Last month, NBC News correspondent Lisa Myers tracked down one Jihad Jaara, a veteran Palestinian militant who currently resides in Ireland. Jaara’s career as a terrorist has been a remarkably effective one. As a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – a violent militia tied to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party – Jaara supervised and planned dozens of assassinations and bombings against a wide-range of American and Israeli targets. One of the more reprehensible actions authorized by Jaara was the kidnapping of Avi Boaz, a 72-year-old American architect who was abducted by Al-Aqsa terrorists while he waited at a Palestinian police checkpoint. His bullet-riddled body was found a few hours later, dumped just outside of Bethlehem. Upon being questioned by Myers, Jaara swore that he had renounced such terrorism, a claim that was dismissed by former associates, who identified him as an important interlocutor between Hezbollah and various Palestinian terrorist groups.
What distinguishes Jaara from many of his fellow Palestinian terrorist leaders is that he plied his bloody trade while simultaneously serving as an officer in the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, a body assigned with combating militants. His official status gave Jaara the ability to travel freely throughout the territories, enabling him to plan his attacks while enjoying the protection afforded to Palestinian officials by the Israelis. While his position gave him some advantages, Jaara was unhesitant when asked what single factor had most contributed to his transformation into a successful terrorist: small-arms training supervised by officers of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The fact that the CIA trained a man such as Jihad Jaara is hardly surprising. For almost ten years, the American government has been engaged in a series of hopelessly misguided endeavors designed to train and fund the Palestinian security services, an initiative which can be deemed, politely, as a dismal failure. Tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars have simply disappeared into the covert bank accounts of corrupt Palestinian officials, while CIA-trainers recklessly lent their considerable combat expertise to fanatics such as Jaara.
The misguided attempt began in 1996, when the CIA led an effort – engineered by then deputy director George Tenet – to train the Palestinian authorities in anti-terror tactics. The initiative was secretly authorized by President Clinton, who later signed a Presidential order sanctioning the expansion of the program to include chaperoned tours of the CIA and FBI headquarters buildings for Palestinian security chiefs. The covert training and funding operation continued over the next two years, existing wholly outside of the public’s view.
In 1998, President Clinton – anxious to cement his legacy as Middle East peacemaker – pushed for an expanded and formalized security assistance effort which would be included as a provision in the Wye River agreement. While the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was initially reluctant to accept such an idea, Clinton managed to browbeat the Israeli delegation into compliance, an acquiescence which ensured the continuation and growth of the formerly covert training program. In doing so, the President ignored the warnings of several veteran Israeli counter-terrorist officials, who repeatedly warned their American counterparts that several high-ranking Palestinian terrorists such as Al-Aqsa Brigades leader Nasser Awis were simultaneously serving as senior security officials in the Palestinian Authority, with responsibility for conducting counter-terrorist operations.
Within months of the Wye agreement, the first Palestinian trainees arrived aboard U.S. government aircraft. Their training regimen was rigorous, far superior to the domestic “boot camps” offered by the Palestinian government or terrorist groups. The Palestinian units were ferried to various military installations, where they were given advanced small-arms training on firing ranges normally used by the U.S. Army and special forces units. Additionally, the recruits were taught how to effectively protect high-value targets and “motorcade operations,” skills that could easily be transferred into protecting terrorist leaders from Israeli capture. Many of the former CIA trainees turned terrorists have since praised the CIA course, including Jaara, who made a point to extol the CIA’s “shooting” course. Perhaps most disturbingly, however, was that the Palestinian officers were given “interrogation” training, which, in the hands of those who work in the espionage services of groups such as Fatah, could prove extremely valuable.
American officials reasoned that – emboldened by their new training – Palestinian authorities would immediately and aggressively crack down on terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who were consistently breaking ceasefire agreements during the late 1990s. To the U.S. government’s dismay, many of the Palestinian security officers quickly joined or began aiding the very terrorist groups which they had been trained to combat. Security personnel were also observed transferring arms and their American training to militia groups such as the Tanzim, which was led by convicted terrorist Marwan Barghuti.
