Reported in Israel this week:
[Since 2007, the U.S. State Department] has invested $392 million in rehabilitating and training [Palestinian Authority] security forces … more than $160 million to fund certain units of the security forces, $89 million for vehicles and nonlethal equipment, $99 million for the renovation or construction of PA security forces’ installations and $22 million in programs to increase the forces’ capacity. The State Department has requested an additional $150 million for 2011.
The forces are trained mainly in Jordan, and then deployed in the West Bank. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, who has been in charge of this endeavor and is soon to be replaced by U.S. Air Force Major General Michael Moeller, said in May 2009:
With big expectations, come big risks. There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you’re creating a state, when you’re not.
He was clearly implying that the Palestinians were being trained for the purpose of becoming the security force of an imminent Palestinian state. Now, in July 2010, with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas refusing — despite heavy Western pressure — even to enter talks with Israel, the “big risks” Dayton referred to seem to be looming.
Indeed, as revealed by Israeli media outlets this week, Israel regards this whole enterprise as risky, whether or not a Palestinian state is on the way. Yoni Ben-Menachem, head of Israel Radio since 2003, said on Monday:
Israeli security forces show great suspicion toward the Palestinian security apparatus in the West Bank despite the fact that they battle Hamas and were trained by U.S. General Dayton. Israel assesses that a scenario of another armed intifada in the West Bank is possible and that the Palestinian security apparatus might act against the settlers and IDF soldiers.
Ben-Menachem goes on to cite General Avi Mizrahi, head of Israel’s Central Command, saying in a speech last May at the national training center:
[The] IDF must also be prepared for an escalation in fighting against Palestinian security personnel trained in Jordan by U.S. General Dayton.
This is a trained force, better equipped by an American mentor, and the upshot is that at the beginning of combat, the price we pay will be higher. Such a force can close down a built-up area with four snipers, it’s deadly. It is no longer the gunmen of Jenin. It is an infantry force standing in front of us and we must take that into consideration.
Not surprisingly, another report on Monday — this one by Barak Ravid in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz — said:
A U.S. government watchdog has found that the Israeli government’s conduct in recent years — including delaying the transfer to Palestinian security forces of AK-47 rifles, radios, vehicles, and uniforms — hampers U.S. efforts to train those forces in the West Bank.
Ravid writes that the watchdog in question, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, claims the following:
Despite Israel’s demand that the Palestinians act against terrorist groups, Israel has rebuffed American efforts to train Palestinian forces in combating terror. … For instance, a shipment [to the forces] of 1,000 AK-47s was approved by the Israeli government, but detained in customs. … American officials told the accountability office that Israel was delaying the transfer of nonlethal equipment as well, and insists on deciding on a case-by-case basis whether equipment can be transferred to the PA.
What’s happening here? If the U.S. is investing so much in cultivating these fighters, why is Israel reportedly trying to foil the effort?
For one thing, Israel’s fears are well-founded in grim precedent.
In 1996, in the incident in Jerusalem known as the “tunnel war,” Palestinian policemen who had been armed by Israel turned their guns on Israeli soldiers and killed fifteen of them. On a much larger scale, Palestinian “security forces” took part in many anti-Israeli terror attacks in the second intifada. As recently as February 10 of this year, an Israeli soldier was stabbed to death in a terror attack by a PA police officer.
Also, the fact that the U.S.-trained PA forces are fighting Hamas — to what extent and how effectively depends on which reports one reads — does not mean these forces are Israel’s friends. The Fatah-run PA is in a deadly conflict with Hamas and doesn’t want it to take over the West Bank as it has taken over Gaza. The PA, however, remains mired in its own murderously anti-Israeli ethos that is hardly less vicious than that of Hamas. Considering that Israel is quite capable of quelling Hamas on the West Bank by itself, it is severely irresponsible for the U.S. to be training a PA force under such circumstances.
The Palestinian state that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel could accept would have to be a demilitarized one. Yet even today, a top Israeli general describes the PA as having an “infantry force,” already casting the prospective state’s “demilitarization” in doubt.
And if, as seems very likely these days, that state is actually not going to arise soon, then General Dayton’s words about “big risks” and a short “shelf life” could prove all too prophetic as the well-trained but aimless forces seek a target for their new capabilities.
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