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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

US taught Palestinians how to be better terrorists

And now it is happening again.

I'm not the type of person who likes to make predictions, but it is so blindingly obvious that the current "peace" initiative is at best a temporary cease-fire. It is a repeat of Oslo, full of optimism and wishful thinking and very short on long-term responsibility on the part of the Palestinians. As I pointed out before, all of Israel's concessions have long-term effects and are hard to reverse; all of the Palestinians' moves can be reversed in an instant.

Let Israel say right now - here are our red lines. No negotiations over Jerusalem. No negotiations over Jewish access to Rachel's tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs. The West Bank must not be Judenrein. The Green Line will never be returned to. No "right of return." And for all of these, war is preferable to crossing these lines.

Put it on the table. If it is clear that these contradict the Palestinian "red-lines" then why go through the charade of "peace" negotiations that are doomed to fail and that will inevitably put Israel at a disadvantage in the next Oslo war?

Israel is gambling with the lives of its citizens again. It is possible for a right-wing government to make peace - look at Begin - but Sharon is no Begin. And now in the Israeli government and media, the enemy is no longer the Palestinians who dream to destroy Israel...it is the "settlers" who are willing to defend Israel. This is craziness, and worse, it is suicidal.


Bethlehem, West Bank -- In June 1998, somewhere near CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., two rows of men in military fatigues posed for their graduation photo.

All of them were officers in Palestinian General Intelligence Service, charged with hunting down terrorists and preventing attacks on Israel. They had just completed a training course, paid for by the U.S. government, in which they learned firearms and counterterrorist tactics.

But the graduation photo holds a stark warning for the Bush administration as it gets more involved in Middle East peacemaking. Some of the men in the picture later swapped sides and began using the skills they learned in Virginia against the Israelis.

Such training courses, which were suspended with the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, will be an integral part of Washington's aid package for the new government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"There will need to be some international effort, and the United States is prepared to play a major role in that, to help in the training of the Palestinian security forces and in making sure that they are security forces that are part of the solution, not part of the problem," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier this month on the London stop of her European tour.

Lt. Gen. William Ward, Rice's newly named Mideast security coordinator, will visit the region this month to "start looking at how to build Palestinian security forces," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.

"What we're really all talking about is helping the Palestinian security forces get organized, get equipped, get trained and get the command structure that allows them to take care of security problems," Boucher said.

The men in the 1998 photo came from Bethlehem, Jericho and Nablus, which all became flash points in the four-year uprising, called the intifada. Kneeling fourth from the left in the front row is Raafat Bajali. In December 2001, Bajali was killed when a bomb he was making blew up in his face. He had become a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, said some of his comrades in the General Intelligence unit.

Bajali died in a fourth-floor apartment near Bethlehem's Manger Square, the home of Nedal Zedok, a colleague in the Palestinian security forces who also was moonlighting for Al-Aqsa. Zedok, too, was killed in the explosion.

Standing in the back row, second from the left, is Khaled Abu Nijmeh, from Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, according to two of his colleagues who are also pictured.

By 2001, he had become one of the most-wanted Palestinian militants in the city, suspected of involvement in a string of suicide bombings and shooting attacks against Israelis. In May 2002, he was one of 13 gunmen escorted from the Church of the Nativity siege in Bethlehem, flown to Cyprus and then to exile in Europe. Three of the group, including Abu Nijmeh, were given asylum in Italy.

"I am a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and a first sergeant in Palestinian General Intelligence," Abu Nijmeh, now 36, told The Chronicle from his temporary home in Rome. "I personally received a course in antiterrorism and VIP protection.

"I was not alone. Many Palestinian security people were trained by the Americans. We hope they will continue helping us."

Abu Nijmeh and his 12 comrades will be allowed to return to Bethlehem under the cease-fire agreement reached last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli warnings

As Israeli commentators had been warning for years, the CIA inadvertently helped train future adversaries -- as it has done in other countries, including the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan who ended up as Taliban and al Qaeda militants.

"This has proven to be a very risky undertaking," said Israeli political analyst Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University. "Both the CIA and British efforts to train Palestinians during the Oslo process helped strengthen terrorist capabilities."

A U.S. official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said that if previous U.S. aid went to train would-be militants, "obviously steps will be taken so that any future training does not lead to a similar outcome."

The Palestinian security forces were created in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo accords by Arafat to maintain order in newly autonomous Palestinian territories. The recruits were supposed to serve as the police force for the Palestinian Authority and to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel. The CIA and British intelligence services helped provide training and equipment.

But Arafat also used the new police forces to keep himself in power. Based on longtime loyalties within his Fatah political faction, he created 14 separate, often overlapping, security services -- including a naval intelligence unit in the landlocked West Bank.

Palestinian security forces were doubling as militants in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and in Hamas, an Islamic group that has claimed credit for many anti-Israel attacks. Zedok, who was killed by Bajali's bomb, was among those dismissed from the security force after their connections were exposed by Israel. Others, including the Al-Aqsa founder and commander in Ramallah, Khaled al-Shawish, found refuge in Arafat's West Bank headquarters.