The bloody anti-Fatah putsch staged by Hamas last week constitutes a strategic black eye for the United States and another sign of the ability of the Tehran-Damascus Axis to project power with absolute ruthlessness and brutal precision throughout the Middle East. Ismail Haniyeh, (who served as Palestinian Authority prime minister until PA President Mahmoud Abbas fired him after the coup) is widely believed to be a front man for Hamas boss Khaled Meshal, who is based in Damascus. After visiting Iran in December, Mr. Haniyeh declared that Iran constituted “‘strategic depth” for the Palestinians. Hamas is reported to have dispatched the first of what will become hundreds of its members from Gaza for months of military training in Iran.
The ugly reality today is that Tehran and Damascus are on the offensive, and right now the United States seems to lack any comprehensive strategy to respond. These rogue states continue to send weapons and terrorists over the border into Iraq to kill and maim American soldiers and Iraqis who want to live in peace. Tehran is helping to arm its onetime arch-enemy, the Taliban of Afghanistan, to enable it to kill and maim as many American soldiers and Afghans as possible. Damascus has apparently provided safe passage to some jihadists moving from Iraq to northern Lebanon in an effort to foment terror there. And now, for good measure, the axis’s allies have just staged a coup in Gaza in order to destroy their “democratic” opposition — the Fatah organization formed by the late Yasser Arafat and now headed by Mr. Abbas — who Washington (and regrettably, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in particular) and Jerusalem have been desperately trying to prop up.
The Hamas thugs who invaded what had been Mr. Abbas’s office in Gaza City on Friday were certainly under no illusions about who the big international superpower loser was in last week’s Gaza bloodbath. The newspapers have been blanketed with pictures of armed, masked men putting their feet up on desks and lounging on sofas as they make mock telephone calls to Miss Rice’s office in Washington. In response to this debacle, Washington and the Europeans are discussing a a resumption of aid to the Palestinian Authority and ending the economic embargo imposed after Hamas won legislative elections last year. Mr. Olmert, a politician whose popularity is barely above zero, is under considerable pressure from Washington to help Mr. Abbas.
But to what end? Congress needs to take a hard look at U.S. policy toward Mr. Abbas and the PA. Given the corruption that has long been endemic, how do we know that money going to Mr. Abbas will be usefully spent? How do we know it won’t “trickle down” to the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — a terrorist arm of Mr. Abbas’s Fatah that has worked with Tehran and its allies in the past and remains one of the dominant terrorist gangs in the Abbas-controlled West Bank? It’s time for some serious congressional oversight hearings about the continued usefulness of U.S. assistance to Mr. Abbas.
As for Hamas, its behavior towards Fatah bears resemblance to the way in which Adolf Hitler did away with rival gangsters who were no longer useful to him. Ernst Rohm had been with Hitler from the beginning and his Brownshirts (the SA) had been instrumental in his rise to power. But once Hitler assumed power in January 1933, Rohm and Company became a liability. The SA acted like gangsters, extorting money from businesses, beating up and occasionally murdering German civilians. And Rohm’s insistence that the SA absorb or replace the German Army alienated the German High Command and industrialists who had helped bring Hitler to power.
So, early on the morning of June 30, 1934, members of the SS, headed by Rohm’s bitter rival, Heinrich Himmler, joined Hitler in laying siege to a country inn near Munich where the SA had gathered for a general conference. Rohm and his staff were dragged out of their beds and executed; at 10:00 A.M. that morning, Hitler placed a phone call from Munich to Berlin with the prearranged code word “hummingbird,” which unleashed a bloodbath in more than 20 German cities in which several hundred people, most of them militant Nazis, were shot or hacked to death in what Hitler proudly referred to as “The Night of Long Knives.”
Many of the Fatah security operatives who died in the Hamas putsch last week were, like Rohm’s SA men, brutes who intimidated and preyed upon Gaza Palestinians who live in squalor. But the replacement of Fatah killers with Hamas killers does nothing to better the lot of the Palestinian people. It does, however, illustrate the fact that the Islamic revolutionaries in Tehran who have been partners in terror with Fatah dating back nearly three decades can turn on a dime against old allies when they outlive their usefulness.
And Washington needs to think long and hard about Palestinian security training programs and America’s image abroad — particularly if people come to associate Washington’s image with Mahmoud Abbas and his men who were stripped to their underwear and dragged out of that building in Gaza last week.