by key people in the Egyptian state [including the Prime Minister, ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Information] and also the head of the Mukhabarat, Omar Suleiman. Egyptian and Western sources told Al-Akhbar that Olmert asked Mubarak to set up a joint mechanism for border surveillance between Egypt and Israel...And auhorities who participated in the talk said Olmert criticized the control of Hamas over Gaza, and said he was commited to self-control, adding that he didn't take military measures in response to Mubarak's request, but [he added that] his patience is running out and he is under pressure from [Israeli] military and security people who want him to take tough steps against Hamas. Olmert called for joint action by neighboring countries, particularly Egypt and Jordan, to end the Hamas control [of Gaza], warning them of the effects the rise of Hamas could have on the internal affairs of the two countries.
Elsewhere in its report, Al-Akhbar notes that
Although the summit didn't announce any official measures against Hamas, it did refer files to a meeting of the heads of the Mukhabarat of the four participants, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, to be held next week with American participation.
Back to the description of the bilateral talks that ended the Sharm el-Shaikh get-together, the Al-Akhbar reporter says:
It is indicated that after meeting with Mubarak, Olmert met with [Abbas], and Western sources said the discussion was characterized by clarity, and by sharpness [or vehemence] from time to time. They said Olmert castigated Abu Mazen for his inability to control the situation and for allowing Hamas to take over Gaza in the way that it did in the space of a few hours.
Considering the fact that the supposed purpose of these meetings is to promote some kind of bonding between the Israeli and the Arab "leaders", this Al-Akhbar account indicates this strategy isn't really catching fire, and in fact Al-Akhbar leads its report with a sarcastic tone, reporting that
The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas received the green light from Israel to be on the move in the West Bank, which the Israeli Prime Minister promised to cause to "blossom forth", removing obstacles and restoring the situation to what it was before the year 2000, according to the PLO official responsible for negotiations, Saeb Ereqat....[Olmert] used the Sharm el-Sheikh pulpit to reward Abbas by referring to a new Switzerland in the flourishing West Bank, and to announce his determination to release 250 prisoners...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Suleiman to Haniyya: Ease up on the intelligence disclosures

The article in Al-Masriyoun, detailing intelligence information that sources said Hamas had turned over to Egyptian authorities (see prior post), appeared on the morning of Saturday June 23. This morning, the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar reports that the head of Egyptian intelligence Omar Suleiman phoned Haniyya later that day and asked him to go easy on the revelations because it was a problem for Egypt. The Al-Akhbar account (part of its overall curtain-raiser on the Sharm el-Sheikh summit starting today) fits the intelligence-disclosures issue into its story like this:
Egyptian diplomats said Cairo is going to again try to launch an initiative for discussions with Hamas, to include Fatah along with other Palestinian factions, as long as it is held in the Egyptian capital with the participation by representatives of Saudi Arabia, Syria and the EU. It is indicated that the head of Egyptian Mukhabarat, Omar Suleiman, made a rare telephone call the day before yestereday (that would be Saturday June 23) to [Haniyya]. Knowledgeable Arab sources say Suleiman asked Haniyya to stop the media campaign that had been launched against the PA and leaders of Fatah, indicating that Cairo was troubled by the disclosures recently by Hamas of certain documents and information relating to the operations of the Palestinian security apparatus and mukhabarat. And Egyptian authorities said Hamas is going to send a delegation to Cairo in the next couple of days to follow up on talks [already held] by the general secretary of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shalah, and his second, Ziyad al-Nakhala, with Omar Suleiman. [Meanwhile] Mubarak escalated his criticism of Hamas [calling the Gaza takeover a "coup" and warning of the results of a split Palestine]. And Mubarak stressed the support of Egypt for legality of the PA and its president Abbas...
The picture seems to be of a two-track process, with Mubarak continuing the US-mandated attack on Hamas, while the man who more likely actually runs things, Omar Suleiman, works the levers of power to try and bring Hamas back into the diplomatic process, in exchange for two things: (1) Hamas not further embarassing Egypt with the intelligence-leaks; and (2) the diplomatic boost of having an important conciliation meeting with Hamas and Fatah in Cairo, embellished diplomatically by the presence of representatives of Saudi Arabia, Syria and the EU.

This could be an important fly in the ointment for the US-Israel strategy of further isolation of Hamas.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Egyptian paper: Documents show Dahlan was working with AlQaeda with the idea of blaming trouble on Hamas

Hamas has turned over to the Egyptian authorities substantial parts of the intelligence information that fell into its hands when it overran the headquarters of Fatah-controlled security headquarters in Gaza on Thursday, according to what sources told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masriyoun. This is the first reported use of the information in question, which has been a topic of speculation.
The sources said the documents include information about the involvement of the group of Dahlan and Shabak in cooperating in an organized way with the Mukhabarat of Israel and America, including attempts to inundate Egypt with drugs smuggled from Israel via Gaza, and the distribution of hundreds of thousands of counterfeit dollars in tourist areas of Sinai, to damage tourism in the area.

The documents also refer to the role of Dahlan in inciting Bedouins of Sinai to threaten to support Israeli policy, and to involve their people in smuggling members of "terrorist organizations" into Sinai to undertake operations against tourist installations there, both to hurt Egyptian tourism for the benefit of Israeli tourism, and also to cause trouble between Egypt and Hamas on the assertion that these persons were followers of Hamas.

The sources said the documents also show that Dahlan commissioned a large number of Fatah people to work in other Arab countries, including Egypt, to gather intelligence which was passed on to Mossad and to the Mukhabarat of America. And that he gave orders for wiretapping the Egyptian mission in Gaza and its communications with Cairo, and of an Egyptian security delegation, in addition to his involvement in the kidnapping of a member of that delegation last year, Hissam Muwassali later released as a result of Egyptian pressure.

The documents also show the involvement of Dahlan in bringing down a number of top Hamas people, via placing of advanced electronic equipment usable by Israeli planes to determine their location and kill them, as happened in the case of Ahmed Yasin, Dr Abdulaziz al-Rantisi and others. And his involvement with Mossad in administering slow poison to Yasser Arafat in order to eliminate him.
And the journalist says the sources say the evidence also points to spying on Egyptian forces in Sinai, and to a plan that Dahlan was involved in to assasinate Prime Minister Haniya on his return to Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt last December, to embarass the Egyptian authorities and cause trouble between them and Hamas.
The newspaper adds this is consonant with information it published a few days ago (June 19) reporting on information published by Middle East Newsline", (apparently referring to this item) which described Egyptian authorities as having become convinced that Dahlan was involved in operations against Egyptian national security, by cooperation with AlQaeda people in undertaking operations against tourist installations in Sinai. And he refers to more general statements about the content of these documents made yesterday by Khalil al-Haya, a senior Hamas person.


