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2008-03-05

Iran Contra 2.0: How the Bush Admin Lied to Congress and Armed Fatah to Provoke Palestinian Civil War Aiming to Overthrow Hamas

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In its latest issue, Vanity Fair reports that the White House tried to organize the armed overthrow of the Hamas-led goverment after Hamas swept Palestinian elections two years ago. According to the article, the Bush administration lied to Congress and boosted military support for rival Palestinian faction Fatah in the aim of provoking a Palestinian civil war they thought Hamas would lose. Vanity Fair dubbed the episode “Iran Contra 2.0” — a reference to the Reagan administration’s funding of Nicaraguan Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran. We speak with David Rose, the journalist who broke the story. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, arrives in the Middle East, Vanity Fair published a story that raises new questions about the Bush administration’s role in the ongoing crisis. The article reports the White House tried to organize the armed overthrow of the Hamas-led government after Hamas swept Palestinian elections two years ago. According to Vanity Fair, the administration boosted military support for rival Palestinian faction Fatah in the aim of provoking a Palestinian civil war they thought Hamas would lose. Vanity Fair dubbed the episode “Iran Contra 2.0,” a reference to the Reagan administration’s funding of Nicaraguan Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran.

A former top Bush administration official said he believes Hamas’s seizure of power in Gaza last year may have likely been a preemptive measure against the anticipated US-backed coup. The official, David Wurmser, served as Vice President Cheney’s Middle East adviser until he resigned in July of 2007, a month after Hamas took over. Wurmser said, “There is a stunning disconnect between the President’s call for Middle East democracy and this policy. It directly contradicts it.”

The Bush administration is denying the story. State Department spokesperson Tom Casey called the article “absurd,” “untrue” and “ridiculous.”

We’re joined now by journalist David Rose, author of the Vanity Fair piece. It’s called “The Gaza Bombshell.” David Rose joins us from London in England.

Thanks for joining us, David Rose. Lay out what you learned.

DAVID ROSE: Well, just to deal first with this administration denial, of course, it’s just a blanket denial with no detail. But what the piece is based on is, first of all, a series of authenticated confidential documents, which lay out the administration’s strategy, and, secondly, interviews that I conducted both on the record with David Wurmser and John Bolton, the former UN ambassador, and a considerable number of other senior officials in both the State Department and the Pentagon, as well as officials inside the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and with people in Gaza, Hamas officials in Gaza. So to say that the story is “absurd” is ridiculous.

But what it says, in a nutshell, is as you’ve already laid out, that what the Bush administration wanted to do once Hamas won the elections, having been warned, by the way, that Hamas would win the elections and having no strategy in place to deal with that outcome, what the Bush administration tried to do was, as one source put it to me, change facts on the ground. And the strategy set out in these documents was to persuade President Abbas, the Fatah president of the Palestinian Authority, to sack the Hamas government in both its two incarnations, first the Hamas-led government that took office in January ’06 and then the so-called national unity government, the coalition with Fatah, that took office in March ’07. He was to fire this government, replace it with an emergency government or call new elections, and meanwhile, Fatah would be armed, at America’s behest, to deal with the inevitable outbreak of violence that would take place, because Hamas, it could be predicted with certainty, would not take that lying down.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know this?

DAVID ROSE: Well, as I said, because we have documents that lay out the strategy, which have been obtained from Palestinian sources, but authenticated by senior American officials who saw them at the time, and because I’ve conducted numerous interviews with officials who were knowledgeable about the policy at the time it was unfolding and, in fact, took great issue with it. They took issue with it on two counts: first, that it was wrong, and it was likely to fail. And even those minority of officials that I spoke to who actually supported it felt it was being carried out in a half-hearted matter, that if you were going to arm Fatah, you had to do it in a serious way. In fact, according to Muhammad Dahlan, the strongman who was the major recipient of military aid in Gaza, he only ever got about $20 million worth of aid. He, by the way, has confirmed all the details of the program in interviews with me. And he says, well, it just wasn’t enough. And, of course, when it came to it, in the fighting that broke out in June 2007, it clearly wasn’t enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t it openly known that the US is arming and supporting Fatah?

DAVID ROSE: Well, no, it’s not, because, for example, General Keith Dayton, the United States security coordinator who has been in the region now for three or four years and is supposedly there to help strengthen Fatah’s security institutions, told the Congress on May 23, 2007 — that’s just over two weeks before the Hamas coup — that the US was only supplying non-lethal aid to Fatah. He was emphatic about this: no lethal aid was going into the Palestinian territories to support Fatah. And, indeed, he had testified and other officials had testified to that effect on several occasions previously.

