From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]



The Proof Is in the Paper Trail

While reporting “The Gaza Bombshell,” David Rose acquired an
extraordinary trove of documents showing how the U.S. pressured its
Palestinian allies to take on Hamas—a strategy that proved disastrous
when Hamas staged what appears to have been a pre-emptive coup in Gaza
last June. Here are some of the key records he discovered.

1  These “talking points” were left behind in Ramallah by a State
Department envoy. Palestinian and American officials say they formed
the basis for State Department official Jake Walles’s discussions with
Palestinian president and Fatah party leader Mahmoud Abbas in late
October or early November 2006. According to the memo, Walles urged
Abbas to dissolve the Hamas-led government if Hamas refused to
recognize Israel’s right to exist, promising that the U.S. and its
Arab allies would strengthen Fatah’s military forces to deal with the
likely backlash from Hamas.

2  “Plan B” refers to a State Department strategy that was devised
after Abbas made a deal in January 2007 to form a unity government
with Fatah and Hamas—much to America’s dismay. This early, two-page
draft, which has been authenticated by senior State Department
officials who knew of its content at the time and by Palestinians who
saw it in Abbas’s office, outlines possible scenarios for Abbas to
expel Hamas from power and to boost his security forces to deal with
the inevitable violent fallout.

3  Plan B evolved into this “action plan for the Palestinian
Presidency”—a blueprint for a full-blown coup against Abbas’s own
unity government. This was one of several drafts presented by a joint
American-Jordanian team. Officials who were knowledgeable at the time
say it originated with the State Department. Its security appendix
reveals details of the secret talks between Palestinian strongman
Muhammad Dahlan and Lieutenant General Keith Dayton.

4  The final draft of the action plan adopted large sections of the
previous documents wholesale, but presented the plan as if it had been
conceived from the beginning by Abbas and his staff. This draft has
also been authenticated by officials knowledgeable at the time. Note
especially the third section, on security.

Michael Hogan interviews David Rose


Iran Contra 2.0: How the Bush Admin Lied to Congress and
Armed Fatah to Provoke Palestinian Civil War Aiming to Overthrow Hamas

March 05, 2008

In its latest issue, Vanity Fair reports that the White House tried to
organize the armed overthrow of the Hamas-led goverment after Hamas
swept Palestinian elections two years ago. According to the article,
the Bush administration lied to Congress and boosted military support
for rival Palestinian faction Fatah in the aim of provoking a
Palestinian civil war they thought Hamas would lose. Vanity Fair
dubbed the episode “Iran Contra 2.0”—a reference to the Reagan
administration’s funding of Nicaraguan Contras by covertly selling
arms to Iran. We speak with David Rose, the journalist who broke the
story. [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: As Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, arrives in
the Middle East, Vanity Fair published a story that raises new
questions about the Bush administration’s role in the ongoing crisis.
The article reports the White House tried to organize the armed
overthrow of the Hamas-led government after Hamas swept Palestinian
elections two years ago. According to Vanity Fair, the administration
boosted military support for rival Palestinian faction Fatah in the
aim of provoking a Palestinian civil war they thought Hamas would
lose. Vanity Fair dubbed the episode “Iran Contra 2.0,” a reference to
the Reagan administration’s funding of Nicaraguan Contras by covertly
selling arms to Iran.

A former top Bush administration official said he believes Hamas’s
seizure of power in Gaza last year may have likely been a preemptive
measure against the anticipated US-backed coup. The official, David
Wurmser, served as Vice President Cheney’s Middle East adviser until
he resigned in July of 2007, a month after Hamas took over. Wurmser
said, “There is a stunning disconnect between the President’s call for
Middle East democracy and this policy. It directly contradicts it.”

The Bush administration is denying the story. State Department
spokesperson Tom Casey called the article “absurd,” “untrue” and

We’re joined now by journalist David Rose, author of the Vanity Fair
piece. It’s called “The Gaza Bombshell.” David Rose joins us from
London in England.

Thanks for joining us, David Rose. Lay out what you learned.

DAVID ROSE: Well, just to deal first with this administration denial,
of course, it’s just a blanket denial with no detail. But what the
piece is based on is, first of all, a series of authenticated
confidential documents, which lay out the administration’s strategy,
and, secondly, interviews that I conducted both on the record with
David Wurmser and John Bolton, the former UN ambassador, and a
considerable number of other senior officials in both the State
Department and the Pentagon, as well as officials inside the
Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and with people in Gaza, Hamas
officials in Gaza. So to say that the story is “absurd” is ridiculous.

But what it says, in a nutshell, is as you’ve already laid out, that
what the Bush administration wanted to do once Hamas won the
elections, having been warned, by the way, that Hamas would win the
elections and having no strategy in place to deal with that outcome,
what the Bush administration tried to do was, as one source put it to
me, change facts on the ground. And the strategy set out in these
documents was to persuade President Abbas, the Fatah president of the
Palestinian Authority, to sack the Hamas government in both its two
incarnations, first the Hamas-led government that took office in
January ’06 and then the so-called national unity government, the
coalition with Fatah, that took office in March ’07. He was to fire
this government, replace it with an emergency government or call new
elections, and meanwhile, Fatah would be armed, at America’s behest,
to deal with the inevitable outbreak of violence that would take
place, because Hamas, it could be predicted with certainty, would not
take that lying down.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know this?

DAVID ROSE: Well, as I said, because we have documents that lay out
the strategy, which have been obtained from Palestinian sources, but
authenticated by senior American officials who saw them at the time,
and because I’ve conducted numerous interviews with officials who were
knowledgeable about the policy at the time it was unfolding and, in
fact, took great issue with it. They took issue with it on two counts:
first, that it was wrong, and it was likely to fail. And even those
minority of officials that I spoke to who actually supported it felt
it was being carried out in a half-hearted matter, that if you were
going to arm Fatah, you had to do it in a serious way. In fact,
according to Muhammad Dahlan, the strongman who was the major
recipient of military aid in Gaza, he only ever got about $20 million
worth of aid. He, by the way, has confirmed all the details of the
program in interviews with me. And he says, well, it just wasn’t
enough. And, of course, when it came to it, in the fighting that broke
out in June 2007, it clearly wasn’t enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t it openly known that the US is arming and
supporting Fatah?

DAVID ROSE: Well, no, it’s not, because, for example, General Keith
Dayton, the United States security coordinator who has been in the
region now for three or four years and is supposedly there to help
strengthen Fatah’s security institutions, told the Congress on May 23,
2007—that’s just over two weeks before the Hamas coup—that the US was
only supplying non-lethal aid to Fatah. He was emphatic about this: no
lethal aid was going into the Palestinian territories to support
Fatah. And, indeed, he had testified and other officials had testified
to that effect on several occasions previously.