Abbas fired his director of internal security, Rashid abu Shabak, who was the highest-ranking security official in the Gaza Strip, and according to Al-Quds al-Arabi, sources say Shabak could now be appointed ambassador to Cairo. Shabak had been appointed director of internal security following the Hamas electoral victory in 2006. He was continually at loggerheads with Hamas people, who accuse him of having caused the failure and resignation of two ministers of the interior, Saed Sayyam and more recently Hani Qawasami. Hamas had repeatedly asked Abbas to get rid of Shabak, and in fact prior to the recent events in Gaza, Shabak had tendered his resignation, but Abbas refused to accept it. Security sources in Ramallah said they think Jabril al-Rajoub will be appointed his successor. Rajoub, a top Fatah person, has served as preventive security chief in the West Bank, and was once national security adviser to Arafat.

Here comes the part about Dahlan:
The firing of Shabak is the first sign of weakened prestige of Mohammed Dahlan, Abbas' top security person, and of his diminished influence in the security apparatus, because Shabak was extremely close to Dahlan, and in fact many people say it was Dahlan who pressured Abbas to appoint [Shabak] to his position [as director of internal security].

It is still too early to say with certainty what will be the extent of Dahlan's power, or weakness as the case may be, or his status vis-a-vis Abbas. That is something that will only become clear with the announcement of the new membership of the National Security Council, where some Fatah sources say Abbas is resisting external pressure, and American [pressure] in particular, to name Dahlan general secretary of the new council.
Implying that Dahlan is still Washington's man. In which case you would have to ask again: What was it Dahlan oversaw for them in the Gaza Strip, was it as everyone says, a humiliating defeat, or was it, as far as Washington is concerned, something else?

A classic case of terrorists versus the forces of moderation

Al-Hayat says the head of Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian resistance organization, is in Cairo trying to promote the idea of re-establishing discussions between Fatah and Hamas. He is critical of both Hamas and Fatah, but he notes "there isn't any option but discussion". He says Arab governments should help foster this. So far, according to Al-Hayat, he has met with the assistant head of the Egyptian Mukhabarat, implying he isn't making much headway.

And in a similar vein,
[A leader of the Hamas contingent in the Palestinian Legislative Assembly] Khalil al-Haya told the Al-Hayat about ongoing discussions with brothers in Fatah including the former national security adviser Jabril al-Rajoub about guaranteeing the safety of Hamas leaders and their institutions in the West Bank. And he also referred to a meeting the day before yesterday between [a senior Fatah person in Gaza and a former Hamas cabinet minister] to discuss the situation in Gaza, pointing out [however] that the whole political situation is frozen.
Khalil al-Haya said the responsibility for what happened in Gaza:
...rests with those who failed to control the exterminating wing of the Fatah movement, the wing supported by Israel and America, and allowed them free rein to carry out their plans...
Khalil al-Haya specifically referred to an attempt to get Fatah leadership to sit down with Hamas people to "bridge the gap" between the factions, but the former Fatah national security adviser Rajoub declined to comment, remarking only that "Blood is still hot".

So there are attempts by Palestinian leaders to try and mend relations between the two factions. But among the "axis of moderates" the momentum is in the opposite direction.

To take one account, according to Al-Akhbar, the axis of moderates is moving in the direction of military confrontation. The paper says on its front page this morning
It appears a decision on a "decisive counterattack" against Hamas in Gaza is being taken on more than one level and in more than one regional, and international meeting. In spite of the measures that are being taken daily by the emergency government and the PLO to tighten the political blockading of Hamas, the military side of the question is still on the table. And that is what Olmert will be putting to [Abbas, Mubarak, and King Abdullah of Jordan] at the Sharm el-Sheikh this coming Monday. American and other Western diplomatic sources in Cairo told Al-Akhbar that draft American-Israeli plan will be under discussion at the summit and this will include a number of security and political measures to prevent Hamas from continuing its control of the Gaza Strip. The sources said Olmert will be pressuring the Arabs to give him the chance for limited military intervention to include hitting the Hamas infrastructure and ending its control, and [the sources add that] Israel has a plan to target Hamas leaders...

Friday, June 22, 2007

A planned result ?

Mohammed Dahlan, seemingly politically unfazed by the recent events, said in a Reuters interview that Hamas "fell into a trap" laid by Israel when it took control of the Gaza Strip. There isn't any elaboration on how the trap was set, and certainly there isn't any indication of Dahlan's role or that of anyone else in particular.

Charles Levinson, at, who talked to a number of Fatah fighters in Gaza following their defeat, 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.
Levinson goes out of his way to point out there are any number of good reasons for the defeat from a military point of view, but certainly the Dahlan remark about the "trap" does correspond quite nicely with Levinson's observation that during the crutial time "the [Fatah] political leadership remained eerily silent."

If the Hamas victory was one "surprise", the second "surprise" wasn't long in coming, in the form of Abbas' immediate "firing" of Prime Minister Haniya, estblishment of an "emergency" government, and denunciation of Hamas as terrorist killers with the aim of setting up a takfiiri emirate. This is much more the language of Washington than that of Ramallah. Two back-to-back "surprises"...

Then there is the point about US policy. The US-authored "Action Plan" of February talked about the need to re-affirm Abbas and Fatah as the "center of gravity of the Palestinian leadership", via security, economic, and political means, so as to make sure that his international support didn't continue to decline as a result of the Mecca-accord on a unitary government with Hamas. None of the specific "action" points in the Action Plan came to fruition--not optimism respecting talks with Israel; not quick-fix economic development; not even Fatah control of security. So faced with that, it is reasonable to assume that the Washington-Israel-Fatah people had given some thought to an alternative that would promote the same ultimate end: ensuring international support for the Fatah leadership, and also promoting the same ultimate end of isolating Hamas economically, politically and with respect to security.

Logic suggests what happened could well have been the result of a deliberate policy choice. Dahlan in fact says it was that, when he says Hamas fell into an Israeli-laid trap. And the Levinson interviews with surviving Fatah fighters suggest they feel that way too.

And the "intelligence debacle" first reported, in alarmist tones, by the disinformation site DebkaFile? While subsequent remarks by Hamas people suggest there was in fact some intelligence leakage, it is also possible that in the overall picture, we can identify the particular disinformation-purpose served by the Debka scoop: To make the Fatah defeat look like something truly unexpected and not planned beforehand.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The wrong road for Palestine

Khaled al-Hroub is a Palestinian academic at Cambridge in the UK, author of a recent book called Hamas for Beginners, host of a book-review show on Al-Jazeera and a regular contributor to newspapers including al-Hayat. Today in that paper he warns against the effects of allowing the Gaza/West Bank separation to continue. First of all, he says, it will be in Israel's interest to see the separation continued, and Israel will almost certainly be working toward that end. The reason is that the separation sets up a set of problems for the Palestinians to solve that have nothing to do with their traditional nationalist aspirations, and that if continued will eventually undermine those aspirations. Putting the argument another way, he says the "national issue" will be transformed into the mere aim of re-uniting Gaza with the West Bank under a common leadership, completely and utterly separated from the issue of liberation from the Israeli occupation.

