Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fatah never fought

I just found Charles Levinson's blog, Conflict Blotter. It looks like a truly excellent resource.

Levinson was in Gaza and interviewed Fatah fighters, where he discovered that they were never instructed to fight back:
We left Gaza yesterday with a Red Cross aid convoy, but I want to post some thoughts on Fatah’s collapse. We spoke with nearly a dozen Fatah fighters and soldiers from the various branches of the security services, all of whom were around in the president’s compound, the intelligence headquarters, the Preventative Security headquarters and even in Khan Younis until the final hours of the battle. We came with a pretty damning indictment of the political and military leadership.

Fatah never fought. Gaza was essentially handed over to Hamas. Soldier after soldier said they felt betrayed and abandoned by their leadership. There was a seemingly willful lack of decision making by the senior most political leadership. Up and down the Gaza Strip from the first moments of fighting, the military leadership disintegrated while the political leadership remained eerily silent.

Ousted Fatah loyalists in Gaza widely suspect a political decision was made early on in Ramallah to surrender the Gaza Strip to Hamas in order to extricate Abbas, Israel and the US from the seeming intractable pickle they were facing as infighting spiraled, living conditions worsened, and the peace process seemed hopelessly stuck. With the Palestinian territories now split, the US, Israel and Abbas suddenly have way forward, without compromising to Hamas.

I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial, and I think the likeliest scenario is that all the parties involved simply accepted what was essentially a fait accompli some time in the course of the fighting and set about finding whatever silver lining could be salvaged.

There are of course a dozen reasons why Fatah was so ineffective. Fatah was unpopular and the vast majority of the security forces were not really Fatah loyalists. They were merely after a steady salary, not some messianic belief in Fatah or the rightness of the Palestinian Authority. They were doing it because it was their job and they hadn’t been paid more than a fraction of their salaries in 18 months. Fatah was also divided into disparate bickering factions.

All that being said, the total surrender of the security forces is striking. Keep reading.

Fatah fighters’ accounts

Abu Qusay is a 23 year old police officer from the Nuseirat camp. He’s a die hard Fatah loyalist and says he was inside Abbas’ presidential compound until late Thursday evening.

We handed Gaza over to Hamas. We don’t understand why our leaders betrayed us like this. We fought back against orders because if we had followed orders, we would have given ourselves up… [Our leaders] received orders from Abbas to give up bases but some military commanders couldn’t accept this.

Abu al Majd, 23, fought along side Abu Qusay the entire time and corroborated many of the details of Abu Qusay’s account.

It was a story of surrender. The bases were given up. I feel psychologically destroyed. It really hurt. I understood that there was an order to evacuate the bases. We were betrayed.

A.R. was a major in the Presidential Guard and has served in the elite highly selective force since the days of Arafat. He is educated, bilingual and comes across as a well disciplined career soldier. In the midst of interviewing him in the garden of the Marna Hotel, Gaza City’s oldest, Al Arabiya began broadcasting a live interview with Dahlan and we all gathered around to watch. After the interview we continued.

“Funny,” A.R. said. “Despite all that has happened in Gaza, Dahlan’s spirits seem pretty high.”

“What do you think that means?” I asked.

“He knew. Dahlan knew this was coming and he was planning for this scenario,” A.R. said.

A.R. continued, describing the total lack of resistance by the Fatah security services. The only order they ever received was to surrender bases if Hamas wanted them badly enough, he said.

The only order we ever heard coming from Abbas in Ramallah was that he didn’t want a blood bath and if Hamas wanted the security bases, let them take it. We understood that there was not supposed to be any resistance.

The presidential guard were the most highly trained and professional soldiers in the security services’ ranks and they were dismayed when rudimentary and repeatedly drilled steps to respond to the Hamas onslaught were never taken.

No state of emergency was ever declared, curfews were never imposed, contingency counter attack plans were ever drawn up, heavy weapons were never mounted on the roofs of the security bases, and extra ammo stocks were never dragged out of storage.

Abu Mohammad, a 26-year-old barrel chested soldier in Force 17, spoke to me at Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital:

This was a total betrayal by the political leadership. We were only told ‘don’t fire back,’ and a lot of people didn’t like this… When the clahses first started, when a soldier was being attacked the officers would give him two or three clips max. When they were finished and he asked for more they’d say no more… they only brought out the heavier weapons and ammo on Thursday when it was too late. By then most of the soldiers had run away.

The battle for the Preventative Security Services headquarters in Gaza City was the decisive turning point, when it became clear that nothing could save Fatah’s remnants in Gaza. But even that climactic battle was little more than a symbolic stand by only around 30 remaining soldiers, fighters said. Everyone else had long since jumped ship. They put on civilian clothes, dropped their weapons and scampered home. Some soldiers were dragged away from the trenches by frantic mothers who had heard Hamas’ threats to kill any fighters who didn’t surrender.

Hatem Iki, 22, a presidential guardsman with a gruesome story all his own:

The forces saw their leaders had all fled and so everyone else just ran away too.

Hatem’s brother, Mohammad Iki, 29, a sargent in the presidential guard:

When your leaders disappear and run away of course you will be defeated. Until the moment I left the presidential compound, there was never any orders or commands at all. Who would have expected the Muntada could fall without a single bullet being fired. It’s a total betrayal by our leadership.

We spoke with Abu Shaban, 37, a general intelligence officer as he waited at Erez to flee to the West Bank. This is what he had to say:

They decided to deliver Gaza to Hamas to put them in trouble and isolate them from the world. The way the fighting went leaves no doubt that they really gave it up to Hamas.

Abu Abdallah, 31, also a general intelligence officer, was in Khan Younis for the fight:

The decision came from high levels to withdraw from our compound because they didn’t want a blood bath. We were totally surprised.

h/t greenmamba commenter at discarded lies