Daily Israel Report

Report: US May Back 40,000-Man Fatah Army

The U.S. is quietly entrenching itself deeper in the sands of Gaza with a plan to back the entire Fatah-led security force. Hamas and some analysts warn the Americans will get stuck in a quagmire.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 2/1/2007, 3:59 PM / Last Update: 2/1/2007, 2:58 PM

The Bush administration already has committed itself to provide $86 million to finance training and equipment for the personal "Presidential Guard" of Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. However, the U.S. is also now considering funding all of the PA security forces in order to counter the Hamas militia, Reuters News Agency reported Thursday. Israel, the PA and the U.S. government have not commented.

The security forces include at least 40,000 members, more than twice the number allowed by the Oslo Accords, and include many convicted terrorists whom Israel has freed. It also is common for Fatah security officers to simultaneously be members of Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

Extending aid to all of Abbas's forces and weeding out known terrorists could create havoc for the PA chairman, but officials maintain that a review process would ensure that the PA forces who receive American training have no ties to terrorist groups, Reuters added.

The rival Hamas terrorist organization, which comprises the majority of the PA legislature, as well as independent analysts have warned that the U.S. may be setting itself up to appear as an enemy and not a friend of Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Hamas media spokesman Ghazi Hamda charged that the American aid is aimed to promote conflict between Hamas and Fatah in order to allow the Bush administration and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to become the dominant force in the area.

A second Hamas spokesman, Ismail Radwan, was more blunt. "Whenever the United States sees that the Palestinians are about to achieve a unity agreement, it sends Condoleezza Rice to the region, or publicly announces sending weapons and money to Abbas, because it does not want unity among the Palestinians," he asserted.

Political analyst Bassem Zubeide of Ramallah's Bir Zeit University said, "Most Palestinians will think that the United States is getting heavily involved, and that will definitely weaken the Abbas point of view."

The U.S. has committed $86 million for the Presidential Guard and another $42 million to promote programs aimed at countering Hamas. The Americans maintain that its aid will not go for weapons but instead will be used for training and for uniforms, radios and other equipment. However, massive American aid to Egypt and Jordan has made it easier for those countries to ship rifles, with Israel's approval, to Abbas.

Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the special U.S. military envoy to the PA, claims that the training by American army officers is meant to build up the Presidential Guard and not for the purpose of fighting Hamas. However, the guard has been the main fighting force in the Fatah-Hamas force militia war that broke out two months ago.

Regardless of the source of the weapons, Hamas has vowed they will be used against Israel. "The more weapons the Americans give to Abbas, the more we will have to use against the Israelis when we go back to carrying out operations together," one Hamas leader predicted.

Abbas himself has urged fighting factions to stop warring with each other and to "aim their rifles at the occupation," the same phrase used by Islamic Jihad terrorists who took responsibility for this week's suicide bombing in Eilat.

American Secretary of State Rice remains optimistic. She recently said at a press conference, "I want everyone to know how much we admire the leadership of President Abbas. We have made a lot of progress because of [his] hard work."