Israel Escorts Egyptian Arms Delivery To Abbas

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Los Angeles Times
December 29, 2006
Pg. 1
U.S. consents to the shipment, intended to counter the militant Hamas movement.
By Richard Boudreaux, Times Staff Writer
JERUSALEM — With Israeli and U.S. consent, Egypt has shipped a cache of weapons through Israel to bolster the security forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his increasingly violent struggle with the militant Hamas movement, Israeli officials said Thursday.
Four trucks containing 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips and 2 million ammunition rounds crossed from Egypt into Israel on Wednesday and were escorted by Israeli military police to a crossing into the Gaza Strip, bound for units of Abbas' Presidential Guard there, the officials said.
Although the shipment was part of a U.S.-backed effort to upgrade the 6,000-member guard, it was the first in more than six years to be publicly authorized and assisted by Israel, which had balked at enabling any Palestinian faction to receive arms that might eventually be used against the Jewish state.
That concern faded last week as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert embraced Abbas as a partner for peace talks. Details of the weapons delivery were worked out here Saturday during the first formal meeting between the two leaders, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
The shipment was first reported in Thursday's editions of Haaretz and later confirmed by Israeli officials in an unusual and risky public display of support for Abbas' effort to unseat the Hamas-led Palestinian government by forcing early elections.
"The assistance is aimed at reinforcing the forces of peace in the face of the forces of darkness that threaten the future of the Middle East," Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic and security policy office, told Israel Radio.
Egyptian officials made no comment on the shipment.
Hamas is supported by Iran and Syria in its refusal to recognize or negotiate with Israel. Iran has been sending as much as $15 million a month to the Hamas movement, Israeli officials say, enabling it to build a paramilitary force parallel to Abbas' security apparatus.
Rival agendas and patrons have turned the armed clashes between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement into a proxy battle between Iran and Syria on the one hand and the Bush administration, European Union, Israel and moderate Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan on the other.
The Bush administration is seeking congressional approval of $100 million to bolster Abbas' guard in the West Bank and Gaza and expand its control over Gaza's border with Egypt to stop the smuggling of weapons and cash to Hamas.
Factional clashes have been frequent since Hamas ousted the long-ruling Fatah movement in elections in January and took control of the Cabinet and parliament. Seventeen people died in an 11-day stretch this month after Hamas resisted Abbas' call for early elections.
Egyptian mediators arranged a truce, but many Palestinians believe the lull will not last long past the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which ends Tuesday.
Fatah has an estimated 50,000 men under arms in various security services and militias. But Hamas' paramilitary Executive Force and the movement's Izzidin al-Qassam military wing are considered disciplined and motivated enough to hold their own or prevail in a protracted civil conflict. Each has about 6,000 fighters.
The arms delivery made public Thursday was aimed at neutralizing Hamas' advantage in Gaza, where most of its forces are concentrated.
An Israeli military officer familiar with the Palestinian factional fighting said 2,000 rifles wouldn't change the military balance. They apparently were sent and publicized, he said, as a "political demonstration" of Israel's backing for Abbas.
Until now, Israeli support for Fatah has been covert to avoid embarrassing Abbas, who was elected last year. Israel's dilemma is that open support for any Palestinian leader invariably risks weakening him, and thus could backfire.
Moshe Elad, an Israeli reserve army colonel and former head of the army's liaison office with the Palestinians, said the government had decided it was pointless to keep its support for Abbas under wraps.
"Some argue that revealing such aid might aggravate tensions," he said.
"But the situation in the territories has already reached a boiling point."
It was not clear whether Abbas, under criticism from Hamas for seeking peace with Israel, wanted or even expected word of the arms shipment to be leaked.
An Abbas spokesman, Nabil abu Rudaineh, denied any arms delivery, even as the Agence France-Presse news agency quoted a Palestinian security official as confirming what the Israelis reported.
Hamas called the shipment an unwanted American and Israeli intervention in Palestinian affairs.
"These weapons will not affect Hamas' power, which comes from the people," said Ismail Radwan, a spokesman.
"And our people are not going to be driven into a civil war that is going to benefit only the Zionist enemy."
Another risk for Israel is that the weapons will end up with Hamas, which is sworn to the Jewish state's destruction. After the Palestinian Authority was created by the Oslo peace accords in the 1990s, Israel authorized the arming of a 30,000-member Palestinian security force.
Many of those weapons ended up in the hands of militants who rose up against Israel in 2000 as talks on a final peace settlement broke down. Critics of this week's arms shipment cautioned that history could repeat itself.
"We have encountered these guns before," said Yiftah Ron-Tal, a former Israeli army general.
"I would be very careful about providing Palestinians with weapons that could be pointed at us in the future."
Special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.