You can't expect a terrorist to crack down on terror.
GAZA 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.
GAZA 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." Even so, al-Hindi believes the Israelis fundamentally misunderstand the cause of the terror that has been unleashed upon them. He says, "A big portion of our work was to counter these actions, and we arrested many of those guys who are behind planning these attacks. But at the same time we shouldn't forget the mess the Israelis created and the psychological status of the Palestinian people from what they are seeing, assassinations, arrests in Area A, destroyed houses, and all kinds of destruction. Most of those carrying out these operations are either relatives or brothers and sisters of those whose houses are being demolished." Al-Hindi admits that rogue elements of the Fatah organization are involved in attacks on civilians. But he also points out that suicide bombs are relatively easy to manufacture. "Go on the Internet and you can find out how to make them." When I ask al-Hindi about documents that implicate Arafat directly, he clucks his tongue and says that the besieged chairman of the Palestinian Authority does not authorize suicide bombings or terrorist attacks. He adds, "Chairman Arafat is responsible for Fatah and the Palestinian people. Anyone from Fatah or any other branch of the Palestinian Authority, if he asks for help, Arafat will sign it according to our capabilities." While the Israelis have yet to find a piece of paper that shows Arafat authorizing terror strikes directly, a September 7, 2001, request for funds from Kamal Hamid, the Fatah regional commander in Bethlehem, reveals that Arafat was at least willing to send money to those who do. The document shows Hamid requesting $2,000 each for 24 Fatah activists in Bethlehem, including Atef Abiat, who according to the IDF was responsible for a May 21, 2001, shooting attack on civilians in the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. Arafat scribbled on the document that they would receive $300 each. Another memo dated September 16, 2001, with hand-written annotations from Arafat's finance minister, Fuad Shubaki, authorizes procurement of the chemical precursors of explosives and compensation for memorial ceremonies for martyrs from the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, a loose affiliation of street toughs in the West Bank designated last month by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Shubaki also orchestrated the 50-ton shipment of military explosives and heavy weapons from Iran seized in the vessel Karine A by the Israeli navy on January 3. He is now cooped up, along with the five men Israel said were behind the assassination of tourism minister Rehavham Zeevi, in Arafat's Ramallah compound. The money for these operations, according to an intelligence report shared with me by a senior Israeli counterterrorism official, is often siphoned from contributions from European and Arab donors to the Palestinian Authority. One way this happens is through the conversion of dollars and euros to shekels. The Palestinian Authority receives donations in foreign currency, but pays civil service employees' salaries in shekels. The market rate for shekels is 4.7 to the dollar, but the salaries are paid, according to the Israelis, at 3.6 shekels to the dollar, and the difference goes to terror operations. This week, Israel's counterterrorism bureau will present an intelligence report documenting the scheme to U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, according to Col. Udi Levy, the international relations chief for Israel's Bureau of counterterrorism. Levy says this report will also show that the cash derived from the difference in exchange rates goes directly to the Tanzim, the militia wing of Fatah, whose general secretary, Marwan Barghouti, was apprehended last week by Israeli authorities. "They are paying the salaries for the civilians in shekels," Levy said. By finessing the exchange rates, he said, the Palestinian Authority diverts $2.5 million a month "to a slush fund. This is one example of how the Palestinian Authority is financing their terrorism." Karim Nashashibi, the senior resident representative for the International Monetary Fund in the West Bank and Gaza, said in an interview last week that he believed this practice was mainly in order to keep the real value of salaries down. "In order to limit salary increases in shekels to certain categories like the police force, the Palestinian Authority used a nominal exchange rate which is much more appreciated than the market exchange rate," he said. But he added that he was not aware that the extra cash was diverted for terrorism. Al-Hindi quibbled about the exchange rate--he said it was closer to 3.9 shekels to the dollar--but admitted that some aid money was being diverted into private funds. "First of all, the PA budget is always in debt. We need more money," al-Hindi said. "The commitment is always more than what we get or have. We are not only responsible for the employees, we are responsible for the unemployed people as well." Al-Hindi laughed when I said Israeli officials said some of this money went to support terrorists. "We are not buying weapons with this money," he told me. Israeli officials also say they have evidence that the Palestinian Authority has sold humanitarian contributions from Arab countries. "Unfortunately the Palestinian Authority always complains about donations and humanitarian aid," Levy said. "We have evidence of a donation from a European country, Greece, of 300 pounds of figs they sent to Palestinian poor people. They sold this in Israeli markets." Levy said this case and others were under investigation by Israel's customs services. The documents the Israelis have seized are not limited to invoices and intelligence reports. A September 30, 2001, statement from Arafat's Liaison Committee, the official Palestinian bureau overseeing relations with Palestinian Arabs living inside Israel, marks the one-year anniversary of the current intifada with these words: "We will draw up with blood the map of the one homeland and the one people." Anyone with a computer and a modem can find these documents in their original form and in English translation on the IDF website (www.idf.il). And it's worth checking this site regularly, because the Israelis say they have many more they intend to publish. Given that these materials are readily available, it is peculiar that State Department officials are telling reporters they cannot discuss the documents because of the sensitivity of foreign intelligence. This is the exact opposite of the approach the Bush administration took in January to the Karine A affair. At the time, Secretary of State Colin Powell himself spoke publicly about the Israeli findings and called on Arafat to account for the matter. The real reason the Bush administration has so far avoided commenting on the documents is that confirming their authenticity would undermine the turn in policy articulated by President Bush on April 4 and embraced by Powell on his peace mission last week. At a press conference Wednesday at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, Powell summed up the approach as follows: "Improvement in the security situation must be linked to the second point: determined pursuit of a political solution." Translation: The Israelis have to negotiate with Yasser Arafat in order to end the suicide bomb attacks they say they can prove that Arafat is at least partially funding, inciting, and failing to stop. For now, at least, the Israelis have said "No, thanks" to that approach, and Bush seems unwilling to press them. Eli J. Lake covers the State Department for United Press International.
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