Secondly, he says, the Israeli screaming about being "surrounded" by "Hamastan" on the south and Hizbullah on the north is nothing but an exaggeration to beef up foreign support. Israel knows full well that the last thing on the minds of the Hamas administration in Gaza is sending rockets into Israel. Not only is Gaza exposed to Israeli attack by land, sea, and air, but if there were constraints in the West Bank about not hitting Abbas-related institutions, there will be no such constraints in Gaza. Hamas knows this, and in all liklihood it will concentrate on fostering domestic unity and forget about inciting Israel, at least in the coming period of time.

Thirdly, Hamas is going to have to use all of its efforts in fostering internal peace and stability, and in fact it appears one of its first tasks is going to be to try and encourage the release of the BBC person Alan Johnston, and then of the Israeli soldier Shalit, all in order to demonstrate to the ouside world that it is in control. And al-Hroub says it is likely that Israel, recognizing this, will avoid re-occupying Gaza with all of the problems that would bring with it, because the dynamics of the situation suggest that will not have any justification from a security point of view.

The fourth problem with continued separation is simply that the longer it lasts, and the longer the two sides stick to an attitude of no-dialogue and mutual accusations of illegality, the more this idea of separation will become confirmed or hardened (the word is takriis, literally meaning consecrate) and the harder it will be to eradicate. And it is already going to be hard enough to eradicate.

Other factors will be working in the same undesirable direction. Regionally, the two sides will be in the gravitational pull of the two "axes" (of "moderation" and the other "radical" one), so that will further militate against any movement toward unity. Similarly, and ironically, each will be in a position to have discussions with Israel, but not with each other. Fatah in the West Bank will talk to Israel directly, and Hamas in Gaza perhaps indirectly. Because the writer says on his reading of the situation, Israel will in fact be willing and even anxious to see to the survival of Gaza as an entity independent of the West Bank, for many of the above-mentioned reasons.

What lies at the end of that road, al-Hroub says, is a three-state solution, one strong Israeli state, and two weak Palestinian ones.
What all this comes down to is that [if things go the way they are going] the concept and the dream of an independent, unified, Palestinian state will become unattainable, and the whole idea of either a two-state or a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian question will gradually be replaced by the three-state idea. In the push-and-pull of all of these internal divisions, the culture of Palestinian rights will gradually weaken as a national issue, to be replaced by issues relating to internal struggles...

Avoiding this result would require [persons of] enormous capacity, such as we are not currently blessed with, for feeling their responsibility to the nation, something that is now a lifeless corpse, and for putting this responsibility ahead of party-egoism.
Just to get you started thinking about this, he says there are two conditions: The first is for the leadership on the Hamas side to decide whether it is better, for the national cause, to unite Gaza with the West Bank even if this means leadership that Hamas sees as corrupt, or to keep Gaza separate and thus free from such [corrupt] leadership. And likewise for Fatah to decide whether it would be better, for the national cause, to join the West Bank with Gaza even if that meant Hamas leadership in Gaza, or to keep them separate. To the writer, the right answers are obvious.

His second condition is this: The rules of political engagement should be changed to make it clear that it is politicians who are responsible for discussing and deciding on political questions. We can't go on having these situations where politicians on one side are answered by the military wing on the other side, and so on back and forth, until the political content of the issue is completely obscured. For instance, where were the politicians when members of the respective military wings commited the outrages that we all saw on our television screens in the last few days?

That's his analysis. Obviously it deals with the behavior of the Palestinian political class, and it doesn't deal with any ideas of change "from below" such as a West Bank intifada or anything like that, so that has to be understood. But taken on its own terms, I think this is an edifying view of the problems that led to this result, and the dangers of allowing this situation to continue.

US military policy

Global Policy Forum has a wide-ranging report criticising US-led military actions in Iraq for attacking cities, killing civilians, destroying cultural heritage, and so on. Bernhard at Moon of Alabama calls particular attention to Section 6 of the report, on attacking cities, with its description of walling off cities, forced evacuation, cutting off water, heavy bombardment, blockage of media coverage, attacks on medical facilities, civilian casualties, and on and on. Bernhard recalls the term "urbicide" was coined for this type of operation in Bosnia, and in the West Bank. The GPF report deals with this and other issues mainly under the rubric of violations of international law. And in a similar vein, Robert Farley at Lawyers Guns and Money says the US now appears to have gone back to "pointless and destructive" sweep operations, writing:
Part of the point of the Surge was to allow the possibility for traditional counter-insurgency operations, in which insurgents were forced to launch their own offensives against American forces, and consequently be destroyed. This was, given the trivial size of the Surge compared to what Petraeus own counter-insurgency manual demanded, a forlorn hope. That the US has apparently returned to pointless and destructive sweep operations may be a recognition of that within the command structure. These operations are emotionally satisfying, but by and large have never worked, and almost inevitably cause more damage than they prevent.
It is sometimes pointed out that the increasing reliance on this kind of massive use of force is contrary to the principles laid down in the famous counterinsurgency manual 3-24 attributed to General Petraeus himself. The idea being that operations have deviated from policy.

However, there is another way of looking at this, namely that policy itself has entered a new phase.

When counterinsurgency expert Andrew Krepinevich briefed congressional staffers back in February, he ran through strategic approaches including what is called "counterinsurgency best practices" (the manual, in other words). He also said there were other approaches, and we can glean only this much from the bullet-point outline which has come down to us:

The Roman Model: Massive retaliation
Strategy: Rome creates a desert and calls it peace
Success Rate: Very high
Examples: Britain revolt c 60 AD; Israelite revolt c 70 AD
US adaptibility: Low. Owing to US political culture, it is unlikely the Roman model would apply, except in the most dire of circumstances.
The first point is that if the only bulwark against recourse to this kind of a scorched-earth strategy is "US political culture", without reference to international law, then it isn't really that remote. And secondly, we have to consider the possibility that what Krepinevich called "only the most dire of circumstances" is in fact, from the Bush-administration point of view, already upon us. (There is a discussion of the Krepinevich briefing and a gloss by another political scientist at the earlier post here called Flim-flam and its two prior posts).

In other words: The growing use of massive force in civilian environments may not be attributable just to excesses in particular cases, but rather to policy. People seem to be losing sight of the distinction. But recall that torture was also attributed to particular individual cases, and we still haven't gotten to the bottom of that policy scandal either.

