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Israel's Qualitative Military Edge, Part III: The Palestinians

Written by Shoshana Bryen

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 In this decade, threats to Israel from the inner circle of its enemies changed in a qualitative way as Hamas and Hezbollah acquired arms and training from Iran-and in the case of the Palestinians, the United States.

Arafat's Fatah launched the "second intifada" in late 2000 primarily from the West Bank. Hamas was not a real factor and Gaza was relatively quiet. Israel was comfortable in the early years with the Bush Administration's approach to the Palestinian Authority (PA), for example, not meeting Arafat, the June 24th speech, the President's consistent support for Israel's need to defend itself from terror across the borders including 2002's Operation Defensive Shield and the construction of the Security Fence, the 2005 Gaza disengagement, the 2006 Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead against Hamas rocket attacks. 

In what turned out to be a mistake of historic proportion, however, Israel and the United States agreed to allow Hamas to run in the 2006 Palestinian election, changing the Palestinian dynamic after the Palestinian civil war and the ouster of Fatah from Gaza.  And it was the Bush administration-with Israeli acquiescence and assistance-that undertook training of Palestinian "security forces" under the leadership of an U.S. Army general.
 
It wasn't the first time.
 
During the Oslo years, the Clinton Administration and Israel agreed that the Palestinians would have an armed "police force" working in concert with Israel against...  Well, against what? The Israelis and Americans hoped that the Palestinians would provide security for Israel by "dismantling the terrorist infrastructure" and, and, and ... Well, what? It was a vain hope that Palestinians could be induced to kill other Palestinians on behalf of security for the State of Israel and its citizens. A JINSA group met with a Palestinian police commander and his troops in 1997. A retired American general remarked, "These are soldiers, not police. They look like soldiers, they train like soldiers and they will kill like soldiers."
 
True enough. During the "second intifada," Palestinian police turned on Israel, bragging about their American training and equipment. The United States stopped the program, but reinstated it in 2005-with agreement from Israel. The 2006 Palestinian civil war showed that (U.S.-trained) Fatah forces were no match for Hamas troops, and had no more respect for human rights. Fighters on both sides appear to have executed wounded enemies and tossed people off rooftops.
 
The United States has spent hundreds of millions of American tax dollars training Fatah-related Palestinians as police and, increasingly under the Obama Administration, as Hamas-hunters-the theory being that the more Fatah does to control Hamas, the less Israel has to do to control Hamas. OK, but who controls Fatah? 
 
Who ensures that the skills and discipline, the communications equipment, the sniper rifles, the armored personnel carriers and the body armor aren't turned into weapons against Israel? What happens if Hamas and Fatah form a unity government-which the Obama Administration is pushing-and decide that they would do better to combine forces against Israel? Who will ultimately control the force, and why is the United States training a military whose ultimate loyalty cannot be reasonably assured? How does this help Israel be secure? And, parenthetically, why does the Israeli government think this is a good idea? Regular JINSA Report readers have all the details, going back to 2006.
 
[Also parenthetically, American military support for the Lebanese Armed Forces-increased under the Obama Administration-with a government that includes Hezbollah in the cabinet, raises precisely the same difficulties for Israel. It is inconceivable that Hezbollah government ministers are walled off from Hezbollah commanders in south Lebanon, particularly when Hezbollah is now an "official" militia operating with government permission. The destructive power of Iran's supply of weapons directly to Hezbollah would be greatly enhanced by the UAVs, radars and communications equipment in the hands of the Lebanese government. Where is Israel's "edge"?]
 
Unelected PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad recently told associates that what the United States carefully calls the "security force" is actually the nucleus of the Palestinian army he plans to have in the independent Palestinian state he plans to declare some time next year. Other media reports cite growing friction between PA authorities and the U.S. general in charge, with the Palestinians looking for other, perhaps more pliable, sources of training and arms. Someone should be looking into reported CIA support for the PA army.
 
Even now, Palestinian human rights organizations-not our favorite sources-regularly report Fatah security force harassment, arrest and detention of Palestinians who are not Hamas, but who are insufficiently obedient to Fatah. There is increasingly less freedom for journalists to report on activities of the PA, and Abu Mazen canceled the scheduled January election, announcing he would not run for a new term of office, but also would not stop governing. With his own U.S.-trained private army, who was going to complain?  But that is not our problem here.
 
To the extent that there is such a thing as a Qualitative Military Edge (QME), a dubious proposition, it must exist at the level closest to Israel's citizens as well as being balanced with countries far away. The Obama Administration doubled down on the Bush money to the Palestinian Army and added tens of millions more, making the Palestinians ever less likely to be receptive to constraints on their future military capabilities.
 
We would rather have an extra couple of dozen fighter planes in Morocco than an extra dozen battalions of American-trained, Fatah/Hamas-controlled Palestinians next to Israel's population centers.

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Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director for Security Policy at JINSA

Founded in 1976, JINSA, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit based in Washington DC, provides leadership and affects policy on issues of American national security and foreign policy. JINSA proudly publishes the Journal of International Security Affairs. Learn more about JINSA and its programs the Web and follow us on Facebook

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