By Jim Hoagland, April 7, 2002
On a visit to Washington a year ago, Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub
proudly showed off an armor-plated limousine that he said the Central
Intelligence Agency “always provides me when I am here.” Last week on the
West Bank, Rajoub was running for his life from Israeli troops seeking to
eliminate the territory’s “terrorist infrastructure.”
The CIA helped Rajoub make his way out of his fire-gutted compound in
Beitunia and arrange the surrender of dozens of his operatives as Ariel Sharon’s
siege intensified. The American agents were doing what comes naturally in their
profession – protecting assets, however troublesome those assets may become
Rajoub’s plight points up the exposed position into which U.S. intelligence
officers – and U.S. policy – have been dragged in the new Israeli-Palestinian war.
The Palestinian militias that the CIA has been building up under presidential
order are the primary recipients of Sharon’s wrath and firepower. Sharon
intends to conquer, or destroy, what the CIA hath wrought on the West Bank.
The Bush administration now faces an acute dilemma in unraveling the
confusion and complexities created by U.S. intelligence taking on
responsibilities that are deeply operational and political. Operating under an
intelligence “finding” signed by President Clinton, the CIA has helped train and
equip Yasser Arafat’s security forces.
And the CIA in one form or another became publicly involved in the grooming of
Rajoub and other security commanders as potential leaders in the post-Arafat
era. Instead of objectively sorting through and analyzing the looming succession
struggle for Washington, agents on the ground have horses in the race.
Mixing espionage and political duties is always dangerous. It tends to produce
short-term successes (providing intelligence to Saddam Hussein, obtaining
funding for the contras) and long-term liabilities for U.S. foreign policy (ditto).
CIA Director George Tenet presumably recognized the dangers when he
initially resisted this role for his agency. Sharon’s assault on the militias shows
why Tenet should have stood his ground.
The Israeli prime minister twists the knife in the corpse of a failed U.S. policy
that began in late 1998, worked well in 1999 and then died in 2001 when the
Palestinian Preventive Security force abandoned meaningful cooperation with
When Sharon, or President Bush, speaks of Arafat’s failure to “control
terrorism,” it is this default of the security services and police that they have in
Sharon’s message to Rajoub, Mohammed Dahlan, Marwan Barghouti and
Arafat’s other lieutenants is clear: Take on the suicide bombers and leaders of
Hamas or face destruction for being useless, complicit or both. You are the
“infrastructure” that must be uprooted.
So far the Palestinians continue to hesitate, presumably out of the same fear or
ambition that caused them, as Arafat’s intifada intensified, to stop halting
would-be suicide bombers and other terrorists or tipping off the Israelis. When
Rajoub agreed on Tuesday through the CIA to give up his compound at Beitunia
after running out of food and ammunition, he immediately came under attack
from Hamas for allowing a half-dozen of its “warriors” to fall into Israeli hands
and for being “an American agent.”
There is a giant Catch-22 at the heart of the Faustian bargain that Israel, the
United States and the Palestinian Authority struck as part of the Wye Plantation
accords of 1998. While CIA support brings resources and power to the
recipient, the agency’s visible embrace can also be used to discredit both a
person and a cause in the eyes of many Arabs, not just the killers of Hamas.
U.S. interests can also be compromised by arrangements dominated by the
agency’s covert skills of finding “assets” that can be bought, manipulated or
coerced into doing the agency’s bidding. This is hardly the definition of reliable
allies who are likely to promote American democratic principles in the political
Ironically, it was Binyamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s prime minister, who insisted
at the Wye meeting that the CIA deepen its engagement with the Palestinian
security forces, which became more heavily armed through the deal.
This was to ensure that they carried out the unspoken responsibility
Arafat accepted in the 1993 Oslo accords: The Palestinians would eliminate the
terrorist threat in the areas the Israelis agreed to leave, without much concern
by Washington or Jerusalem over methods.
But means do influence ends. The security arrangements were contaminated by
the corruption, authoritarianism and weakness that Arafat and his lieutenants
practiced on their own people – who end up paying a terrible price for the
failures of the CIA’s friends in their midst.