Al-Quds al-Arabi reports on the Gaza intelligence bonanza

Hamas sources told Al-Quds al-Arabi that the treasure-trove of intelligence documents that fell into their hands, with the takeover of the Gaza headquarters of Palestinian Preventive Security and General Intelligence, are in the custody of the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. But Hamid al-Raqt, Hamas spokesman in Khan Yunis, said there is an agreement with the Hamas political leadership not to use these in any way that would denigrate any Palestinian official or Arab or foreign intelligence agency, so as not to worsen tensions with the outside world. However:
He stressed that it will be possible to disclose some of this to specific sectors of the Palestinian people in order to give them a clear picture of what was going on in the preventive security and the intelligence operations in Gaza... And in spite of his insistence that these documents would not be used to denigrate any Palestinian official or foreign agency, so as to avoid increasing tensions with the outside world, he did say that the documents in the control of Hamas show conclusively that the Palestinian security [organizations] were not subordinated to the [Palestinian] Authority in the way that they were subordinated to foreign Mukhabarat agencies. He refused to name the foreign agencies except to mention British intelligence.
The Al-Quds al-Arabi reporter then refers to the Debkafile article (scroll to June 17) for a description of the scope of the foreign connections, noting they referred to cooperation with US, British and Israeli intelligence. The reporter notes that the connection of that website to Israeli intelligence, and the fact that the article appeared 48 hours after Hamas had taken control of all of the Gaza Strip. And he conveys to his Arab readers the gist of the Debkafile cry of alarm over this intelligence "debacle", stressing its unprecedented scope, and the fact that in major turnovers like this in history, for instance at the end of WWII and the fall of Communism, at least there was some attempt by the custodians of the files to destroy some of them, while in this case it appears that no such attempt was made, and the whole archive is in the hands of Hamas, thus potentially in the hands of Iran and Syria too.

And apart from the Debka article, this Al-Quds reporter says,
...people are talking about the capture by Hamas of an advanced American setup for wiretapping and surveillance operating out of those two headquarters in Gaza, and it is possible that Hamas will be able to use this in the very near future. And they could transfer it to Syria or Iran who are prepared to buy it for a lot of money in order to understand what has gone on in the past and what is going on at the present time. And in addition to that, Hamas took possession of an advanced American-British intelligence-apparatus system that Palestinian intelligence was using, in addition to millions of documents...
And so on and so forth. I think the significance of this Al-Quds al-Arabi piece is that first of all it provides some confirmation from the Hamas side that there was in fact a very significant intelligence coup for Hamas; secondly that Hamas apparently intends to make very selective use of it (the Hamas person talked about using it to educate Palestinians about what was going on; the reference to possible marketing to Syria or Iran is apparently from the Debka side of the story); and finally that this involves not only documents but also sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment and systems.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

These be your Gods, O Israel

The somewhat biblical-sounding plan to use US funding to convert the West Bank into a land flowing with milk and honey, as a lesson to the stiff-necked recalcitrants in Gaza, probably won't work, knowledgeable people think. Naturally, the corporate media are willing to give the plan a chance, emphasizing the cleverness of the concept. See "US Unfreezes millions in aid to Palestinians." But in order for this to work, Israel would have to ease its stranglehold on the movement of goods and people, in effect sharing in a storybook atmosphere of confident happiness and detente, not to mention the fact that corruption and incompetence would have to come to a miraculous end. Mark Perry of Conflicts Forum writes:
So here is what will happen. The United States will fail to deliver. Some money will trickle in, but not nearly enough. The little that does trickle in will be spent unwisely. Israeli may remove some outposts, but only a few, and the settlements will continue to expand and settler roads will continue to be built and Palestinians will continue to die. Israelis will die too. A Palestinian security guard will be trained and it will march smartly through the streets of Ramallah. If it should exchange fire with a militia led by Hamas it will just as smartly be defeated. And if there is an election in “Fatahstine,” Hamas will win, while at the White House, Tony Snow will talk about how the outcome was engineered in Tehran. And nineteen months from now, in the waning days of the Bush Administration — with American foreign policy in tatters — Elliott Abrams and Keith Dayton will proudly stand alongside a smiling President Bush as he honors them, the newest recipients of the Medal of Freedom.
Others think the milk-and-honey strategy may not in fact be at the top of the list of priorities of the American and Israeli strategists.

Rather, the priority is going to be the military overthrow of the Hamas city-state in Gaza, Al-Quds al-Arabi says in its lead editorial this morning.
We don't think the basic aim [of the US, Europe and Israel] is the application of the decisions of international law...or the alleviation of the suffering of nine million Palestinians in the territories and the diaspora. Rather the aim is the protection of the Jewish state and the conversion of the Palestinian Authority in its new form into another border army, on the model of South Lebanon. And that's why we feel skepticism about this unprecedented generosity--unprecedented as to the manner of it, and and as to its amount and its timing. Because it is clear that the first priority of the emergency government and of the security force that it is re-structuring, will be a coup against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The editorialist says the dissolution (reported this morning) of the Palestinian National Security Council, and the Fatah consideration of charges against Dahlan for dereliction and deception and so on, are being wrongly interpreted as a climb-down from the attitudes of the Dahlan era, when in fact thes is the first step toward the re-creation of an anti-Hamas campaign. The editorialist writes:
[In fact] measures aimed at a coup against the Hamas city-state in the Gaza Strip have started to accelerate, now that there is abundant funding for the re-enlistment of those angry and insulted by the quick Hamas victory, and for purchasing the loyalty of other politicians and their organizations, outside of Fatah. [Not elaborated on].

The question is really one of time and timing. Abbas and his Palestinian advisers, with the support of their Western counterparts, are now going to have to concentrate on getting things on the rails on the military and political side of things, to put an end of the Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, as in fact Mr Abbas himself said in his speech on the appointment of the Prime Minister of the new emergency government.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Economics for the 21st century

From today's Al-Quds al-Arabi:
[We] learned from sources working for NGOs in Palestine yesterday that they have received from the USAID organization a request for them to present large-scale project proposals for financing [by USAID] in the West Bank on an accelerated basis. According to these sources, USAID ...requested, less than 12 hours after the appointment of Dr Salam Fayadh to form an emergency government, ideas for huge projects to be carried out in the West Bank, on condition that these projects be capable of showing quick results in the life of people in the West Bank and that they involve large numbers of Palestinian workers. The sources told [us] that these are [supposed to be] projects in which it will be apparent that there is large-scale American funding for improvements in the life of the people of the West Bank, and that this [American connection to the quick improvements] should be readily apparent to the eye and tangible on the ground....
And lest there be any doubt, these NGO sources spelled out the political content of this:
The sources said what is being asked of them is to convince the people of the West Bank that they are fortunate having the government of Fayadh and the decision of Abbas to form this government, in contrast to Hamas which controls Gaza. Concerning the possibility of carrying out any projects in the Gaza Strip, sources who asked not to be identified by name said they are being told it is not allowed to let even one dollar reach the Gaza Strip.
The sources said the USAID office in Tel Aviv will be busy with formulating details for this today and in the days to come. The reason these need to be projects with short-term tangible effects to influence the results of the elections Abbas and his handlers hope to call soon.