What he well knew, what he must have known, was at the very time he
uttered those words, the US, in the shape of Condoleezza Rice,
Assistant Secretary David C. Welch and other officials, had been
furiously lobbying for lethal aid, not directly from the United
States, but from the so-called Arab Quartet—that is, Saudi Arabia,
United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt. They wanted lethal aid to go
to assist Fatah’s forces, especially in Gaza, although to some extent
in the West Bank, too. And they knew that this was aid that was going
to kill people. And in fact, just a week before the coup began, the
news broke in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Dayton himself had
asked for Israeli clearance to allow an import of armored cars, heavy
weapons, machine guns and so forth into Gaza from Egypt, which was
part of this covert program. I don’t think, by any stretch of the
imagination, machine guns, ammunition and armored cars can be
described as non-lethal aid. Well, it wasn’t non-lethal aid coming
from the United States, and if you actually parse some of the denials
that were issued yesterday, they’re sort of denying the idea that
America itself was supplying lethal aid. That’s not what the article
states. It says there was a covert, parallel program—that’s the words,
by the way, of a senior State Department official—to supply lethal aid
from Arab sources.

AMY GOODMAN: David Rose, you begin your piece, “The Gaza Bombshell,”
by talking about a young man at the Al Deira Hotel that you sat across
from in Gaza City. Explain what happened to him.

DAVID ROSE: Yes. He’s a young man called Mazen abu Dan, who was a Hamas
—is a Hamas member. He was in fact a member of its so-called executive
force, the kind of militia that Hamas set up in the summer of 2006.

In October 2006, just when the US program to support Fatah was really
getting into gear, he was kidnapped and horrifyingly tortured, along
with several members of his family and friends. They were actually at
a cemetery erecting a tombstone to his grandmother who had just died.
They were seized by about thirty armed men and taken to the home of a
man called Abu Jidyan, a senior Fatah official who was in fact killed
during the coup, a close associate of this warlord, Muhammad Dahlan.
And he was beaten with iron bars. The skin on his back was completely
lacerated. And he told me that afterwards they poured perfume into his
wounds. And then him and two others were taken to a market when this
torture was finished, and they thought they were going to be killed,
but in fact they were shot several times in each leg. He showed me the
bullet wounds.

We also have a DVD, which depicts his torture, which was captured from
a Fatah security building when Hamas took over during the coup in June
2007. I believe that an excerpt from that may be going on the Vanity
Fair website later this week. So, you know, he’s quite recognizable in
this DVD, and it’s quite clear that there are Fatah men who are
torturing the prisoners that you see there. And I met him, as I say,
in the Al Deira Hotel.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to Wurmser, the adviser, Middle East
adviser to Vice President Cheney? Why did he quit? And talk about the
elections that you say the US forced, never anticipating what would

DAVID ROSE: Well, of course, it isn’t just Wurmser; it’s also the
former UN Ambassador John Bolton. I think—I mean, both these men are,
of course, known as neoconservatives. And, you know, whatever issues
one may have with aspects of neoconservatives’ take on foreign policy,
they have an overt support for elections and democracy. And what they
saw in action here was a policy that was ignoring the vote of the
Palestinian people, which was seeking to invest in a strongman to put
it—in order, as Wurmser put it to me, to prop up a corrupt
dictatorship in the shape of Fatah.

Now, I am not certain that this is the sole reason that David Wurmser
left the administration. I think you’d have to ask him that. But it is
striking that, of course, he did leave the administration just a month
after these events and was plainly disgusted by what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have thirty seconds. Why is this thing being
called “Iran Contra 2.0”?

DAVID ROSE: Because there are certain resemblances to that policy. For
example—and people forget that not all the money to buy weapons for
the Contras in the 1980s came from Iran. Quite a bit came from the
same Arab countries who were being lobbied to provide weapons and
money to buy weapons for Fatah. And again, it was an attempt to evade
the Congress, just as the first Iran-Contra policy was. So there are
considerable analogies.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying the Bush administration misled Congress,
when it comes to—

DAVID ROSE: I’m absolutely saying that, yes. They lied to the

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s specifically on—

DAVID ROSE: They told the Congress that there was no program to supply
lethal aid to Fatah. This was not true. There was a covert program to
supply lethal aid to Fatah.

AMY GOODMAN: David Rose, I want to thank you for being with us,
British journalist, writes in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, his
piece called “The Gaza Bombshell,” speaking to us from London.


The Gaza Bombshell

After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006
Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another
scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-
contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by
outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how
President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser
Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad
Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas
stronger than ever.

BY David Rose  /  April 2008

The Al Deira Hotel, in Gaza City, is a haven of calm in a land beset
by poverty, fear, and violence. In the middle of December 2007, I sit
in the hotel’s airy restaurant, its windows open to the Mediterranean,
and listen to a slight, bearded man named Mazen Asad abu Dan describe
the suffering he endured 11 months before at the hands of his fellow
Palestinians. Abu Dan, 28, is a member of Hamas, the Iranian-backed
Islamist organization that has been designated a terrorist group by
the United States, but I have a good reason for taking him at his
word: I’ve seen the video.

It shows abu Dan kneeling, his hands bound behind his back, and
screaming as his captors pummel him with a black iron rod. “I lost all
the skin on my back from the beatings,” he says. “Instead of medicine,
they poured perfume on my wounds. It felt as if they had taken a sword
to my injuries.”

On January 26, 2007, abu Dan, a student at the Islamic University of
Gaza, had gone to a local cemetery with his father and five others to
erect a headstone for his grandmother. When they arrived, however,
they found themselves surrounded by 30 armed men from Hamas’s rival,
Fatah, the party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. “They took us
to a house in north Gaza,” abu Dan says. “They covered our eyes and
took us to a room on the sixth floor.”

The video reveals a bare room with white walls and a black-and-white
tiled floor, where abu Dan’s father is forced to sit and listen to his
son’s shrieks of pain. Afterward, abu Dan says, he and two of the
others were driven to a market square. “They told us they were going
to kill us. They made us sit on the ground.” He rolls up the legs of
his trousers to display the circular scars that are evidence of what
happened next: “They shot our knees and feet—five bullets each. I
spent four months in a wheelchair.”

Abu Dan had no way of knowing it, but his tormentors had a secret
ally: the administration of President George W. Bush.

