Palestinians press Israel again for weapons shipments
Less than two months after Hamas tattered the rule of its rival Fatah faction in the Gaza Strip and took control of the area, the Palestinian Authority - under Fatah leader Chairman Mahmoud Abbas - is once more requesting large shipments of weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles.
This time, the PA is seeking Israel's approval for shipments from Egypt and Jordan, intended for the West Bank. Israel has not yet answered and has reservations about some of the requests.
The PA had made similar requests in the months before Fatah's collapse in the Gaza Strip. Israel refused most of the demands, but agreed to allow Jordan to supply Fatah's forces in the Strip with over 5,000 AK-47 and M-16 semi-automatic assault rifles. Some of these rifles apparently ended up in the hands of Hamas militants, following the organization's violent seizure of power last June.
The new Palestinian wish list includes armored cars, jeeps, machine guns, several thousand rifles plus millions of rounds, bullet-proof vests, stun grenades and additional combat gear. The PA argues that it needs weapons to preserve Fatah's rule and to deal with coup attempts by Hamas. Abbas' cabinet also cites the need to restore order in West Bank cities. The armored cars, for example, are needed for crowd dispersal.
The Palestinians are seeking to purchase the weapons from Egypt and Jordan. They are relying, among other funds, on an $80 million grant that the United States had recently granted the PA's security forces. However, the coordinated shipments require Israel's approval.
Jerusalem's reservations pertain primarily to the armored cars despite Israel Defense Forces assessments that the vehicles could be easily eliminated in case of conflagration between IDF troops and the Palestinians. The defense establishment noted that the vehicles would be hard to conceal and serve as obvious targets.
Israel had already allowed then PA chairman Yasser Arafat to operate several such armored vehicles following the Oslo Accords of 1993. They were later destroyed by the Israel Air Force after the second intifada erupted in September 2000.
Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, the American security coordinator in the region, is meanwhile spearheading the American restructuring plan for the Palestinian security forces. Dayton's efforts included a recommendation to the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to initiative a significant upgrade in the training of Fatah-affiliated forces in the West Bank. He is also advocating training one of the Palestinian National Security force's battalions for crowd dispersal.
The Palestinians have offered the Americans to set up a new training base for the Palestinian National Security force in Bethlehem. The Americans, however, have reservations about the proposal, as even the current training base in Jericho is operating under a partial program. One of the reasons for this partial program is the lack sufficiently knowledgeable instructors. Instructional equipment and weapons are also in short supply. Additionally, the Palestinians are complaining that Israel is imposing strict restrictions on training in the Jericho facility.
Israeli government officials look quite favorably on some of the Palestinians' plans for upgrading security forces in the West Bank.
The defense establishment, however, is generally much more skeptical. Security officials in Israel point out that Dayton had been overconfident about Fatah's ability to stave off Hamas in the Strip until the very end of Fatah's rule there.