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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Civil war coming in the 'West Bank'?

Hamas is making noises about extending its civil war to the 'West Bank,' where Fatah is seemingly (although, as I have noted, not necessarily) the dominant party. This is from an al-AP report from Tuesday:
Hamas is too weak now for a frontal assault on Fatah in the West Bank, but Iranian funding for Hamas, Abbas' political weakness and Fatah infighting could one day change the balance, Fatah leaders, Hamas militants and Israeli analysts say.

Security forces allied with Abbas say they're determined to snuff out Hamas in the West Bank. The president has declared the Hamas militias illegal, and his security chiefs said they wouldn't just go after Hamas' weapons, but also its money.

"The only way to deal with Hamas ... is by dismantling every single military cell in the West Bank, and that's what the security apparatus is doing now," said Kamal Abu Rob, a Fatah lawmaker.


In response, Hamas has made threats. "They (Fatah leaders) think Hamas is weak in the West Bank, just as they thought Hamas was in Gaza," said Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas hard-liner in Gaza. "The West Bank may surprise the world with what they don't expect, and it's best for them not to fall into this trap."

Hamas' military strength in the West Bank is difficult to assess. Some Israeli analysts say only a few dozen gunmen escaped arrest by Israel.

But a top Palestinian security official in Ramallah said Hamas has recruited hundreds who are organized in sleeper cells, outfitted with guns and uniforms, and ready to move. Hamas, which carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel in recent years, can also draw on explosives experts and runs secret bomb labs, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with the rules of his security service.

A senior Hamas militant leader said the group has recruited about 4,000 gunmen in Nablus and Hebron, and has thousands of weapons. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is wanted by Israel.

He said that when the signal comes to act, Hamas would carry out car bombs and try to assassinate Fatah leaders to destabilize the West Bank. On Tuesday, civilian cars were banned from security headquarters in the territory amid concerns about car bombs.

Money might help tilt the balance.

Fatah's former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan alleged that Iran funded Hamas' onslaught on Gaza with some $250 million. "If we are not careful, it (the Iranian-directed campaign) will move to the West Bank," he told Palestine TV.

And Hillel Frisch, an Israeli analyst, said Iranian money could buy off Fatah security officers who haven't been fully paid for months. He also noted that militants have moved from one group to the other in the past, and that money could be a strong incentive. [I keep telling you all that they're all the same terrorists, they just keep switching uniforms. CiJ]

With the foreign aid embargo lifted, Abbas expects full Western support for his government. The resumption of aid will allow him to pay his 27,000 security forces in the West Bank and ensure their loyalty. [Of course, the fact that Abu Mazen is also paying Hamas 'employees' is going to put a damper on the Fatah 'employees' loyalty. CiJ]
But if this report has anything to it, Fatah may well be stronger than anyone thought to this point. And if so, it could mean that Fatah will prevail, or it could mean that the 'West Bank' civil war could be worse than Gaza's. Or if the report is correct, it could make Abu Mazen's foot soldiers more likely to abandon him, convinced that Fatah's leadership will never really back them up. But regardless of which is correct, it's interesting grist for the conspiracy mill:
In five days of fighting, Fatah never put up a real fight. The question is why not.

In interviews with McClatchy Newspapers during and after the fighting, Fatah foot soldiers said they felt abandoned as they realized that there'd be no counterattack, not even a last-ditch defense.

Some of them thought incompetent political leaders had done them in. But this land has long been fertile soil for conspiracy theories, and others wondered whether Abbas had deliberately ceded the Gaza Strip to Hamas in an attempt to isolate the radical Islamic group and consolidate his power in the much larger West Bank.

"There was total frustration and disappointment," said one Abbas security officer who was among the last to abandon the presidential compound on Thursday night, June 14, and asked to be identified only as A.R. because of fear of retaliation. "We felt like there was a conspiracy to hand over Gaza to Hamas."

Whether it was conspiracy or collapse, Fatah's downfall in Gaza has created an unexpected opportunity for Israel, the United States and others to re-establish full relations with Abbas and the pro-Western emergency cabinet he's installed to replace the elected, Hamas-dominated Palestinian government. [I'm not sure how 'pro-Western' Abu Mazen's cabinet is... CiJ]

The outside world has moved quickly to bolster Abbas. The United States announced that it would lift the financial embargo that had starved the Palestinian Authority since Hamas won elections in January 2006. Israel agreed to release Palestinian tax revenue it's impounded.

But the story of Fatah’s final hours in Gaza is a reminder of how tenuous Abbas’ position may be. If he becomes too cozy with Israel, he can be accused of betraying the Palestinian cause. Angry Fatah fighters could view their sense of betrayal as reason to turn on Abbas, or at least temper their support for him.

And the rout could be repeated if Fatah's weaknesses that were so apparent in Gaza are duplicated in the West Bank.

Fatah has long been on the defensive, accused of incompetence, inattention and corruption. Disciplined Hamas forces were fighting for a cause in Gaza; Fatah gunmen were mostly fighting for regular paychecks that stopped coming last year when Hamas won control of the Palestinian Authority.

"I know why Fatah didn't fight back," said Diana Buttu, a former aide to Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan, the longtime Fatah security chief in Gaza who was nowhere to be found there during the final showdown.

"They haven't been paid salaries in a year-and-a-half, they don't know what they are defending any more, they're defending an authority that was destroyed ages ago," said Buttu. "I understand them, and I don't blame them."

Fatah’s fighters in Gaza were members of Abbas’ presidential guard, supposedly the Palestinian Authority’s elite. They’d vowed to give their lives to defend Abbas and his secular and conciliatory strategies.
But they were abandoned by their leadership. And no one really knows for sure why.


At 5:34 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

No one really knows why?

Doesn't the story about Dahlan conspiring with Al Qaeda suggest that the retreat may have been strategic?

Additionally, Elder of Ziyon has two items that are somewhat relevant to this post.

At 9:42 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Soccer Dad,

I have now published three different conspiracy theories. There's the Fatah and al-Qaeda v. Egypt and Hamas theory, there's the Syria and Iran wanted Hamas to oust Fatah theory and there's the Hamas saw weapons coming from Jordan and Egypt and decided that this was the time to attack theory.

I doubt any of them can really be proven.


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