A clue comes toward the end of the video, which was found in a Fatah
security building by Hamas fighters last June. Still bound and
blindfolded, the prisoners are made to echo a rhythmic chant yelled by
one of their captors: “By blood, by soul, we sacrifice ourselves for
Muhammad Dahlan! Long live Muhammad Dahlan!”

There is no one more hated among Hamas members than Muhammad Dahlan,
long Fatah’s resident strongman in Gaza. Dahlan, who most recently
served as Abbas’s national-security adviser, has spent more than a
decade battling Hamas. Dahlan insists that abu Dan was tortured
without his knowledge, but the video is proof that his followers’
methods can be brutal.

Bush has met Dahlan on at least three occasions. After talks at the
White House in July 2003, Bush publicly praised Dahlan as “a good,
solid leader.” In private, say multiple Israeli and American
officials, the U.S. president described him as “our guy.”

The United States has been involved in the affairs of the Palestinian
territories since the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel captured Gaza
from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan. With the 1993 Oslo accords,
the territories acquired limited autonomy, under a president, who has
executive powers, and an elected parliament. Israel retains a large
military presence in the West Bank, but it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

In recent months, President Bush has repeatedly stated that the last
great ambition of his presidency is to broker a deal that would create
a viable Palestinian state and bring peace to the Holy Land. “People
say, ‘Do you think it’s possible, during your presidency?’ ” he told
an audience in Jerusalem on January 9. “And the answer is: I’m very

The next day, in the West Bank capital of Ramallah, Bush acknowledged
that there was a rather large obstacle standing in the way of this
goal: Hamas’s complete control of Gaza, home to some 1.5 million
Palestinians, where it seized power in a bloody coup d’état in June
2007. Almost every day, militants fire rockets from Gaza into
neighboring Israeli towns, and President Abbas is powerless to stop
them. His authority is limited to the West Bank.

It’s “a tough situation,” Bush admitted. “I don’t know whether you can
solve it in a year or not.” What Bush neglected to mention was his own
role in creating this mess.

According to Dahlan, it was Bush who had pushed legislative elections
in the Palestinian territories in January 2006, despite warnings that
Fatah was not ready. After Hamas—whose 1988 charter committed it to
the goal of driving Israel into the sea—won control of the parliament,
Bush made another, deadlier miscalculation.

Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by
sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative,
approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a
Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and
armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the
muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led
government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)

But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for
American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out
of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas
to seize total control of Gaza.

Some sources call the scheme “Iran-contra 2.0,” recalling that Abrams
was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from
Congress during the original Iran-contra scandal under President
Reagan. There are echoes of other past misadventures as well: the
C.I.A.’s 1953 ouster of an elected prime minister in Iran, which set
the stage for the 1979 Islamic revolution there; the aborted 1961 Bay
of Pigs invasion, which gave Fidel Castro an excuse to solidify his
hold on Cuba; and the contemporary tragedy in Iraq.

Within the Bush administration, the Palestinian policy set off a
furious debate. One of its critics is David Wurmser, the avowed
neoconservative, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief
Middle East adviser in July 2007, a month after the Gaza coup.

Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of “engaging in a dirty war in
an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with
victory.” He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until
Fatah forced its hand. “It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so
much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-
empted before it could happen,” Wurmser says.

The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more
remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the
hypocrisy it exposed. “There is a stunning disconnect between the
president’s call for Middle East democracy and this policy,” he says.
“It directly contradicts it.”

Preventive Security

Bush was not the first American president to form a relationship with
Muhammad Dahlan. “Yes, I was close to Bill Clinton,” Dahlan says. “I
met Clinton many times with [the late Palestinian leader Yasser]
Arafat.” In the wake of the 1993 Oslo accords, Clinton sponsored a
series of diplomatic meetings aimed at reaching a permanent Middle
East peace, and Dahlan became the Palestinians’ negotiator on

As I talk to Dahlan in a five-star Cairo hotel, it’s easy to see the
qualities that might make him attractive to American presidents. His
appearance is immaculate, his English is serviceable, and his manner
is charming and forthright. Had he been born into privilege, these
qualities might not mean much. But Dahlan was born—on September 29,
1961—in the teeming squalor of Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp, and
his education came mostly from the street. In 1981 he helped found
Fatah’s youth movement, and he later played a leading role in the
first intifada—the five-year revolt that began in 1987 against the
Israeli occupation. In all, Dahlan says, he spent five years in
Israeli jails.

Muhammad Dahlan

From the time of its inception as the Palestinian branch of the
international Muslim Brotherhood, in late 1987, Hamas had represented
a threatening challenge to Arafat’s secular Fatah party. At Oslo,
Fatah made a public commitment to the search for peace, but Hamas
continued to practice armed resistance. At the same time, it built an
impressive base of support through schooling and social programs.

The rising tensions between the two groups first turned violent in the
early 1990s—with Muhammad Dahlan playing a central role. As director
of the Palestinian Authority’s most feared paramilitary force, the
Preventive Security Service, Dahlan arrested some 2,000 Hamas members
in 1996 in the Gaza Strip after the group launched a wave of suicide
bombings. “Arafat had decided to arrest Hamas military leaders,
because they were working against his interests, against the peace
process, against the Israeli withdrawal, against everything,” Dahlan
says. “He asked the security services to do their job, and I have done
that job.”

It was not, he admits, “popular work.” For many years Hamas has said
that Dahlan’s forces routinely tortured detainees. One alleged method
was to sodomize prisoners with soda bottles. Dahlan says these stories
are exaggerated: “Definitely there were some mistakes here and there.
But no one person died in Preventive Security. Prisoners got their
rights. Bear in mind that I am an ex-detainee of the Israelis’. No one
was personally humiliated, and I never killed anyone the way [Hamas
is] killing people on a daily basis now.” Dahlan points out that
Arafat maintained a labyrinth of security services—14 in all—and says
the Preventive Security Service was blamed for abuses perpetrated by
other units.

Dahlan worked closely with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., and he developed
a warm relationship with Director of Central Intelligence George
Tenet, a Clinton appointee who stayed on under Bush until July 2004.
“He’s simply a great and fair man,” Dahlan says. “I’m still in touch
with him from time to time.”

“Everyone Was Against the Elections”

In a speech in the White House Rose Garden on June 24, 2002, President
Bush announced that American policy in the Middle East was turning in
a fundamentally new direction.

Arafat was still in power at the time, and many in the U.S. and Israel
blamed him for wrecking Clinton’s micro-managed peace efforts by
launching the second intifada—a renewed revolt, begun in 2000, in
which more than 1,000 Israelis and 4,500 Palestinians had died. Bush
said he wanted to give Palestinians the chance to choose new leaders,
ones who were not “compromised by terror.” In place of Arafat’s all-
powerful presidency, Bush said, “the Palestinian parliament should
have the full authority of a legislative body.”