Hijacking of economic aid to serve the anti-Hamas agenda isn't new. In the document headed "Action Plan" (of US authorship, written sometime in February of this year) published in the Jordanian paper Al-Majd last month, there is an elaborate set of plans for enhancing the strength and reputation of the Abbas group at the expense of the elected Hamas government, and the scheme was exactly the same then as it is now: Using a variety of means to bolster Fatah and weaken Hamas, ahead of hoped-for new elections in fall 2007. In particular, the Action Plan document included this:
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas should propose, in consultation with the World Bank and the European Union, a plan that defines specific sectors and projects that are in need of financing, and that will show useful and tangible results on the ground in the space of six to nine months, centering on the alleviation of poverty and unemployment. And since some projects will take more than nine months, there should be a guarantee of adequate results within the nine months. This is so as to guarantee the usefulness of these projects before the elections.
So the plan isn't new at all, in fact the new geographic/political separation of Gaza from the West Bank makes it easier to implement. Or you could put it another way. The reason these "huge projects" are only being launched now, and not at the time of the February Action Plan could well be this: At the earlier time, it was possibly seen as too difficult to wall off Fatah/Abbas bailiwick from that of Hamas. And on that line of thinking, the Gaza-WestBank split could be seen as representing a positive factor (planned or unplanned) in the overall American/Israeli scheme.

It is worth noting that apart from the efforts of Conflicts Forum and War in Context (with an honorable mention from Tony Karon), the Action Plan document, important as it is, was boycotted not only by the corporate media but by the "progressive" blogosphere as well.

The point being that the Gaza events are generally seen another catastrophic defeat for the Bush administration (followed by remedial plans such as these seat-of-the-pants economic projects), while in point of fact the events in Gaza could just as well be seen as something (planned or unplanned) facilitating the implementation of a pre-existing plan.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Intro to Hamas-Jordan relations

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal met at his home in Damascus with a Jordanian writer by the name of Nahid Hattar, who summarizes what Meshaal said in an article on the Jordanian news-site This can probably be taken as an a indicator of Hamas strategy with respect to Jordan, currently a timely issue. So even though the background will be a little hazy to those of us not up to speed on Jordanian politics, it is worth trying to at least review what the issues are.

Following the creation of Israel in 1948, the West Bank was annexed by Jordan, until it was taken by Israel in the 1967 war, following which (in 1988) Jordan officially relinquished its claim to the West Bank. There had been a wave of Palestinian immigration following the 1948 war, and there was another wave following the 1967 war, and to make a long story short, from a Jordanian-establishment point of view, the current demographic split of around one-half Palestinian is a cause for anxiety, while for many Jordanians of Palestinian origin, there are too many indications of of Palestinian under-representation in Jordanian institutions. And this is coupled with the fact that the resistance movement Hamas in Palestine shares a common origin with the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.

The gist of what Meshaal told his Jordan-establishment interlocutor was this: We (the Palestinian resistance) have no interest in changing or pressuring the Jordanian establishment. The rights we are looking for are rights of Palestinians in Palestine, not anywhere else. So there should not be any anxiety along those lines, and you should not use that kind of anxiety as a reason to withhold your support from us. Conversely, if we are not supported by Jordan and others, and if the Palestinian movement collapses, then indeed Jordan will have a problem, because then there will be a third and much bigger and more overwhelming wave of Palestinians moving from the West to the East Bank of the Jordan river, and this could bring with it major problems for the Jordanian establishment.

Meshaal said--and Nahid Hattar reports the remarks with approval--that there is a good reason why Hamas has not had the record of clashes and confrontations that Fatah has had in the past with Jordan or other Arab regimes. He said
Hamas believes in the Arab nature of the Palestinian cause and is intent on perpetuating friendly relations with all Arabs, particularly Jordan which is closest to it in geography and demography. Hamas is intent on being a new model for the Palestinian movement, focusing on fighting the Israeli enemy only... [lack of comment about the Gaza confrontation with Fatah suggests this conversation took place before that happened]...And among the Arab roles in the Palestinian cause, the most important remains that of Jordan simply because Jordan will be the most affected, after Palestine itself, by the Palestinian cause and the Zionist threat.

The dissolution of the Palestinian cause would affect the Jordanian nation to its core. Because the Zionist project is based on the idea of expelling and displacing the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian demands to east of the Jordan river. And this is something that puts Jordan--quite apart from questions of day-to-day management--in a situation of direct confrontation with Israel. ...
The "peace process" is at a dead-end; the constraints imposed on residents of the West Bank ensure that there will soon be a third Intifada; and when that happens, said Mashaal, Hamas will be in the forefront. So it is time for Jordan and Hamas to coordinate their views.

Here Mashaal returns to the theme that under Hamas leadership, Palestine and the Palestinian cause will be no threat to Jordan's internal stability.
Hamas has absolute loyalty to the historic legitimacy of the Jordanian state-structure and rejects any tampering with it. Hamas rejects the "alternate state" concept; and it is critical of the "inadequate rights" movement (Palestinians for more rights in Jordan). Because the rights of Palestinians, wherever they are and under whatever conditions, are in Palestine and only in Palestine.
Mashaal rebutted in detail suggestions that Hamas could pose any security threat to Jordan, and he took up also the issue of Iran, stressing that while Hamas accepts help from whatever Arab or Islamic sources it can, the Iranian help doesn't mean Hamas is "part of any 'axis' in opposition to any other 'axis'". He says Hamas' participation in the Mecca accord was one demonstration of its independence from any Iranian party-line. And Hamas' support for the Sunni resistance in Iraq, along with its criticism of the Saddam execution, is another. As for the suspicions of Hamas support for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, Mashaal said their common ground is in the area of ideology only. Organizationally they are completely separate, and Hamas has no desire to influence the Jordanian Ikhwan.

The interview, at least according to this report of it, didn't get into questions of what specifically Hamas thinks Jordan could do to help the Palestinian cause. (And anyway, as noted above, it appears this conversation took place before the recent events in Gaza). Rather, it is more of a position piece in which Hamas lays out for the Jordanian establishment its view of the Palestine-Jordan relationship: Over and above any day-to-day accomodations you have to make to Israel, fundamentally we are in the same boat, because if Palestine is happy, then you are secure, but if Palestine collapses then you will see an Eastward migration across the river and this will inevitably bring about a security threat such as you haven't seen before.