Indicative of the Clinton administration’s staggering ignorance over this issue was a class of 18 Palestinians brought to a top-secret location near CIA headquarters in 1998 for a course in “anti-terrorist techniques.” American officials failed to realize, however, that most of the men hailed from cities where militant infiltration of the police forces was acute, such as Nablus. Not surprisingly, as detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle, several of the students went on to become some of the most dangerous terrorists in the Palestinian territories, including the infamous Khaled Abu Nijmeh, who used his CIA training to supervise multiple suicide bombings in 2001 and 2002 in Bethlehem. More than half of the original class of 18 went on to become fighters in the Al-Aqsa brigades.
Beginning in 1999, Israeli government officials began suggesting that the American training effort be scaled back, in order to better judge its overall effectiveness. In addition, Prime Minister Ehud Barak complained to the White House that Yasser Arafat was using his seemingly close relations with the CIA to bolster his negotiating position, which had become increasingly aggressive. Tel Aviv’s requests fell on deaf ears in Washington, which stubbornly clung to the pipe dream that Arafat’s police forces would – given enough American aid and training – eventually confront the various militant organizations. This expectation was abruptly dashed during the intifada of 2000, in which large numbers of Palestinian police joined militant groups in fighting the Israeli Defense Force. The sight of Palestinian police stripping off their uniforms and engaging in raging street battles with Israeli forces became commonplace. At the same time, the Palestinian authorities failed miserably to curtain the actions of terrorist organizations, who operated with total impunity inside the territories.
Apart from the blowback effect precipitated by the Clinton administration's foolishly training men such as Jihad Jaara and Khaled Abu Nijmeh, the futile quest to prop up a Palestinian security service has been an unqualified financial disaster. All told, the U.S. government has squandered almost one billion dollars in the effort to construct a viable Palestinian state, a large portion of which has gone into building a Palestinian security force. Despite this massive amount of funding, the Palestinian services have shown little signs of progress, as detailed in a July 2005 report compiled on behalf of the U.S. government by the consulting firm Strategic Assessments Initiative (SAI). The SAI report stated that, even with millions of American dollars and years of CIA training, the PA police were wholly ineffective, wracked with divided loyalties and inferior equipment. Many of its officers, charged the SAI analysts, were active or complicit in terrorist attacks or organized crime rings.
Recent events have provided ample evidence of the overall program’s failure. The ongoing chaos in Gaza and the current inability of the Palestinian Authority to enforce its own disarmament provisions with regard to Hamas should serve to prove the utter futility of “reforming” the Palestinian security apparatus. The latest example came on Tuesday, when Palestinian police officers brazenly stormed the offices of the national legislature, complaining that they lacked the basic resources to confront the heavily-armed militant groups. Their lack of weaponry or funding suggests that the tens of millions of dollars in Western aid which was specifically earmarked for arming the police had been directed elsewhere, a violation of the agreed-upon protocols.
Regardless of these past failures, the Bush administration seems determined to follow a similar path, as training the Palestinian security services remains at the heart of President Bush’s efforts to keep the Palestinians involved in the negotiation process. Earlier this year, while visiting London, Secretary of State Rice suggested, "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.”
Echoing the Secretary of State’s words was President Bush, who – while meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in May – pledged to “reform” the PA’s security services through a $50 million dollar aid package, assigning an American general to oversee the process. Just two weeks ago, American officials in Ramallah proudly announced the transfer of three million dollars to the Palestinian security services, for the “enhancement of their capabilities.” Additional measures have been approved by the President, chief among them a CIA-run effort which would give the Palestinians a supplementary $300 million dollars for security operations.
These recent overtures are the latest example of our government’s puzzling willingness to pour additional millions into anonymous Palestinian coffers, all in the name of highlighting our “even-handedness” with regard to the peace process. As we have already witnessed, however, any American initiative to reform the Palestinian security services is doomed to fail so long as no credible Palestinian government or judicial systems exists in the territories. Yet – desperate to accrue some sort of good will from our erstwhile Arab and European allies – the Bush administration sees fit to throw such considerations by the wayside, disregarding our security – not to mention Israel’s – in favor of overseas image management.
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