Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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20 Tammuz 5765 - July 27, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Report: Palestinian Security Forces are A Mess

by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

According to a story in the New York Times, the PA security forces are divided, weak, overstaffed, badly motivated and underarmed. This assessment was the conclusion of a report prepared by a group called Strategic Assessments Initiative and was funded the Dutch and Canadian governments. It was made a part of the mandate given to Lieutenant General William E. Ward, the U.S. envoy overseeing reforms of the Palestinian Authority and security issues during the disengagement, at an international conference in London in March. An advance copy was made available to the New York Times by the authors.

The report has been reviewed by senior American and Palestinian officials, including those in the office of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. It was not seen by Israeli officials prior to publication.

The 83-page report, "Palestinian Security Assessment," was prepared by the Washington-based group which has worked in difficult places like Kosovo, East Timor and Macedonia.

The study was part of an internationally supported effort to analyze the current deficiencies of the Palestinian security forces while suggesting a long-term program for the PA security services to help guide foreign donors and the Palestinians themselves.

The report also represents an effort to plan Palestinian security cooperation with Israel before, during and after the Israeli pullout of its settlers from the Gaza Strip, scheduled to begin in three weeks. General Ward, who is to testify on Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee in Washington, is the international coordinator for the security side of the pullout. The US announced that he has completed his task in the Middle East and will receive a new assignment.

According to the Times, the report sees the biggest risks in the Disengagement from rocket and mortar attacks carried out by Islamic Jihad or other small, local undisciplined terror groups that are not participating in Palestinian politics. They also speculated that there may be Israeli settler incursions intended "to provoke a violent Palestinian reaction" and thereby pull in the Israeli Army.

It also noted that continuing violence against Israelis by lawless Palestinian militants in Gaza could prompt the Israeli Army to move into Palestinian areas to create a buffer zone. This could cause fierce clashes, civilian casualties and would almost certainly result in a collapse of coordination between the two sides.

In assessing the PA forces, the report says that they were originally established on "an ad hoc basis without statutory support and in isolation of wider reforms" — a dry characterization of the chaotic style of Yasser Arafat and his preference for duplication and rivalry between the various organizations so that none could ever threaten him.

The security forces in Gaza are somewhat stronger than those in the West Bank, but suffer from a continuing lack of coordination, the report says. "The critical gap is in command and control," Mr. Jarat Chopra, who heads the group's Jerusalem office and who teaches international law at Brown University, told the Times. "There's a blurring between state actors and non-state actors, and that's very difficult from the military point of view."

Despite recent changes by Mr. Abbas, centralizing most forces under Mr. Nasser Youssef the interior minister, things are still chaotic. For example, former chiefs like Jibril Rajoub and Mahmoud Dahlan, who have no official authority over the security forces now, retain powerful influence over them and play an important security coordination role with Israel. The current chief of preventive security, Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak, is considered a Dahlan loyalist with weak ties to Mr. Youssef, and divisions between the West Bank and Gaza are deep.

Other problems are that there remain unintegrated forces like General Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Special Security, Special Forces and the Political Direction Department; Palestinian family clans still play a strong role in various security forces; Fatah's own fighters are only loosely organized; and there are many local strongmen in individual refugee camps.

Senior Israeli military officials, as well as Israeli politicians, insist that Mr. Abbas has sufficient manpower and arms to dismantle the militant groups if he decides to do so. Israeli officials were interviewed for the report, but they were not shown the results before publication.

Israel has so far refused requests by General Ward to allow the Palestinians to import new armored vehicles and fresh supplies of arms. Presumably, Israeli officials want to see which way the new guns would be pointed before allowing any in. So far there have been no indications that they would be turned against other Palestinian groups, and in fact Abbas has said that he will not confront Palestinians with arms, implying that any need for weapons is only against Israel.

The report said that more attention must be paid to building up institutions rather than personalities. It also says that Israeli attacks on Palestinian security forces in the spring of 2002 destroyed much of their infrastructure, and that the current quality of arms and ammunition is low and deteriorating. "Meanwhile, non-state factions" like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the various fighters of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and local groups like the Tanzim and the Popular Resistance Committee "are, by contrast, relatively well armed," according to the report. Ammunition "is in very short supply, and much of what is available is in poor condition and unreliable."

As significant changes, the report cites an age limit on service, the appointment of Mr. Youssef, the reorganization of institutional hierarchies and the firing of some long- serving commanders.

The report says that a credible Palestinian security structure that can provide internal order is the basis for a reliable relationship with Israel that could lead to a permanent peace.

The Israeli Army commander for Gaza, Gen. Dan Harel, said the army wanted to carry out the Disengagement over no more than three weeks, including nights, but not on Shabbos. Mr. Abbas announced that he was moving to Gaza for the duration of the pullout, to try to ensure that it goes smoothly.


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