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Is the involvement of PA security officers in the intifada a blow to security coordination?

There is no doubt that the participation of Palestinian security officers in resistance efforts during the current intifada is a “frightening scenario” for Israel. Observers of Israeli decision-making circles and media sense that this may move the uprising towards a more dangerous phase.

According to a senior army officer quoted by Israel’s Channel 2, “The participation of some security officers associated with the PA in the military actions against Israel make these operations more deadly, as these individuals carry firearms.” He warned that if such participation continues, then security cooperation between the PA and Israel could collapse. Ultimately, this will increase the burden on the Israeli army.

Amos Harel, the military affairs analyst for Haaretz newspaper, described the officers’ participation in resistance actions as a “nightmare scenario” that reduces the army’s ability to manoeuvre. Pointing out that the officers in question and Fatah activists possess tens of thousands of weapons, he noted that many of the PA security officers, known as “Dayton’s brigades” after US General Keith Dayton, who supervised their training and established the system for cooperation with Israel, were trained by US troops and have basic skills which make them very dangerous.

These operations are a clear indicator that some personnel in the Palestinian security agencies reject security cooperation with the Israeli occupation forces. Indeed, most Palestinians regard it as being against their national interests because it aims solely to protect Israel. America’s Defence News magazine reported on 18 January that the Palestinian security agencies have thwarted 200 operations against the Israeli army and arrested over 100 of their own citizens during the intifada. It explained that security coordination is dictated by the Oslo Accords, signed by the PLO and Israel in 1993; the exchange of information between the Palestinian and Israeli security agencies is stipulated therein.

Members of the security agencies and operations

Despite the measures taken by the PA to guarantee that its members do not participate in the Jerusalem intifada, they have not been successful. On the evening of 14 February, Omar Mohammad Amr, a member of the Palestinian national security forces, along with one of his colleagues, opened fire on an Israeli base near Bab Al-Amud in occupied Jerusalem. Both Amr and his colleague Mansour Shamreh were killed.

This incident was not the first of its kind. Mazen Arabiya, an officer in the Palestinian intelligence agency, was killed after trying to open fire on a checkpoint in late December. According to Maariv newspaper, a Palestinian court sentenced police officer Mohammad Maher Hamed from Silwad, north of Ramallah, after he opened fire on Israeli soldiers.

A qualitative operation was carried out by Sergeant Amjad Al-Sukkari, a member of the VIP protection unit, when he got out of his official car at the Beit El checkpoint near Ramallah on the morning of 31 January and opened fire on Israeli soldiers, shooting three before he was killed. This checkpoint only allows official delegations and VIPs with special ID cards issued by the Israeli authorities to senior PA employees to pass.

The most important factor in the Beit El operation

Khalil Shaheen of the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies believes that the most important factor in the Beit El operation was the identity of the individual responsible and that he used an official weapon. His example showed other Palestinians that having guns means more losses of Israeli soldiers than having knives.

The operation, said Shaheen, expressed the anger and frustration within Palestinian society, including members of the security agencies, who witness Israel’s crimes and field executions on a daily basis. This is happening at a time when the prevailing belief is that the PA officers are not protecting the Palestinian people and Israel has been able to neutralise them over the years.

Military expert and analyst for Israel’s Walla! news website, Avi Issacharoff, commented on the operation by saying, “It seems that today we are facing a new kind of operation, the danger of which lies in the fact that the executor of the operation is a PA officer using his personal weapon to kill Israeli soldiers in a place that is considered to be under security control, as it is the point of entry for authority figures carrying VIP cards.”

He added that we are talking about an operation that has very different details to others. “The new element in this operation is that the man is definitely a member of Fatah, and this is undoubtedly a new addition to the Palestinian operations, although all parties believe this is likely to be an individual operation.”

Could this phenomenon expand in such a way that it is no longer an individual act? Shaheen pointed out the possibility of it turning into a “model” operation carried out by “heroes” in the eyes of the Palestinian masses. He believes that it is likely that such actions by members of the security agencies will increase, as they feel that they must do their duty in any way possible. He pointed out the pride among security officers about such operations that has appeared on social networking sites.

The involvement of Palestinian security officers in the operations is both possible and probable, argued Palestinian political analyst Talal Okal, but on an individual basis rather than in an organised manner. Israel is convinced that what has happened and what may happen in the future are all individual acts.

Okal justified the involvement of some security officers in the uprising in the future by mentioning the killing, arrest and harassment of their relatives. The PA does not want to escalate matters and this is demonstrated by the fact that security coordination with Israel is continuing. The analyst also noted that Israel’s fears remain centred on incitement against the PA’s security apparatus as it searches for justification for greater use of military force against the young Palestinians taking part in the protests.

Israel’s Channel 10 revealed that the PA has banned officers from taking their weapons with them when they go off duty. That is one of a series of measures taken by the Ramallah authority.

Stressing that the attack on the Israeli soldiers took place despite the measures taken by the PA, military correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Elior Levy, noted that after every operation of this kind, the Palestinian security agencies carry out an internal investigation in an effort to stop them happening again. These efforts are undertaken by special units in each of the security agencies. They monitor Facebook pages for any statements by officers that express a keenness to carry out such operations.

Accordingly, the number of operations carried out by Palestinian security officers are few compared to those carried out during the second intifada. The main reason for this is that President Mahmoud Abbas has sought to prevent the uprising from turning into an armed intifada, unlike the policy of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.

Have these operations affected security coordination?

These operations will leave their mark on the nature of the political vision upon which Israel’s relations with the PA are based, according to Palestinian journalist and political analyst Sulaiman Bisharat. “In the first case, which is related to the relationship between Israel and the PA, there is no doubt that these operations will undermine some of the trust in terms of field work. This is especially true regarding measures or security precautions by Israel during any meetings between Palestinian and Israeli security parties.”

It can also be reflected in the choice of meeting places, such as checkpoints or crossings. “What happened will leave a level of security concerns, and therefore extra precautions will be taken to prevent the occurrence of similar attacks,” he added.

“The second case,” said Bisharat, “is Israel’s domestic policy regarding the relationship with the PA. There is no doubt that some Israeli parties and political trends will use this operation as an opportunity to call for weakening the relationship from a political perspective based on the security aspect.”

Bisharat believes that, either way, these results or consequences may not be directly apparent on the ground because, since October, Israel has been trying to absorb the situation and prevent it from developing in a manner that may provoke an even bigger confrontation. This means that Israel may take security precautions and actions regarding its relationship with PA security officers, but in an indirect way so as not to widen the gap or cause a reaction.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the operations carried out by members of the Palestinian security agencies have sounded alarm bells within Israeli security agencies and shaken security coordination. They are also a strong indicator of the turmoil that prevails in the ranks of Palestinian security forces, especially after Abbas announced his stand against the operations and his commitment to preventing them, as well as Israel’s increase of crimes against the Palestinian people. The occupation forces have killed a number of young Palestinians during this intifada in full view of other people and the media, and there is mounting popular anger against the PA’s policies. In addition, we have witnessed increased popular participation in the intifada, even among Fatah members.

The members of the Palestinian police are generally quite close to their community and what is happening to it. As such, neither the PA leadership nor Israel’s security agencies will be able to prevent police officers from retaliating against Israeli soldiers. Such operations are likely to continue given the lack of prospects that Israel will agree to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967 and allow the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, as well as the return of the Palestinian refugees to their land and homes from which they were displaced in 1948.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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