Arafat died in November 2004, and Abbas, his replacement as Fatah
leader, was elected president in January 2005. Elections for the
Palestinian parliament, known officially as the Legislative Council,
were originally set for July 2005, but later postponed by Abbas until
January 2006.

Dahlan says he warned his friends in the Bush administration that
Fatah still wasn’t ready for elections in January. Decades of self-
preservationist rule by Arafat had turned the party into a symbol of
corruption and inefficiency—a perception Hamas found it easy to
exploit. Splits within Fatah weakened its position further: in many
places, a single Hamas candidate ran against several from Fatah.

“Everyone was against the elections,” Dahlan says. Everyone except
Bush. “Bush decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the
Palestinian Authority.’ Everyone is following him in the American
administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, ‘The
president wants elections.’ Fine. For what purpose?”

The elections went forward as scheduled. On January 25, Hamas won 56
percent of the seats in the Legislative Council.

Few inside the U.S. administration had predicted the result, and there
was no contingency plan to deal with it. “I’ve asked why nobody saw it
coming,” Condoleezza Rice told reporters. “I don’t know anyone who
wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing.”

“Everyone blamed everyone else,” says an official with the Department
of Defense. “We sat there in the Pentagon and said, ‘Who the fuck
recommended this?’ ”

In public, Rice tried to look on the bright side of the Hamas victory.
“Unpredictability,” she said, is “the nature of big historic change.”
Even as she spoke, however, the Bush administration was rapidly
revising its attitude toward Palestinian democracy.

Some analysts argued that Hamas had a substantial moderate wing that
could be strengthened if America coaxed it into the peace process.
Notable Israelis—such as Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad
intelligence agency—shared this view. But if America paused to
consider giving Hamas the benefit of the doubt, the moment was
“milliseconds long,” says a senior State Department official. “The
administration spoke with one voice: ‘We have to squeeze these guys.’
With Hamas’s election victory, the freedom agenda was dead.”

The first step, taken by the Middle East diplomatic “Quartet”—the
U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—was to demand
that the new Hamas government renounce violence, recognize Israel’s
right to exist, and accept the terms of all previous agreements. When
Hamas refused, the Quartet shut off the faucet of aid to the
Palestinian Authority, depriving it of the means to pay salaries and
meet its annual budget of roughly $2 billion.

Israel clamped down on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, especially
into and out of the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip. Israel also detained
64 Hamas officials, including Legislative Council members and
ministers, and even launched a military campaign into Gaza after one
of its soldiers was kidnapped. Through it all, Hamas and its new
government, led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, proved surprisingly

Washington reacted with dismay when Abbas began holding talks with
Hamas in the hope of establishing a “unity government.” On October 4,
2006, Rice traveled to Ramallah to see Abbas. They met at the Muqata,
the new presidential headquarters that rose from the ruins of Arafat’s
compound, which Israel had destroyed in 2002.

America’s leverage in Palestinian affairs was much stronger than it
had been in Arafat’s time. Abbas had never had a strong, independent
base, and he desperately needed to restore the flow of foreign aid—
and, with it, his power of patronage. He also knew that he could not
stand up to Hamas without Washington’s help.

At their joint press conference, Rice smiled as she expressed her
nation’s “great admiration” for Abbas’s leadership. Behind closed
doors, however, Rice’s tone was sharper, say officials who witnessed
their meeting. Isolating Hamas just wasn’t working, she reportedly
told Abbas, and America expected him to dissolve the Haniyeh
government as soon as possible and hold fresh elections.

Abbas, one official says, agreed to take action within two weeks. It
happened to be Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast during daylight
hours. With dusk approaching, Abbas asked Rice to join him for iftar—a
snack to break the fast.

Afterward, according to the official, Rice underlined her position:
“So we’re agreed? You’ll dissolve the government within two weeks?”

“Maybe not two weeks. Give me a month. Let’s wait until after the
Eid,” he said, referring to the three-day celebration that marks the
end of Ramadan. (Abbas’s spokesman said via e-mail: “According to our
records, this is incorrect.”)

Rice got into her armored S.U.V., where, the official claims, she told
an American colleague, “That damned iftar has cost us another two
weeks of Hamas government.”

“We Will Be There to Support You”

Weeks passed with no sign that Abbas was ready to do America’s
bidding. Finally, another official was sent to Ramallah. Jake Walles,
the consul general in Jerusalem, is a career foreign-service officer
with many years’ experience in the Middle East. His purpose was to
deliver a barely varnished ultimatum to the Palestinian president.

We know what Walles said because a copy was left behind, apparently by
accident, of the “talking points” memo prepared for him by the State
Department. The document has been authenticated by U.S. and
Palestinian officials.

“We need to understand your plans regarding a new [Palestinian
Authority] government,” Walles’s script said. “You told Secretary Rice
you would be prepared to move ahead within two to four weeks of your
meeting. We believe that the time has come for you to move forward
quickly and decisively.”

The memo left no doubt as to what kind of action the U.S. was seeking:
“Hamas should be given a clear choice, with a clear deadline: … they
either accept a new government that meets the Quartet principles, or
they reject it The consequences of Hamas’ decision should also be
clear: If Hamas does not agree within the prescribed time, you should
make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an
emergency government explicitly committed to that platform.”

Walles and Abbas both knew what to expect from Hamas if these
instructions were followed: rebellion and bloodshed. For that reason,
the memo states, the U.S. was already working to strengthen Fatah’s
security forces. “If you act along these lines, we will support you
both materially and politically,” the script said. “We will be there
to support you.”

Abbas was also encouraged to “strengthen [his] team” to include
“credible figures of strong standing in the international community.”
Among those the U.S. wanted brought in, says an official who knew of
the policy, was Muhammad Dahlan.

On paper, the forces at Fatah’s disposal looked stronger than those of
Hamas. There were some 70,000 men in the tangle of 14 Palestinian
security services that Arafat had built up, at least half of those in
Gaza. After the legislative elections, Hamas had expected to assume
command of these forces, but Fatah maneuvered to keep them under its
control. Hamas, which already had 6,000 or so irregulars in its
militant al-Qassam Brigade, responded by forming the 6,000-troop
Executive Force in Gaza, but that still left it with far fewer
fighters than Fatah.

In reality, however, Hamas had several advantages. To begin with,
Fatah’s security forces had never really recovered from Operation
Defensive Shield, Israel’s massive 2002 re-invasion of the West Bank
in response to the second intifada. “Most of the security apparatus
had been destroyed,” says Youssef Issa, who led the Preventive
Security Service under Abbas.

