(photo credit: AP [file])
US President George W. Bush is said to have approved a covert initiative to overthrow the Hamas government shortly after Hamas won the January 2006 parliamentary election, according to confidential documents obtained by Vanity Fair magazine.
The documents, which have been corroborated by sources at the US State Department and Palestinian officials, reveal that the plan was supposed to be implemented by the State Department.
The report confirms allegations by Hamas and other Palestinians that the US has been supplying Fatah with weapons and money so that its forces could bring down the Hamas government. Some senior Fatah officials have also accused the US of "meddling" in Palestinian affairs by encouraging Fatah to work toward toppling the Hamas government.
The magazine said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams were entrusted with provoking a Palestinian civil war, in which forces led by Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan - fortified with new weapons supplied at America's behest - would remove the democratically elected, Hamas-led government.
The State Department, according to Vanity Fair, declined to comment.
The magazine quoted a former US intelligence official with experience in covert plans that said the plan was "close to the margins" with regards to its legality. But, he added, "it probably wasn't illegal."
The report said that instead of driving its enemies out of power, the US-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
David Wurmser, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief Middle East adviser a month after the Hamas takeover, said he believed that Hamas had no intention of taking over the Gaza Strip until Fatah forced its hand.
"It looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was preempted before it could happen," he was quoted as saying. Wurmser said that the Bush administration engaged in a "dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] with victory."
Wurmser said he was especially galled by the Bush administration's hypocrisy. "There is a stunning disconnect between the president's call for Middle East democracy and this policy," he said. "It directly contradicts it."
Neocon critics of the administration told the magazine that the old State Department vice of rushing to anoint a strongman rather than solving problems directly had led to the terrible missteps in the Gaza Strip.
To rely on proxies such as Dahlan, former UN ambassador John Bolton said, was "an institutional failure, a failure of strategy." Bolton blamed Rice, saying Rice, "like others in the dying days of this administration, is looking for a legacy. Having failed to heed the warning not to hold the elections, they tried to avoid the result through Dayton." Lieutenant General Keith Dayton was the US security coordinator for the Palestinians, who reached a secret agreement with Dahlan to strengthen Fatah's forces.
According to three US officials, Bush referred to Dahlan as "our guy," a sentiment that was shared by Rice and Assistant Secretary David Welch, the man in charge of Middle East policy at the State Department.
The report uncovers three different confidential memos that describe the covert plan: One, prepared by US Consul-General in Jerusalem Jake Walles, states how the Bush Administration intended for him to tell Abbas in Ramallah in 2006 to dissolve the Hamas government if it would not recognize Israel, promising the US would back him if he did.
"We believe that the time has come for you to move quickly and decisively," the text reads. "If Hamas does not agree within the prescribed time, you should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly committed to that platform. If you act along these lines we will support you both materially and politically... We will be there to support you."
The second memo, drawn up by the State Department, asserts that means had to be found to produce an "endgame" by the end of 2007 for Abbas to remove Hamas from power by collapsing the government, and that he must be given the means to strengthen his forces.
According to the Vanity Fair report, the third memo, described as a US "action plan" for the PA president, set out a plan by which Abbas would fire his own Fatah-Hamas "unity" government and rely on a security deal between Dahlan and Dayton to strengthen Fatah's forces.
Meanwhile, the magazine said, US officials led by Rice had spent several months begging Arab governments for money in order to supply Fatah's forces with new weapons from Egypt under a previously undisclosed covert US program - a scheme described by some sources as "Iran-Contra 2."
Dahlan goes on the record about these events for the first time, saying that despite pleas from Fatah that they were unprepared for elections, Bush pushed ahead. "Everyone was against the elections," Dahlan is quoted as saying. "Everyone except Bush. Bush decided, "I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority."
Following Hamas's victory, "everyone blamed everyone else," the report quotes an official with the Department of Defense as saying. "We sat there in the Pentagon and said, "Who the f*** recommended this?"
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