CIA: No Clear Successor to Arafat; Abu Mazen, Abu Ala to Play Key Roles

The CIA anticipates a struggle for power in the Palestinian Authority following the demise of Chairman Yasser Arafat, with Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) "poised to assume preeminent roles after Arafat."

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency anticipates a struggle for power in the Palestinian Authority following the demise of Chairman Yasser Arafat, with Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) "poised to assume preeminent roles after Arafat," according to responses provided to the Senate Committee on Intelligence in April that were declassified last week.

"Arafat has no clear-cut successor, and any candidate will have neither the power base nor the leadership qualities necessary to wield full authority in the PA," the document notes. Nonetheless, the report suggests that in addition to Abu Mazen and Abu Ala, "security chiefs like Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub and Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti are likely to play important supporting roles in the succession."

The CIA document has not been updated since it was composed in April, just as the Israel Defense Forces was embarking on Operation Defensive Shield. During the following months, Dahlan stepped down from his security role in Gaza, Rajoub was pushed out of his position as head of PA security forces in the West Bank, and Barghouti was arrested and placed on trial in Israel.

Despite the CIA's assessment (together with a similar one from the State Department) that Arafat's successors would be weaker and thus "more beholden to the sentiment of the Palestinian street and less likely to show moderation toward a Palestinian-Israeli peace process," President George W. Bush decided to pursue a more aggressive policy toward Arafat, demanding in a speech on June 24 for sweeping reforms in the Palestinian leadership.

The CIA document provided written responses to questions that CIA Director George Tenet deferred during an appearance before the panel in February. The responses were sent to the leaders of the Senate committee by Stanley Moskowitz, who headed CIA operations in Israel during the second half of the 1990s. Moskowitz now serves as the CIA's director of congressional affairs.

The CIA document notes that, "According to PA laws, after Arafat's death, Ahmed Qureia, in his role as speaker of the PA's Legislative Council, would assume the duties of PA president for no more than 60 days, during which a new president would be elected... It is possible that there will be potentially violent infighting among the competing security services vying for supremacy."

In response to questions about the stability of Israel's neighbors, the CIA provides a positive assessment of King Abdullah's domestic support in Jordan, while suggesting that President Bashar Assad has yet to consolidate power in Syria.

According to the CIA assessment, "King Abdullah maintains the support of key pillars of the regime, including the military and security services and East Bank tribal members... The military and security forces are highly capable and can be relied on to deal with threats to the kingdom... The majority of Jordanian-Palestinians still believe in the legitimacy of the monarchy."

However, the CIA warns: "Jordan's majority Palestinian population identifies with the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank and sympathizes with the problems of the Iraqi people. A sharp escalation in Israel-Palestinian violence or a U.S. strike on Iraq could produce significant unrest."

With regard to Syria, the CIA says, "President Assad, who succeeded his late father in July 2000, will have to prove himself to key regime power centers in Syria, especially in the military and security services... Assad will have to balance pressures from the `Old Guard' against Syria's need for economic and political reform so as to meet the needs of its rapidly growing population."