The irony of the blockade on foreign aid after Hamas’s legislative
victory, meanwhile, was that it prevented only Fatah from paying its
soldiers. “We are the ones who were not getting paid,” Issa says,
“whereas they were not affected by the siege.” Ayman Daraghmeh, a
Hamas Legislative Council member in the West Bank, agrees. He puts the
amount of Iranian aid to Hamas in 2007 alone at $120 million. “This is
only a fraction of what it should give,” he insists. In Gaza, another
Hamas member tells me the number was closer to $200 million.

The result was becoming apparent: Fatah could not control Gaza’s
streets—or even protect its own personnel.

At about 1:30 p.m. on September 15, 2006, Samira Tayeh sent a text
message to her husband, Jad Tayeh, the director of foreign relations
for the Palestinian intelligence service and a member of Fatah. “He
didn’t reply,” she says. “I tried to call his mobile [phone], but it
was switched off. So I called his deputy, Mahmoun, and he didn’t know
where he was. That’s when I decided to go to the hospital.”

Samira, a slim, elegant 40-year-old dressed from head to toe in black,
tells me the story in a Ramallah café in December 2007. Arriving at
the Al Shifa hospital, “I went through the morgue door. Not for any
reason—I just didn’t know the place. I saw there were all these
intelligence guards there. There was one I knew. He saw me and he
said, ‘Put her in the car.’ That’s when I knew something had happened
to Jad.”

Tayeh had left his office in a car with four aides. Moments later,
they found themselves being pursued by an S.U.V. full of armed, masked
men. About 200 yards from the home of Prime Minister Haniyeh, the
S.U.V. cornered the car. The masked men opened fire, killing Tayeh and
all four of his colleagues.

Hamas said it had nothing to do with the murders, but Samira had
reason to believe otherwise. At three a.m. on June 16, 2007, during
the Gaza takeover, six Hamas gunmen forced their way into her home and
fired bullets into every photo of Jad they could find. The next day,
they returned and demanded the keys to the car in which he had died,
claiming that it belonged to the Palestinian Authority.

Fearing for her life, she fled across the border and then into the
West Bank, with only the clothes she was wearing and her passport,
driver’s license, and credit card.

“Very Clever Warfare”

Fatah’s vulnerability was a source of grave concern to Dahlan. “I made
a lot of activities to give Hamas the impression that we were still
strong and we had the capacity to face them,” he says. “But I knew in
my heart it wasn’t true.” He had no official security position at the
time, but he belonged to parliament and retained the loyalty of Fatah
members in Gaza. “I used my image, my power.” Dahlan says he told
Abbas that “Gaza needs only a decision for Hamas to take over.” To
prevent that from happening, Dahlan waged “very clever warfare” for
many months.

According to several alleged victims, one of the tactics this
“warfare” entailed was to kidnap and torture members of Hamas’s
Executive Force. (Dahlan denies Fatah used such tactics, but admits
“mistakes” were made.) Abdul Karim al-Jasser, a strapping man of 25,
says he was the first such victim. “It was on October 16, still
Ramadan,” he says. “I was on my way to my sister’s house for iftar.
Four guys stopped me, two of them with guns. They forced me to
accompany them to the home of Aman abu Jidyan,” a Fatah leader close
to Dahlan. (Abu Jidyan would be killed in the June uprising.)

The first phase of torture was straightforward enough, al-Jasser says:
he was stripped naked, bound, blindfolded, and beaten with wooden
poles and plastic pipes. “They put a piece of cloth in my mouth to
stop me screaming.” His interrogators forced him to answer
contradictory accusations: one minute they said that he had
collaborated with Israel, the next that he had fired Qassam rockets
against it.

But the worst was yet to come. “They brought an iron bar,” al-Jasser
says, his voice suddenly hesitant. We are speaking inside his home in
Gaza, which is experiencing one of its frequent power outages. He
points to the propane-gas lamp that lights the room. “They put the bar
in the flame of a lamp like this. When it was red, they took the
covering off my eyes. Then they pressed it against my skin. That was
the last thing I remember.”

When he came to, he was still in the room where he had been tortured.
A few hours later, the Fatah men handed him over to Hamas, and he was
taken to the hospital. “I could see the shock in the eyes of the
doctors who entered the room,” he says. He shows me photos of purple
third-degree burns wrapped like towels around his thighs and much of
his lower torso. “The doctors told me that if I had been thin, not
chubby, I would have died. But I wasn’t alone. That same night that I
was released, abu Jidyan’s men fired five bullets into the legs of one
of my relatives. We were in the same ward in the hospital.”

Dahlan says he did not order al-Jasser’s torture: “The only order I
gave was to defend ourselves. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t torture,
some things that went wrong, but I did not know about this.”

The dirty war between Fatah and Hamas continued to gather momentum
throughout the autumn, with both sides committing atrocities. By the
end of 2006, dozens were dying each month. Some of the victims were
noncombatants. In December, gunmen opened fire on the car of a Fatah
intelligence official, killing his three young children and their

There was still no sign that Abbas was ready to bring matters to a
head by dissolving the Hamas government. Against this darkening
background, the U.S. began direct security talks with Dahlan.
“He’s Our Guy”

In 2001, President Bush famously said that he had looked Russian
president Vladimir Putin in the eye, gotten “a sense of his soul,” and
found him to be “trustworthy.” According to three U.S. officials, Bush
made a similar judgment about Dahlan when they first met, in 2003. All
three officials recall hearing Bush say, “He’s our guy.”

They say this assessment was echoed by other key figures in the
administration, including Rice and Assistant Secretary David Welch,
the man in charge of Middle East policy at the State Department.
“David Welch didn’t fundamentally care about Fatah,” one of his
colleagues says. “He cared about results, and [he supported] whatever
son of a bitch you had to support. Dahlan was the son of a bitch we
happened to know best. He was a can-do kind of person. Dahlan was our

Avi Dichter, Israel’s internal-security minister and the former head
of its Shin Bet security service, was taken aback when he heard senior
American officials refer to Dahlan as “our guy.” “I thought to myself,
The president of the United States is making a strange judgment here,”
says Dichter.

Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, who had been appointed the U.S.
security coordinator for the Palestinians in November 2005, was in no
position to question the president’s judgment of Dahlan. His only
prior experience with the Middle East was as director of the Iraq
Survey Group, the body that looked for Saddam Hussein’s elusive
weapons of mass destruction.