What he well knew, what he must have known, was at the very time he uttered those words, the US, in the shape of Condoleezza Rice, Assistant Secretary David C. Welch and other officials, had been furiously lobbying for lethal aid, not directly from the United States, but from the so-called Arab Quartet — that is, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt. They wanted lethal aid to go to assist Fatah’s forces, especially in Gaza, although to some extent in the West Bank, too. And they knew that this was aid that was going to kill people. And in fact, just a week before the coup began, the news broke in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Dayton himself had asked for Israeli clearance to allow an import of armored cars, heavy weapons, machine guns and so forth into Gaza from Egypt, which was part of this covert program. I don’t think, by any stretch of the imagination, machine guns, ammunition and armored cars can be described as non-lethal aid. Well, it wasn’t non-lethal aid coming from the United States, and if you actually parse some of the denials that were issued yesterday, they’re sort of denying the idea that America itself was supplying lethal aid. That’s not what the article states. It says there was a covert, parallel program — that’s the words, by the way, of a senior State Department official — to supply lethal aid from Arab sources.

AMY GOODMAN: David Rose, you begin your piece, "The Gaza Bombshell,” by talking about a young man at the Al Deira Hotel that you sat across from in Gaza City. Explain what happened to him.

DAVID ROSE: Yes. He’s a young man called Mazen abu Dan, who was a Hamas — is a Hamas member. He was in fact a member of its so-called executive force, the kind of militia that Hamas set up in the summer of 2006.

In October 2006, just when the US program to support Fatah was really getting into gear, he was kidnapped and horrifyingly tortured, along with several members of his family and friends. They were actually at a cemetery erecting a tombstone to his grandmother who had just died. They were seized by about thirty armed men and taken to the home of a man called Abu Jidyan, a senior Fatah official who was in fact killed during the coup, a close associate of this warlord, Muhammad Dahlan. And he was beaten with iron bars. The skin on his back was completely lacerated. And he told me that afterwards they poured perfume into his wounds. And then him and two others were taken to a market when this torture was finished, and they thought they were going to be killed, but in fact they were shot several times in each leg. He showed me the bullet wounds.

We also have a DVD, which depicts his torture, which was captured from a Fatah security building when Hamas took over during the coup in June 2007. I believe that an excerpt from that may be going on the Vanity Fair website later this week. So, you know, he’s quite recognizable in this DVD, and it’s quite clear that there are Fatah men who are torturing the prisoners that you see there. And I met him, as I say, in the Al Deira Hotel.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to Wurmser, the adviser, Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney? Why did he quit? And talk about the elections that you say the US forced, never anticipating what would happen.

DAVID ROSE: Well, of course, it isn’t just Wurmser; it’s also the former UN Ambassador John Bolton. I think — I mean, both these men are, of course, known as neoconservatives. And, you know, whatever issues one may have with aspects of neoconservatives’ take on foreign policy, they have an overt support for elections and democracy. And what they saw in action here was a policy that was ignoring the vote of the Palestinian people, which was seeking to invest in a strongman to put it — in order, as Wurmser put it to me, to prop up a corrupt dictatorship in the shape of Fatah.

Now, I am not certain that this is the sole reason that David Wurmser left the administration. I think you’d have to ask him that. But it is striking that, of course, he did leave the administration just a month after these events and was plainly disgusted by what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have thirty seconds. Why is this thing being called “Iran Contra 2.0”?

DAVID ROSE: Because there are certain resemblances to that policy. For example — and people forget that not all the money to buy weapons for the Contras in the 1980s came from Iran. Quite a bit came from the same Arab countries who were being lobbied to provide weapons and money to buy weapons for Fatah. And again, it was an attempt to evade the Congress, just as the first Iran-Contra policy was. So there are considerable analogies.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying the Bush administration misled Congress, when it comes to —

DAVID ROSE: I’m absolutely saying that, yes. They lied to the Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s specifically on —

DAVID ROSE: They told the Congress that there was no program to supply lethal aid to Fatah. This was not true. There was a covert program to supply lethal aid to Fatah.

AMY GOODMAN: David Rose, I want to thank you for being with us, British journalist, writes in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, his piece called "The Gaza Bombshell,” speaking to us from London.

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