Thursday, November 18, 2004

Dahlan Watch I

Dahlan Watch I

Yasser Arafat ran the PLO, not as a revolutionary movement (despite his rhetoric) but as an (dis)organized crime family. Thus whoever will take over for him will not be a political successor. (Yes I know, we keep hearing that the election will take place within 60 days as stipulated by the Palestinian constitution. Right. The Palestinian constitution is a nice fig leaf, but I suspect it's rarely referred to - except when its provisions can be promoted by Western journalists trumpeting Palestinian "democracy.")
Arafat's successor will have two important attributes: Guns and money. In Gaza, the man with the most solid credentials in those areas are former security chief Mohammed Dahlan. I'm going to try to keep up with his antics over the coming months.
Because Dahlan headed the security service in Gaza he should have plenty of armed men whose loyalty he commands. Because he has lots of money he should be able to buy the loyalty of others. How did he get his money? Here's part of the answer:

This tax enables Rajoub to expand his organization's power. There are approximately 20 different security apparatuses operating in the territories today; they compete with one another, and the extent of their influence is naturally derived from their economic prowess. Avraham Biger, CEO of Paz up until two months ago, wrings his hands in chagrin: "Pedasco was simply too serious; we believed the Palestinians would live up to their obligations under the Paris agreement and would honor previous agreements. We never received any formal tender announcement from the Palestinians, and this fell on us like a bolt out of the blue."

Overnight, Pedasco found itself without contracts, without customers, and without the equipment it had leased to the gas stations. After the fact, it turned out that the Authority had even had an exclusive contract for supply with the German-French company Marimpex, signed by Yasser Arafat, when suddenly Dor showed up and snatched all the marbles. The agreement was signed between Joseph Antverg, then the CEO of Dor, and Muhammad Rashid, representing the Palestinians, as "senior economic advisor" to Arafat.

The gas station owners have no business relationship with Dor Energy. Dor sells the fuel to the Palestinian monopoly at a certain price, and the monopoly sells it to the station owners at a much higher price. The monopoly keeps the difference. The station owners have no alternative, because Rajoub's outfit in the West Bank and Muhammad Dahlan's in the Gaza Strip prevent any other, competing importation and assign armed guards to escort Dor's tankers right up to the stations themselves.

Another way in which the security apparatuses finance their augmented activity is through the collection of unloading taxes. Rajoub and Dahlan control, in effect, all the discharging platforms at the transit points to the Palestinian Authority. Dahlan is also the owner of the loading pitchforks at the Erez checkpoint. Every merchant and truck owner must pay the preventive security apparatus a tithe in order to proceed. Sometimes, its done in a simpler fashion. An Israeli importer of cleaning products, who opened a branch in Gaza, was asked to pay $2,000, a "donation" to Force 17. A year ago,a rich Arab from East Jerusalem was asked to purchase 14 new jeeps, out of his own money, for Rajoub's organization's use.

I don't believe Hamas will really be a serious player for awhile as Yassin and Rantisi pre-deceased Arafat. But it really doesn't make much of a difference as Dahlan has had a pretty good working relationship with Hamas in the past.
On Thursday, five Israelis were wounded, one critically, in Palestinian attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The attacks came as Palestinian sources confirmed that Hamas militant Mohammed Deif, who tops Israel's most-wanted list for his involvement in terrorist attacks, has escaped from a Palestinian jail.

According to Israel Radio, a Hamas Web site claimed that Mohammed Dahlan, the head of Palestinian security in Gaza, helped Deif escape. Deif and Dahlan reportedly became friendly while serving time together in an Israeli jail.

According to the site, Dahlan arranged for Deif to be moved to a safe house amid concern that Israel might bomb the jail to assassinate Deif.

And I expect that he still does.

After Arafat's death, the Scotsman interviewed Dahlan:

Palestinians need time to Â?build a new houseÂ? following the death of Yasser Arafat, and the key to a cease-fire with Palestinian militants is in IsraelÂ?s hands, said Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan in an interview published today.

Dahlan, who holds no official position but who commands a loyal following in Gaza, told the Israeli Yediot Ahronot daily that halting four years of violence with Israel will not be the first priority of the post-Arafat leadership.

Â?If you want, there will be a cease-fire. If you donÂ?t want, there wonÂ?t be. The key is in your hands,Â? he was quoted as saying, blaming Israel for the breakdown of previous cease-fires.

Â?But a cease-fire is not the first stage. We are building a new house now from the foundations. That is the first task,Â? he said.

Then there's this gem:

Dahlan is expected to hold a key position of power in the post-Arafat Palestinian power structure, though it is not known if he will enter the Cabinet.

As if the only power to wield is political. Having armed men supporting him, I'm sure that Dahlan will hold a "key position of power" he need not join the cabinet. This isn't Washington, it's Gaza.

Still it's interesting apparently that Dahlan is considered close to America as this article about the killing of 3 Americans in Gaza tells us:

Ranking Palestinian Authority officials know the solution to the mystery, but lack clear proof. What's more, they are afraid of talking about it in public. Almost certainly, the solution is that the explosive charge was indeed intended to cause American casualties, but the people behind the attack intended to devalue the status of the man considered to be closest to the Americans in the Gaza Strip. This is Mohammed Dahlan, once described as the most powerful strongman in Gaza. The Preventive Security Service, which Dahlan created and also led, received widespread assistance from the United States. Dahlan has maintained contact with American government agencies and authorities, and any disruption of the relationship between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority harms him.

(It's also interesting as Dahlan said in the Scotsman article:

Dahlan appealed to Israel to allow the Palestinians to hold elections within 60 days, as set out in Palestinian law. Â?The next president cannot receive legitimacy from Israel or America,Â? he said, Â?but only from our street, from the refugee campsÂ? and population centres.

I'm curious to what degree Dahlan still gets support from the US. Or is it just perception now?
For now Dahlan has bowed out of the presidential race and thown his support behind Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). That would be good news for Abbas. But it suggests that he would be a puppet. At the end of the article, talking of the attempted assassination of Abbas on Sunday, Dahlan said:

Dahlan said he was confident the campaign for president could proceed without violence, and played down Sunday's shooting at a mourning tent for Arafat, moments after Abbas arrived. Abbas was whisked to safety, but two security agents were killed and five people wounded.

Dahlan said the names of the gunmen were known to police, but refused to elaborate. "Measures will be taken against them," he said.

Hmm. Think there'll be some "collaborator" executions in Gaza soon?

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