In November 2006, Dayton met Dahlan for the first of a long series of
talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Both men were accompanied by aides.
From the outset, says an official who took notes at the meeting,
Dayton was pushing two overlapping agendas.

“We need to reform the Palestinian security apparatus,” Dayton said,
according to the notes. “But we also need to build up your forces in
order to take on Hamas.”

Dahlan replied that, in the long run, Hamas could be defeated only by
political means. “But if I am going to confront them,” he added, “I
need substantial resources. As things stand, we do not have the

The two men agreed that they would work toward a new Palestinian
security plan. The idea was to simplify the confusing web of
Palestinian security forces and have Dahlan assume responsibility for
all of them in the newly created role of Palestinian national-security
adviser. The Americans would help supply weapons and training.

As part of the reform program, according to the official who was
present at the meetings, Dayton said he wanted to disband the
Preventive Security Service, which was widely known to be engaged in
kidnapping and torture. At a meeting in Dayton’s Jerusalem office in
early December, Dahlan ridiculed the idea. “The only institution now
protecting Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is the one you
want removed,” he said.

Dayton softened a little. “We want to help you,” he said. “What do you

“Iran-Contra 2.0”

Under Bill Clinton, Dahlan says, commitments of security assistance
“were always delivered, absolutely.” Under Bush, he was about to
discover, things were different. At the end of 2006, Dayton promised
an immediate package worth $86.4 million—money that, according to a
U.S. document published by Reuters on January 5, 2007, would be used
to “dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and
order in the West Bank and Gaza.” U.S. officials even told reporters
the money would be transferred “in the coming days.”

The cash never arrived. “Nothing was disbursed,” Dahlan says. “It was
approved and it was in the news. But we received not a single penny.”

Any notion that the money could be transferred quickly and easily had
died on Capitol Hill, where the payment was blocked by the House
Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. Its members feared
that military aid to the Palestinians might end up being turned
against Israel.

Dahlan did not hesitate to voice his exasperation. “I spoke to
Condoleezza Rice on several occasions,” he says. “I spoke to Dayton,
to the consul general, to everyone in the administration I knew. They
said, ‘You have a convincing argument.’ We were sitting in Abbas’s
office in Ramallah, and I explained the whole thing to Condi. And she
said, ‘Yes, we have to make an effort to do this. There’s no other
way.’ ” At some of these meetings, Dahlan says, Assistant Secretary
Welch and Deputy National-Security Adviser Abrams were also present.

The administration went back to Congress, and a reduced, $59 million
package for nonlethal aid was approved in April 2007. But as Dahlan
knew, the Bush team had already spent the past months exploring
alternative, covert means of getting him the funds and weapons he
wanted. The reluctance of Congress meant that “you had to look for
different pots, different sources of money,” says a Pentagon official.

A State Department official adds, “Those in charge of implementing the
policy were saying, ‘Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position
for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the
guile and the muscle to do this.’ The expectation was that this was
where it would end up—with a military showdown.” There were, this
official says, two “parallel programs”—the overt one, which the
administration took to Congress, “and a covert one, not only to buy
arms but to pay the salaries of security personnel.”

In essence, the program was simple. According to State Department
officials, beginning in the latter part of 2006, Rice initiated
several rounds of phone calls and personal meetings with leaders of
four Arab nations—Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab
Emirates. She asked them to bolster Fatah by providing military
training and by pledging funds to buy its forces lethal weapons. The
money was to be paid directly into accounts controlled by President

The scheme bore some resemblance to the Iran-contra scandal, in which
members of Ronald Reagan’s administration sold arms to Iran, an enemy
of the U.S. The money was used to fund the contra rebels in Nicaragua,
in violation of a congressional ban. Some of the money for the
contras, like that for Fatah, was furnished by Arab allies as a result
of U.S. lobbying.

But there are also important differences—starting with the fact that
Congress never passed a measure expressly prohibiting the supply of
aid to Fatah and Dahlan. “It was close to the margins,” says a former
intelligence official with experience in covert programs. “But it
probably wasn’t illegal.”

Legal or not, arms shipments soon began to take place. In late
December 2006, four Egyptian trucks passed through an Israeli-
controlled crossing into Gaza, where their contents were handed over
to Fatah. These included 2,000 Egyptian-made automatic rifles, 20,000
ammunition clips, and two million bullets. News of the shipment
leaked, and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli Cabinet member, said on
Israeli radio that the guns and ammunition would give Abbas “the
ability to cope with those organizations which are trying to ruin
everything”—namely, Hamas.

Avi Dichter points out that all weapons shipments had to be approved
by Israel, which was understandably hesitant to allow state-of-the-art
arms into Gaza. “One thing’s for sure, we weren’t talking about heavy
weapons,” says a State Department official. “It was small arms, light
machine guns, ammunition.”

Perhaps the Israelis held the Americans back. Perhaps Elliott Abrams
himself held back, unwilling to run afoul of U.S. law for a second
time. One of his associates says Abrams, who declined to comment for
this article, felt conflicted over the policy—torn between the disdain
he felt for Dahlan and his overriding loyalty to the administration.
He wasn’t the only one: “There were severe fissures among
neoconservatives over this,” says Cheney’s former adviser David
Wurmser. “We were ripping each other to pieces.”

During a trip to the Middle East in January 2007, Rice found it
difficult to get her partners to honor their pledges. “The Arabs felt
the U.S. was not serious,” one official says. “They knew that if the
Americans were serious they would put their own money where their
mouth was. They didn’t have faith in America’s ability to raise a real
force. There was no follow-through. Paying was different than
pledging, and there was no plan.”

This official estimates that the program raised “a few payments of $30
million”—most of it, as other sources agree, from the United Arab
Emirates. Dahlan himself says the total was only $20 million, and
confirms that “the Arabs made many more pledges than they ever paid.”
Whatever the exact amount, it was not enough.

Plan B

On February 1, 2007, Dahlan took his “very clever warfare” to a new
level when Fatah forces under his control stormed the Islamic
University of Gaza, a Hamas stronghold, and set several buildings on
fire. Hamas retaliated the next day with a wave of attacks on police

Unwilling to preside over a Palestinian civil war, Abbas blinked. For
weeks, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had been trying to persuade him
to meet with Hamas in Mecca and formally establish a national unity
government. On February 6, Abbas went, taking Dahlan with him. Two
days later, with Hamas no closer to recognizing Israel, a deal was

Under its terms, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas would remain prime minister
while allowing Fatah members to occupy several important posts. When
the news hit the streets that the Saudis had promised to pay the
Palestinian Authority’s salary bills, Fatah and Hamas members in Gaza
celebrated together by firing their Kalashnikovs into the air.

