The Magazine

Policing Terror, Palestinian Style

You can't expect a terrorist to crack down on terror.

Apr 29, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 32 • By ELI J. LAKE
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IN THE COMING DAYS, President Bush will send CIA director George Tenet to Gaza and the West Bank to assess the capacity of the ravaged Palestinian security services to prevent the suicide bombings that have made everyday life perilous for Israelis. Tenet and other CIA men on the ground in the area have tried to persuade a cadre of Yasser Arafat's top security chiefs to sit down with their Israeli counterparts and resume the security cooperation envisioned under a cease-fire plan Tenet helped author last June. But neither side gives this mission much of a chance.

To begin with, the majority of the Palestinian jails, police stations, and operations centers, along with the records kept in these places--critical for effective counterterrorism, assuming the Palestinian authorities were interested in counterterrorism--have been destroyed by Israeli missiles in response to Palestinian attacks on civilians.

And most of the records Israeli missiles haven't destroyed have been captured by the Israeli Defense Forces. In many cases these documents implicate the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority in the terrorist attacks the security services were created to prevent.

If Tenet and his spies are ever to have a chance of success, they will need the cooperation of Amin al-Hindi, the director of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service and one of the few figures in the Palestinian Authority whom the Israelis are willing to consider as a possible partner.

When I crossed the 200 yards that separate the neat rows of concrete barricades on the Israeli side of the Eretz Crossing into the cluttered and crumbling slums of Gaza, I saw what al-Hindi is up against. On nearly every wall throughout the city, Arabic graffiti glorify the "martyrs" al-Hindi's men are supposed to apprehend. The view from al-Hindi's top floor office, with its cherry wood cabinets and well-oiled brown leather sofas, is of an abandoned field littered with garbage, with a row of metal shacks in the distance. Next to his ultra-modern twin-towered headquarters stands an abandoned amusement park, closed because it is too near a potential target of Israel's air force. One of his aides, Mamdouh Fadel al-Borno, gives me a tour of the headquarters. At one point he gestures down a vacant, darkened corridor and says, "That's our counter-terrorism bureau. Nobody is here because they are afraid of the next Israeli attack."

Two years ago al-Hindi's cooperation with Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet, was unquestioned by either the Americans or the Israelis. Today his old partners say his intelligence service, along with just about every other official organ of the Palestinian Authority, is not only failing to prevent the suicide bombers that plague everyday life here, but helping coordinate the operations.

For example, among other seized documents, the Israelis released on April 4 a status report dated February 6, 2002, on the "armed Fatah personnel" in Tulkarm. The report was produced by Hamdi al-Darduch, the Palestinian Authority's chief of intelligence for the West Bank village. It describes in detail the activities, capacities, funding sources, and political affiliations of three squads of militant groups in the area affiliated with Arafat's own political party, Fatah.

Describing the Ziad Daas squad, al-Darduch's report says: "This squad carried out high quality successful attacks. The last in this framework was the coordination and planning of the operation in Hadera to avenge the death of martyr Raed al-Karmi." That "operation" killed 6 Israelis and injured another 25 attending a bar mitzvah on January 17. The memo goes on: "It would be fair to say this squad is the most disciplined, and its men understand the general situation. Its men are very close to us and maintain with us continuous coordination and contact."

Unlike other members of the Palestinian Authority when asked about similar documents, al-Hindi did not dispute the authenticity of the al-Darduch report when I showed him an English version.

"There is no doubt some of the papers are true. I have a copy of this," he said. "This is part of his work to give a clear report on everything that is going on there that is existing in the area, including Fatah. Our work is to collect intelligence, so he reported this work to his superiors, and the Israelis considered this as a document against the Palestinian General Intelligence."