(This piece in was flagged by a Jordanian blogger whose view is that this represents a good example of the Machivellian scheming of Hamas, selling out in this way the interests of the Jordanian-Palestinians in the interests of trying to win over the Jordanian government; and the Jordanian blog in turn was flagged by Marc Lynch in one of his rare internet appearances as he struggles with the tyrannical Comcast for his right to broadband service in his new Washington home. We should support him. Otherwise I wouldn't have seen this).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Without Fatah-Hamas talks, the US and the West will likely escalate, re-arming Fatah

Director of the Egyptian Mukhabarat, Omar Suleiman, was angry and agitated when he learned on Wednesday of the unexpected and sudden rout of Fatah in the Gaza Strip, and he summoned Mohammed Dahlan, Rashid Abu Shabak and Samir alMashharawi, the three top Fatah security officials in Gaza, for what Al-Quds al-Arabi describes as a violent reprimand, demanding to know what happened to the millions of dollars in support that have been funneled to them, and accusing them of having deceived him about the situation in earlier meetings. Similarly in Ramallah, the reporter says Fatah officials were considering bringing unspecified charges against Dahlan and others for their behavior in this. Dahlan's excuse is that he was in Cairo for knee surgery so he was legitimately absent from the scene of these defeats. The other two are going to try to shift the blame to others, the journalist says. But it is important to note: The anger and the accusations have to do with the poor military and security performance, and there isn't any suggestion of any rethinking of the underlying strategy of confrontation.

On the contrary, Al-Quds al-Arabi says in its lead editorial, the expressions of willingness to negotiate have come from the Hamas side via statements by Haniya and Khalid Meshaal, the latter suggesting talks with Fatah under Arab sponsorship. By contrast, Fatah is being encouraged in its hard line rejection of talks by the United States, the European "quartet", and the Arab regimes. If this approach prevails, the editorialist says, the result will no doubt be a ratcheting up of the tension. He writes:
What is certain is that a deep rift has been created that will be difficult to bridge, and the Hamas victory in Gaza could well be the beginning of a long series of struggles, because this victory opens the door [to the United States and others] to converting the political support by America and the West for Abbas into military support in preparation for another confrontation, perhaps more bloody than the last. This will be particularly the case if their support is translated into actual new arms deals, and if the disillusion of some Fatah people can be re-recruited, this time into a fight against Hamas and not against Israel, thus diverting the Palestinian people and the resistance from its primary target, which is the occupation.
The only way to avoid this kind of escalation, says the editorialist, is for the two main factions, Hamas and Fatah, to resolve their differences by negotiation, but already Abbas' political advisor has tried to shut the door to that by saying Abbas won't negotiate with what he called putchists. In these circumstances, outside Arab parties need to intervene forcefully to sponsor such talks.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Another cartoon blockbuster !

The Lebanese paper Al-Safir leads with this on its front page this morning:
By design or under constraint, the Palestinians have entered into a dark tunnel, throwing the question of the Palestinian lands and the whole issue of the ummah into the unknown. The Hamas and Fatah movements had undertaken a war to the bitter end in Gaza...which ended with the complete control of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, and this has created a strategic situation that is new, and of unknown consequences for the Palestinians, for Arabs generally, and for Israel.
For instance, is it possible, as the Al-Quds al-Arabi editorialist suggests this morning, that Fatah's defeat in Gaza could trigger a purge of the "collaborationists" within the organization and a return to its nationalist traditions? Is Hamas going to be able to govern the Gaza Strip in any even-handed way? Another question that hasn't been explicitly raised is whether continued blind allegiance of the big Arab regimes to the US-Fatah-Israel policy will have any popular fallout in the region as a whole.

In short, there is good reason to talk about "unknown consequences". And by contrast this permits us to catch a glimpse of the breathtakingly clairvoyant self-assurance of the American commentators from top to bottom. Starting at the top, the NYT editorialist this morning says the US administration must intensify its existing policy of helping Fatah but pointedly not Hamas, something made much more convenient by the de facto geographic split. Simple.

Moving a little downscale, Matt Yglesias of the Atlantic Monthly has an equally firm grip on what these events clearly mean. He writes:
Deliberately initiating a proxy war and then having your proxy lose is really just incredibly shoddy. I've said before that we should hope for a Democratic Party that puts something better on the table than superior implementation of a Bush-esque worldview, but it really would be nice to see some better implementation.
Meaning: The policy of crushing the elected government of Hamas was botched and it should have been done in a less "shoddy" way; but on the other hand wouldn't it also be nice to have "something better on the table". Visionary meets party hack.

Laura Rozen, for her part, quotes a piece by someone called Ami Iseroff who says:
In Gaza, a relatively small force of Hamas Islamist extremists are liquidating the possibility of a two state solution and a secular Palestinian democracy. The tragedy is exemplified by two items....
Forgetting that Hamas won the election and that the US and Israel have been working to undermine it.

For all the differences, this looks to me a lot like the recent blockbuster Iraq cartoon feature. A wicked regime. The creation of a situation where in America it is politically risky to oppose the toppling of it in one way or another. Expertise-vendors getting set up with their black boxes. (And only later on, in a remote future, the realization that the nationalists have to be "brought into the process...")

But my point is also a more general one. In real life, up close, important and dramatic events don't just have predictable and one-dimentional implications. That's why I think some familiarity with Arab-language reporting is important for a well-rounded appreciation of what is going on in the region (slight ironic tinge there). Putting it another way, I think these two things go together: one-dimentional, self-assured bloviation on the one hand, and unquestioning support for the imperial regime on the other. It's one way of seeing past the "progressive" or "liberal" labels.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What next for Gaza

It is clear that Hamas fighters control Gaza and the remaining pockets of resistance will be surrendered within a fews days if not hours, Abdulbari Atwan writes. Fatah leaders have fled to safety in Cairo, and there isn't any motivation for their people to continue defending positions that are now without significance. The urgent question now is what will Hamas do once it has full control and has purged all of its enemies, and what will the million and a half Gazans do?

How will Hamas go about providing food, water, electricity, control of the border-crossings, dealing with the international community, provision of security, basic civil administration, fuel distribution, and all the events of daily life that are suddenly their responsibility following another collapse of general and preventive security?

First will come the withdrawal of Fatah ministers from the national-unity government, and perhaps also some of the independent ministers [including finance, foreign, and information portfolios], and this means the collapse of the government, although not of the PA itself, and it will also mean the almost complete severing of the relationship between Gaza and the West Bank. Secondly, there could well be a transfer of the fight between the two big factions (Hamas and Fatah) from Gaza to the West Bank, and there are already indications of this, because we have already witnessed Fatah people in control of Nablus and other West Bank cities, as if to say "You have Gaza, but we have control of the West Bank".

Third, it is possible Egypt will seal off its border with the Gaza Strip, and all assistance and help from the outside world will come to a halt, because Egypt doesn't want another experience (referring to 1967) of refugee camps on its border or within its territory...

Fourthly there is the question of how the victorious Hamas will deal with the other factions including Islamic Jihad, the popular resistance councils, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Brigades of Abu al-Rish, and the Islamic Army. Will Hamas deal with them, and if so to what extent and on what basis?