Once again, the Bush administration had been taken by surprise.
According to a State Department official, “Condi was apoplectic.” A
remarkable documentary record, revealed here for the first time, shows
that the U.S. responded by redoubling the pressure on its Palestinian

The State Department quickly drew up an alternative to the new unity
government. Known as “Plan B,” its objective, according to a State
Department memo that has been authenticated by an official who knew of
it at the time, was to “enable [Abbas] and his supporters to reach a
defined endgame by the end of 2007 The endgame should produce a
[Palestinian Authority] government through democratic means that
accepts Quartet principles.”

Like the Walles ultimatum of late 2006, Plan B called for Abbas to
“collapse the government” if Hamas refused to alter its attitude
toward Israel. From there, Abbas could call early elections or impose
an emergency government. It is unclear whether, as president, Abbas
had the constitutional authority to dissolve an elected government led
by a rival party, but the Americans swept that concern aside.

Security considerations were paramount, and Plan B had explicit
prescriptions for dealing with them. For as long as the unity
government remained in office, it was essential for Abbas to maintain
“independent control of key security forces.” He must “avoid Hamas
integration with these services, while eliminating the Executive Force
or mitigating the challenges posed by its continued existence.”

In a clear reference to the covert aid expected from the Arabs, the
memo made this recommendation for the next six to nine months: “Dahlan
oversees effort in coordination with General Dayton and Arab [nations]
to train and equip 15,000-man force under President Abbas’s control to
establish internal law and order, stop terrorism and deter extralegal

The Bush administration’s goals for Plan B were elaborated in a
document titled “An Action Plan for the Palestinian Presidency.” This
action plan went through several drafts and was developed by the U.S.,
the Palestinians, and the government of Jordan. Sources agree,
however, that it originated in the State Department.

The early drafts stressed the need for bolstering Fatah’s forces in
order to “deter” Hamas. The “desired outcome” was to give Abbas “the
capability to take the required strategic political decisions … such
as dismissing the cabinet, establishing an emergency cabinet.”

The drafts called for increasing the “level and capacity” of 15,000 of
Fatah’s existing security personnel while adding 4,700 troops in seven
new “highly trained battalions on strong policing.” The plan also
promised to arrange “specialized training abroad,” in Jordan and
Egypt, and pledged to “provide the security personnel with the
necessary equipment and arms to carry out their missions.”

A detailed budget put the total cost for salaries, training, and “the
needed security equipment, lethal and non-lethal,” at $1.27 billion
over five years. The plan states: “The costs and overall budget were
developed jointly with General Dayton’s team and the Palestinian
technical team for reform”—a unit established by Dahlan and led by his
friend and policy aide Bassil Jaber. Jaber confirms that the document
is an accurate summary of the work he and his colleagues did with
Dayton. “The plan was to create a security establishment that could
protect and strengthen a peaceful Palestinian state living side by
side with Israel,” he says.

The final draft of the Action Plan was drawn up in Ramallah by
officials of the Palestinian Authority. This version was identical to
the earlier drafts in all meaningful ways but one: it presented the
plan as if it had been the Palestinians’ idea. It also said the
security proposals had been “approved by President Mahmoud Abbas after
being discussed and agreed [to] by General Dayton’s team.”

On April 30, 2007, a portion of one early draft was leaked to a
Jordanian newspaper, Al-Majd. The secret was out. From Hamas’s
perspective, the Action Plan could amount to only one thing: a
blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup.

“We Are Late in the Ball Game Here”

The formation of the unity government had brought a measure of calm to
the Palestinian territories, but violence erupted anew after Al-Majd
published its story on the Action Plan. The timing was unkind to
Fatah, which, to add to its usual disadvantages, was without its
security chief. Ten days earlier, Dahlan had left Gaza for Berlin,
where he’d had surgery on both knees. He was due to spend the next
eight weeks convalescing.

In mid-May, with Dahlan still absent, a new element was added to
Gaza’s toxic mix when 500 Fatah National Security Forces recruits
arrived, fresh from training in Egypt and equipped with new weapons
and vehicles. “They had been on a crash course for 45 days,” Dahlan
says. “The idea was that we needed them to go in dressed well,
equipped well, and that might create the impression of new authority.”
Their presence was immediately noticed, not only by Hamas but by staff
from Western aid agencies. “They had new rifles with telescopic
sights, and they were wearing black flak jackets,” says a frequent
visitor from Northern Europe. “They were quite a contrast to the usual
scruffy lot.”

On May 23, none other than Lieutenant General Dayton discussed the new
unit in testimony before the House Middle East subcommittee. Hamas had
attacked the troops as they crossed into Gaza from Egypt, Dayton said,
but “these 500 young people, fresh out of basic training, were
organized. They knew how to work in a coordinated fashion. Training
does pay off. And the Hamas attack in the area was, likewise,

The troops’ arrival, Dayton said, was one of several “hopeful signs”
in Gaza. Another was Dahlan’s appointment as national-security
adviser. Meanwhile, he said, Hamas’s Executive Force was becoming
“extremely unpopular I would say that we are kind of late in the ball
game here, and we are behind, there’s two out, but we have our best
clutch hitter at the plate, and the pitcher is beginning to tire on
the opposing team.”

The opposing team was stronger than Dayton realized. By the end of May
2007, Hamas was mounting regular attacks of unprecedented boldness and

At an apartment in Ramallah that Abbas has set aside for wounded
refugees from Gaza, I meet a former Fatah communications officer named
Tariq Rafiyeh. He lies paralyzed from a bullet he took to the spine
during the June coup, but his suffering began two weeks earlier. On
May 31, he was on his way home with a colleague when they were stopped
at a roadblock, robbed of their money and cell phones, and taken to a
mosque. There, despite the building’s holy status, Hamas Executive
Force members were violently interrogating Fatah detainees. “Late that
night one of them said we were going to be released,” Rafiyeh recalls.
“He told the guards, ‘Be hospitable, keep them warm.’ I thought that
meant kill us. Instead, before letting us go they beat us badly.”

On June 7, there was another damaging leak, when the Israeli newspaper
Haaretz reported that Abbas and Dayton had asked Israel to authorize
the biggest Egyptian arms shipment yet—to include dozens of armored
cars, hundreds of armor-piercing rockets, thousands of hand grenades,
and millions of rounds of ammunition. A few days later, just before
the next batch of Fatah recruits was due to leave for training in
Egypt, the coup began in earnest.

