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US-Palestinian intelligence talks focus on Abbas’ successor 

Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the UN Security Council meeting about the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian at United Nations headquarters in New York, United States on 11 February 2020. [Tayfun Coşkun - Anadolu Agency]
Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the UN Security Council meeting about the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian at United Nations headquarters in New York, United States on 11 February 2020. [Tayfun Coşkun - Anadolu Agency]

Just two days after the announcement of the “deal of the century” in late January, Gina Haspel, director of the CIA, secretly arrived in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, and met with Majed Faraj, head of the Palestinian Intelligence Service, and a number of senior Palestinian officials. They assured her that Palestinian-American security coordination would not be affected after the announcement of the deal.

This visit took place after Israel revealed it had thwarted an assassination attempt on Majed Faraj, at the order of Tawfik Tirawi, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and former head of the General Intelligence Service.

The CIA director’s visit came as a surprise, she could have sent one of her aides or summoned Majed Fatah to Washington. There are some who believe that the visit aimed to persuade the Palestinians to accept the deal of the century.

Perhaps the American security visit is related to the preparation for the succession of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, especially since the visit coincided with the revelation of the assassination attempt on Faraj.

Haspel’s visit came despite Abbas’ announcement that security relations with the Israelis and Americans were being cut, which raised big questions about his credibility.

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The information received regarding Haspel’s meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian intelligence leaders indicates that the meetings lasted three days, with 16 officers from both sides participating to discuss in depth scenarios and plans to eliminate the Palestinian resistance system, in the Gaza Strip in particular. They also drew plans to ensure that no chaos occurred in the West Bank that cause the situation to explode in the face of Israel.

On the first day, the meetings discussed all the scenarios to deal with the Palestinian resistance, and the general objectives of each scenario. The second day was dedicated to discussing Palestinian intelligence preparations to implement these scenarios, and on the third day a general American-Palestinian debate was opened to discuss what was described as “creative ideas” to emerge from the crises.

In the end, the meetings concluded with several points, the most important of which is the necessity of progressing from containing Hamas to attacking it, by using the conflicts between the leaders inside Palestine and abroad, and inciting against its leader, Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Tehran and his participation in Qassem Soleimani’s funeral. This constituted clear proof of the political failure to contain the movement, either by Israel or Egypt. Moreover, Hamas’ attempts to strengthen its relationship with Hezbollah and its failure to comply with the Egyptian conditions of not visiting Iran both serve the interest of the same conviction.

Palestinians stage a protest against so-called 'Deal of the Century' announced by US President Donald Trump, in Gaza City, Gaza on 28 January 2020 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinians stage a protest against so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ announced by US President Donald Trump, in Gaza City, Gaza on 28 January 2020 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

At the end of their meetings in Ramallah, the Palestinian and American security sides concluded that it is not possible to eradicate Hamas, because it has wide popular bases, and therefore a strategy must be worked on to weaken it. In this regard, a proposal was made by the Palestinian general intelligence calling for containing the movement and pushing it to be part of the political system in the context of the PLO, along with draining their sources of funding, in agreement with the US Treasury.

This conclusion, reached by Faraj’s men in the Palestinian intelligence services with their American counterparts, or rather their handlers, is related to what Hamas revealed in April 2019 about the details of a long-term plan prepared by the PA’s intelligence services to ignite an internal conflict in the Gaza Strip, in preparation for changing the political reality in Gaza. It is a plan directly supervised by Majed Faraj, which aims to create chaos and disrupt the masses in the Gaza Strip, as well as affect the harmony and coordination between Hamas, which manages the affairs in Gaza, and the rest of the Palestinian factions.

The American visit may also relate to asking Faraj and his security apparatus, which controls the West Bank, to maintain a state of security in it, and not to allow popular demonstrations and mass activities to take place that may spiral out of control to become confrontations with the Israeli army.

READ: Hamas is a beacon of hope in the Arab nation 

Faraj, 58, has been at the head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service since 2009, and holds the rank of major general. He was born in the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, in the south of the West Bank. He is considered the highest figure among the heads of the Palestinian security services, the only one who practices political activity, and the closest to Abbas. He is directly responsible for contact with the Israelis, participating actively in the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians in 2014. He is well known to all international players, and is the main partner in the reconciliation talks with Hamas.

Women in Gaza come together to protest against Trump's 'peace deal' on 5 February 2020 [Mohammad Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Women in Gaza come together to protest against Trump’s ‘peace deal’ on 5 February 2020 [Mohammad Asad/Middle East Monitor]

In coincidence with Haspel’s visit to Ramallah, the Israeli media revealed it had thwarted an attempt to assassinate Majed Faraj. This was met with official Palestinian silence, which may suggest the authenticity of the Israeli narrative, because it reveals the secret struggle over the succession of Abbas, who is turning 85.

The Palestinian Preventive Security Service arrested a cell of Fatah members who intended to target Faraj and his family. Some of its members were former Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons with links to Major General Tawfik Tirawi, a member of the Central Fatah Committee, and the former head of the Palestinian Intelligence Agency.

READ: The next Palestinian Intifada will involve more support from Iran 

Tirawi is said to have good relations with Muhammad Dahlan, the dismissed Fatah official and the personal archenemy of Abbas and Faraj.

The Preventive Security Services located the weapons and explosives in possession of the members of the cell who planned to bomb Faraj’s private vehicles after following his family members.

Faraj is considered one of the people with a very high chance of his succeeding Abbas as president. The man in command of the intelligence definitely has American-Israeli acceptance, as well as acceptance from countries that are influential inside the Palestinian territories, particularly Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, because everyone in Palestine is aware that any future president must be the result of regional and international understandings.

He has a strong network of relationships with senior CIA officers making him the main and likely favourite of Israel and the US due to his ability to provide adequate security in the West Bank, after his ability to eradicate Hamas, confiscate its weapons and limit its military influence. The group has already taken a hit in the West Bank due to Faraj’s efforts.

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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