Fifth: Will Gaza become a Palestinian Hanoi or a Palestinian south-Lebanon, turning into a launching point for fierce resistance to Israel, and what will be the response, will there be a another occupation, or will the prior experience be repeated of rocket shelling on the prretext of wiping out Hamas? What is happening in Gaza is the height of madness and mistaken calculations, as if someone had carefully set a trap for Hamas, this national organization that bears the responsibility for the resistance, and has offered up hundreds of martyrs in recent years. ...

Certainly the army of agents recruited in recent years by the Israeli authorities will be enjoying its best days, with...pillaging and looting of houses and killing of women and children and old people, these despicable people whose aim is to trigger fitna and add fire to the oil, first of all making Paletinians hate the resistance and its factions, and then making Arabs generally hate the Palestinians, as a people lacking in responsibility, not deserving of a state, or even of life.

If the borders were opened to them, the Palestinian people, living this combination of terror and loathing would flee to Egypt, and even to the Jewish state, in search of security, now that the lives of their children are threatened by people who are their own flesh and blood, who embrace their religion and are called by their names, and whom in fact in the past they had elected to positions of authority.

Then, having assigned to the Palestinian leadership their full share of blame in this, Atwan continues and concludes as follows:
The days to come will be days of terror for everyone. The world that isolated Palestine, starved it, and refused to rrecognize its elected government, bears its share of the responsibility for what has happened, because it was incumbent on it to give Hamas a chance to govern, and it didn't do so. Even after Hamas compromised and gave up the important cabinet positions to Fatah, the blockade continued, on the orders of Israel and under pressure from the United States.

Gaza will gradually turn into a small failed state, and in failed states, large or small, extremism always develops and gathers strength. There is one hope for an exit from this terrifying situation, and it is if Hamas were to behave like Hizbullah, managing Gaza in an organized and rational way, providing a system based on discipline and fairness. The reason we are skeptical about this possibility isn't because it isn't possible, but because it will not be permitted to do so.

The security collapse in Gaza, threatening to spread to the West Bank if it hasn't already, raises some of the same old themes from the pre-1967 period: namely a confederation with Jordan [for the West Bank] and abandonment of Gaza to its chaos, because no one wants it, not even the Egyptians or the residents of Gaza themselves, having lived this state of terror under one roof with their brothers who are their enemies.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

War scheduling: "Syria first, then Iran"

It's well known that Syria and Hizbullah constitute deterrents against an otherwise much more likely Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear program, and that conversely, Iran is a deterrent to an attack on Syria and Hizbullah. Readings of US-Israeli intentions consequently have to focus on the question of balance and timing. Since at least the time of the Saudi-sponsored Mecca accord, which enjoyed a benevolent Syrian okay, and more recently with the reports and rumors of Israeli interest in negotiating the return of the Golan Heights, the weight of opinion seems to be that an attempt will be made to wean Syria away from its Iranian relationship as a necessary first step in dealing with Iran. In the words of Abdulbari Atwan in his Monday June 11 piece, the next war is supposed to be Shia versus Sunni, and Iran versus the Arab world, so they can't have Syria on the wrong side, hence the idea of using the Golan as a carrot.

The part about trying to break up the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah linkage is pretty much universally accepted, but Lebanese lawyer and former cabinet minister Issam Naaman says there is good reason to think Israel and the US are planning to go at this in a less-complicated way, namely via an Israeli war with Syria and Lebanon. (Naaman is the author of the April 19 op-ed that summarized what Lebanese think-tank types were able to glean from a round of US congressional junkets, notably the idea of false-flag AlQaeda schemes).

Naaman's argument has two parts: The first is that Iran and the US appear to have entered into discussions on an omnibus Iranian proposal for a regional settlement (he cites a Stratfor report of June 5 2007 on this which I haven't seen). There isn't any sign that this is going to come to fruition, he says, but still one of the implications is that no US or Israeli strike on Iran is likely in the near future, while these issues are being discussed between the US and Iran, and while the Bush administration pursues a longer-term pressure strategy including air and sea blockades.

By contrast, says Naaman, recent events are consistent with a run-up to an Israeli attack on Syria and/or Lebanon. Assuming failure to reach any wide-ranging agreement with Iran on stabilizing Iraq, the the writer says the US would again apportion blame to Syria, "and there is the fear that Israel would intervene with the Americans to convince them, if they weren't already convinced, to use force to split Syria off from its strategic alliance with Iran..." He says there are signs that Israel is moving toward a decisive clash with Syria, including military maneuvers in the occupied Golan Heights, and joint pilot training with the Americans. At the same time there has been a sudden change in the attitude of the Israeli prime minister Olmert, from opposition to any talks with Syria, to a proposal for returning the Golan in exchange for Syria's dropping support its alliance with Iran and Hizbullah. Naaman writes:
This shift in Olmert's attitude is interpreted by Arab and foreign observers and analysts as cover to create a sense of assurance in Syria, ahead of a military attack [on Syria] with the authorization of the Bush administration. ... And there is a fear that the events in Nahr al-Barid and Ain al-Hulwa, along with bombings [elsewhere in Lebanon], could be related to what Israel is planning against Syria and Lebanon. Even if the events and bombings are of Arab-Salafiya authorship, that doesn't prevent Israel from using them for its purposes...
Naaman says this reading of events underlines the need to contain the confrontations in the camps and the wave of bombings, so that it doesn't take on the scope of a civil war that could be used by Israel and its US sponsor as the occasion for its putative attack. His other practical point is the need to focus on the importance of the tripartite Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance as a bulwark against what Israel and the US have in mind.

There is a lot that I have left out of this summary, and some of it requires considerable regional and historical expertise to appreciate what he is getting at. But the gist of it is this: There is a plausible reading of current events in the region suggesting that the first aim of the Israel-US aggression will be not Iran, but Syria and/or Lebanon. And what I find peculiar is that while Naaman is able to say that this is a reading common to a lot of Arab and foreign analysts, for some reason this doesn't appear to have made it into the American papers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Gulf states and the attack on Iran

The Kuwaiti defence minister said in a statement that his country will not permit the United States the use of Kuwaiti territory in support of any strike against Iran. This is a statement worth paying attention to, says Al-Quds al-Arabi in its lead editorial, because of what it says and what it doesn't say. The first thing that occurs to one, says the editorialist, is that this seems to imply that a US strike on Iran is now a settled thing, and that discussions are going on with the states of the Gulf centering on the question of participation and/or support.
And the second question that occurs to one on hearing this is the question of the degree to which the Kuwaiti government will be able to reject an American request in this regard, given that there are defence treaties between Kuwait and the United States, and moreover Kuwait owes the expulsion of Iraqi forces to the United States.