Fatah’s Last Stand

The Hamas leadership in Gaza is adamant that the coup would not have
happened if Fatah had not provoked it. Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas’s chief
spokesman, says the leak in Al-Majd convinced the party that “there
was a plan, approved by America, to destroy the political choice.” The
arrival of the first Egyptian-trained fighters, he adds, was the
“reason for the timing.” About 250 Hamas members had been killed in
the first six months of 2007, Barhoum tells me. “Finally we decided to
put an end to it. If we had let them stay loose in Gaza, there would
have been more violence.”

“Everyone here recognizes that Dahlan was trying with American help to
undermine the results of the elections,” says Mahmoud Zahar, the
former foreign minister for the Haniyeh government, who now leads
Hamas’s militant wing in Gaza. “He was the one planning a coup.”

Zahar and I speak inside his home in Gaza, which was rebuilt after a
2003 Israeli air strike destroyed it, killing one of his sons. He
tells me that Hamas launched its operations in June with a limited
objective: “The decision was only to get rid of the Preventive
Security Service. They were the ones out on every crossroads, putting
anyone suspected of Hamas involvement at risk of being tortured or
killed.” But when Fatah fighters inside a surrounded Preventive
Security office in Jabaliya began retreating from building to
building, they set off a “domino effect” that emboldened Hamas to seek
broader gains.

Many armed units that were nominally loyal to Fatah did not fight at
all. Some stayed neutral because they feared that, with Dahlan absent,
his forces were bound to lose. “I wanted to stop the cycle of
killing,” says Ibrahim abu al-Nazar, a veteran party chief. “What did
Dahlan expect? Did he think the U.S. Navy was going to come to Fatah’s
rescue? They promised him everything, but what did they do? But he
also deceived them. He told them he was the strongman of the region.
Even the Americans may now feel sad and frustrated. Their friend lost
the battle.”

Others who stayed out of the fight were extremists. “Fatah is a large
movement, with many schools inside it,” says Khalid Jaberi, a
commander with Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which continue to
fire rockets into Israel from Gaza. “Dahlan’s school is funded by the
Americans and believes in negotiations with Israel as a strategic
choice. Dahlan tried to control everything in Fatah, but there are
cadres who could do a much better job. Dahlan treated us
dictatorially. There was no overall Fatah decision to confront Hamas,
and that’s why our guns in al-Aqsa are the cleanest. They are not
corrupted by the blood of our people.”

Jaberi pauses. He spent the night before our interview awake and in
hiding, fearful of Israeli air strikes. “You know,” he says, “since
the takeover, we’ve been trying to enter the brains of Bush and Rice,
to figure out their mentality. We can only conclude that having Hamas
in control serves their overall strategy, because their policy was so
crazy otherwise.”

The fighting was over in less than five days. It began with attacks on
Fatah security buildings, in and around Gaza City and in the southern
town of Rafah. Fatah attempted to shell Prime Minister Haniyeh’s
house, but by dusk on June 13 its forces were being routed.

Years of oppression by Dahlan and his forces were avenged as Hamas
chased down stray Fatah fighters and subjected them to summary
execution. At least one victim was reportedly thrown from the roof of
a high-rise building. By June 16, Hamas had captured every Fatah
building, as well as Abbas’s official Gaza residence. Much of Dahlan’s
house, which doubled as his office, was reduced to rubble.

Fatah’s last stand, predictably enough, was made by the Preventive
Security Service. The unit sustained heavy casualties, but a rump of
about 100 surviving fighters eventually made it to the beach and
escaped in the night by fishing boat.

At the apartment in Ramallah, the wounded struggle on. Unlike Fatah,
Hamas fired exploding bullets, which are banned under the Geneva
Conventions. Some of the men in the apartment were shot with these
rounds 20 or 30 times, producing unimaginable injuries that required
amputation. Several have lost both legs.

The coup has had other costs. Amjad Shawer, a local economist, tells
me that Gaza had 400 functioning factories and workshops at the start
of 2007. By December, the intensified Israeli blockade had caused 90
percent of them to close. Seventy percent of Gaza’s population is now
living on less than $2 a day.

Israel, meanwhile, is no safer. The emergency pro-peace government
called for in the secret Action Plan is now in office—but only in the
West Bank. In Gaza, the exact thing both Israel and the U.S. Congress
warned against came to pass when Hamas captured most of Fatah’s arms
and ammunition—including the new Egyptian guns supplied under the
covert U.S.-Arab aid program.

Now that it controls Gaza, Hamas has given free rein to militants
intent on firing rockets into neighboring Israeli towns. “We are still
developing our rockets; soon we shall hit the heart of Ashkelon at
will,” says Jaberi, the al-Aqsa commander, referring to the Israeli
city of 110,000 people 12 miles from Gaza’s border. “I assure you, the
time is near when we will mount a big operation inside Israel, in
Haifa or Tel Aviv.”

On January 23, Hamas blew up parts of the wall dividing Gaza from
Egypt, and tens of thousands of Palestinians crossed the border.
Militants had already been smuggling weapons through a network of
underground tunnels, but the breach of the wall made their job much
easier—and may have brought Jaberi’s threat closer to reality.

George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice continue to push the peace
process, but Avi Dichter says Israel will never conclude a deal on
Palestinian statehood until the Palestinians reform their entire law-
enforcement system—what he calls “the chain of security.” With Hamas
in control of Gaza, there appears to be no chance of that happening.
“Just look at the situation,” says Dahlan. “They say there will be a
final-status agreement in eight months? No way.”

“An Institutional Failure”

How could the U.S. have played Gaza so wrong? Neocon critics of the
administration—who until last year were inside it—blame an old State
Department vice: the rush to anoint a strongman instead of solving
problems directly. This ploy has failed in places as diverse as
Vietnam, the Philippines, Central America, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,
during its war against Iran. To rely on proxies such as Muhammad
Dahlan, says former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, is “an institutional
failure, a failure of strategy.” Its author, he says, was Rice, “who,
like others in the dying days of this administration, is looking for
legacy. Having failed to heed the warning not to hold the elections,
they tried to avoid the result through Dayton.”

With few good options left, the administration now appears to be
rethinking its blanket refusal to engage with Hamas. Staffers at the
National Security Council and the Pentagon recently put out discreet
feelers to academic experts, asking them for papers describing Hamas
and its principal protagonists. “They say they won’t talk to Hamas,”
says one such expert, “but in the end they’re going to have to. It’s

It is impossible to say for sure whether the outcome in Gaza would
have been any better—for the Palestinian people, for the Israelis, and
for America’s allies in Fatah—if the Bush administration had pursued a
different policy. One thing, however, seems certain: it could not be
any worse.

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