The Kuwaiti attitude is a serious one, and it shows the clear opposition to any US military adventure against Iran, given what that could mean by way of changing the structure of the region and bringing about enormous destruction. But we have to remember that one-quarter of the surface area of Kuwait has been converted into a military camp that is the base for tens of thousands of American troops, and we know that the states of the Gulf that are host to US bases, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrein, and Saudi Arabia, have no power to intervene in how these bases are used, in fact they aren't permitted to find out what goes on within these bases, which are like states within a state.
Pre-2003, Saudi Arabia said it was closing the AlKharj base and wouldn't participate in any attack on Iraq, but afterwards we learned that not only was the country used to mass American troops (two bases in NW Saudi Arabia near the border were used by the troops that were to occupy Baghdad),but that the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar, learned of the invasion plan even before the US Secretary of State Colin Powell learned of them.
What is certain is that these types of statement by Gulf authorities (and there have been similar statements by the Qatar authorities), stressing lack of support for any attack on Iran, are intended to reassure Iran, and to win its love, because it is clear that any Iranian retaliation will target American bases and oil installations in the Gulf.

We do not believe that the small states of the Gulf, which are protected by the United States under strategic defence treaties, will have any ability to permit or not permit any specific use of their territory in the event the United States desides to strike Iran to take out its nuclear reactors and their infrastructure. Which doesn't mean they aren't entitled to express their point of view to try and placate Iran, given that words generally don't cost anything.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Christian approach

Amine Gemayel, a former President of Lebanon in the 1980s, and member of the founding family of the rightwing Christian party known as the Phalange, made statements on the weekend calling for a hard line on government policy respecting the Palestinian refugee camps. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have always been denied a number of civil rights including the right to become Lebanese citizens, and some have said the current crisis should serve as an occasion for revising those policies. The statements of Gemayel, echoing recent statements by other Christian spokesmen, are instead for a re-confirmation of the idea that the Palestinian refugees are not under any circumstances or conditions to be permitted to be naturalized, moreover those rights that were granted to the Palestinians under the so-called Cairo Agreement (1969 until its abrogation by Amine Gemayel when he was president in 1986), including the idea of autonomous Palestinian security apparatus within the camps, should not be reinstituted. Gemayel described the Palestinian camps in Lebanon as having become in many cases military camps, and in other cases as "nests of terrorists", and he said it is the responsibility of the Lebanese state to clean up the entire situation, suggesting military action not only in Nahr al-Barid, but in other camps as well.

In an interesting Rovian turn of phrase, Gemayel said:
While the current events don't indicate any organic connection between the destructive groups than come from, or are supported by, foreign countries, and the [Lebanese political] opposition, the fact remains that these destructive groups are able to exploit the political divisions in order to infiltrate into Lebanon, and the obstinacy of the [Lebanese political] opposition makes a resolution of this problem particularly difficult.
suggesting in this way that opposition to the March 14 government represents de facto support for the infiltration of terrorist groups.

To Al-Akhbar journalist Khalid Saghiyyah, the gist of what Gemayel is saying is simple to understand. He asks sarcastically: What are the old people in Nahr al-Barid doing these days without electricity or water, except hatching some scheme to become naturalized Lebanese citizens; and the children looking for a place to sleep in the neighboring camp, what will they be dreaming of but Lebanese citizenship. Obviously there is something else going on. Gemayel's solution, says Saghiyyah, is the re-expulsion of the Palestinians; that is his dream, says Saghiyyah.
It appears that warning against naturalization of the Palestinians isn't enough in these difficult circumstances. Rather, it will be necessary, according to Amine Gemayel, to "purge" the camps that have become "nests" of groups of "evil terrorists"... Clearly what we have here is not an attempt to block naturalization of Palestinians; rather, this is a clear invitation to re-expel the Palestinians. Perhaps the only consolation is that the lexicon of Gemayelian racism isn't limited to the Palestinians, but extends also to such as the people of Kabul, and of Fallujah...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Badger's Friday sermon

Al-Hayat's selection of highlights from the Friday sermons includes emphasis on the usual calls for the government to pull up its socks in the matter of provision of basic services and basic security, but there is also this: A Sunni imam in Baghdad accused the Maliki government of being in league with the Shiite militias and said there are a lot of Sunni mosques still occupied by these militias with the government turning a blind eye. And by contrast an imam in Karbala, described as a representative of Sistani, said, or at least very clearly implied, that the occupation forces, for their part, are in league with the (Sunni) terrorist groups. The Sistani official, Ahmad al-Safi by name, said:
There are a lot of events and circumstances on the ground that indicate that the terror [groups] are operating in Iraq in complete security, confirming the idea that they are operating within the set official framework, while the people of Iraq, for their part, live in a state of absolute fear, and when they call on the police or the army for help, help doesn't come, because of constraints on their activities, or for other reasons...
Moqtada al-Sadr, for his part, said in an interview with Iraqi government TV that he has arranged for a meeting with the (Sunni) Muslim Scholars Association; that he has offered assistance and cooperation with Sunni groups in other ways; and he praised the Anbar Salvation Council adding however that he wished they would stay away from any cooperation with the occupation forces, so that their fight against the takfiiris can be an honorable and a purely national one. He said it is the occupation that is working to tear down any efforts at national reconciliation.

This kind of sermonizing and exhortation naturally falls on deaf ears, if that, in the anglosphere, mainly on the idea that these are all mere words, while the "reality" is supposedly a chaos of pure self-interest. So it is worth noting that the Sunni and the Shiite spokespeople are in agreement about the core problem: The government structure set up and controlled by the occupation, appears to be structurally incapable of protecting obvious common interests, whether this takes the form of Iraqi forces being under unreasonable constraints by the Americans so that the terror groups operate in complete security, or conversely that the Americans' Shiite allies in government turn a blind eye to the activities of the Shiite militias. Moqtada's point about the occupation trying to tear down any attempts at national reconciliation is merely an intensification of the same point, which is really quite self-evident: the aims and objectives of the occupation are not Iraqi-national, but piecemeal, whether you want to focus on the results in this or that sector of Iraqi society, or whether you want to look at the whole picture as a manifestation of occupation strategy.

Abdulbari Atwan, for his part, prints a very sermon-like op-ed piece in Al-Quds al-Arabi, explaining how the Bandar bribery scandal came to light. He says Blair's decision to shut down the official bribery investigation last December was the straw that broke the camels back in the British establishment, referring to the principled people in the judiciary and the civil service and so on, the idea being that the truth was disclosed in order to protect the principles of justice, openness and democracy from the depredations of Blair's political group and its friends including Bandar and so on. It is an interesting way of looking at the issue. Atwan says the disclosures may not be over yet, since already there is an investigation into the involvement of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in the coverup, and he predicts there could be other names from the Saudi royal family added to this story in the days to come. Treating this as an exemplary case of a principled bureaucracy and press, Atwan says he looks forward to the day when the Arab press can show similar evidence of professional and moral responsibility. Of course we could say the same about the US press, could we not.