Many people, especially in the popular Arab press, want to declare Fatah as irrelevant. If there’s no doubt that they are on the PR defensive, as passions die down and a sense of normalcy returns, they are going to make a comeback. Today, Al-Masri Al-Youm has a great interview with Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan. One big accusation thats been floating around the Arab world is that Egypt and Fatah “knew about” the Israeli attack on Gaza beforehand. I think Dahlan has a pretty convincing answer to this:
– أنا لا أشارك فى أى لقاءات ما دمت خارج الحكومة، وأتساءل من الغبى الذى لم يعرف بالضربة، كل الخطط كانت منشورة باستثناء توقيتها، ومن لا يعرف فهو غبى، وأتساءل لماذا أبقت حماس ضباطها يذبحون بهذه الطريقة المهينة التى تفطر القلوب فى المقار الأمنية، أنا عندما كنت فى السلطة وأسمع عن تهديدات كنت أعيد المساجين إلى منازلهم وأخلى كل المقار الأمنية، وأبقى حارساً أو اثنين عليها، وكان الزهار ينتقدنا ويقول عنا قوات الإخلاء، نعم قوات إخلاء، لأن حياة المواطن مهمة ومقدسة، لا يشرفنا أن نعد شهداء، بل أن نحمى الأرواح، لم تكن الضربة العسكرية سرا، ولا يوجدشىء سرى فى إسرائيل سوى القنبلة النووية.
“And I wonder who was the idiot that didn’t know an attack was coming. Everything was clear except the exact time. Why did Hamas officers stay in their security buildings? When I was in charge, whenever there were threats, I evacuated the buildings…..Zahar [Hamas leader] criticizes saying we employed “evacuation forces” but yeah thats exactly it. Evacuation forces because we care about the lives of our citizens. The attack wasn’t a secret.
I suspect that Dahlan might be (intentionally) hitting on a sensitive point: If the Gazans perceive Hamas as having recklessly provoked the battle, then Fatah stands to benefit. Reading through the comments of a post at Abu Muqawama yesterday, one comment stuck out to me as plausible:
No one wants to say it, but I’d suggest a major problem HAMAS has is too much deadweight. If they’re telling the truth, HAMAS has up to 18,000 men under arms, or more than double the active cadres for Hizbollah. Hizbollah has that number because that’s the optimum they can arm, supply, train, command and control on a daily basis, and then absorb volunteer militiamen (such as those from Amal) during emergencies. Because of the economic crisis, HAMAS has put a lot of MAMs, especially teens, on its payroll, but that doesn’t mean that they’re effectively trained, armed or led.
On another point, my buddy in Fatah told me that they shared Israel’s estimate of about 800 or so HAMAS operatives killed in the fighting, especially the greenest and youngest troops that they pushed toward the Armistice Line (or border) in prepared fighting positions. They were slaughtered. Apparently, there’s been some recriminations about the deaths on the partof formerly pro-HAMAS families. Indeed, the word is that the war was much more popular in the West Bank, where bombs weren’t falling, than in Gaza.
This comment gets to whether there might be an anti-Hamas backlash in Gaza. Ultimately, will Gazans be more pissed at Israel? Or at Hamas for talking about how much they wanted the ceasefire to expire and then getting exposed as a bunch of amateurs militarily? I suspect there’s a lot of angry mothers right now in Gaza who are wondering why their sons were slaughtered. Because for all of their boasting, Hamas didn’t actually put up much Resistance. Look back at 2006: Hezbollah killed 120 Israeli soldiers in 2006. Even in 2002, Palestinians were able to kill 17 IDF soldiers in Jenin in only a day or two. Yet in 2009, half of Gaza is destroyed and Hamas was only able to take out 10? Arab analysts are saying that Israel’s failure_to_force Hamas to surrender after three weeks is a sign of the Resistance’s strength. But with all due respect for Abdel Bari Atwan, how can we talk about Resistance when it doesn’t seem Hamas was able to inflict any significant casualties on the IDF? Furthermore, as Dahlan said, Hamas failed to take basic security precautions in the initial period that led to lots of their fighters being slaughtered. Like holding conspicuous open-air ceremonies while your leaders are going on V taking about how much they want to resume the Resistance, which provide easy targets for Israeli jets. See this picture here which illustrates the point that Dahlan is making and there was a much more graphic version of its shown in the Arabic press.
I don’t know if the backlash will come. But if I was the mother of one of those young recruits who was slaughtered I’d certainly be demanding explanations from the Hamas leadership for their poor performance and preparation. Of course, if you talk to Abdel Bari Atwan in London, or mregypt in Cairo, or Ahmed Monsour in Doha, they will all probably say that Fatah is doomed and Hamas is going to gain the upper hand because of the Gaza war. But I don’t think their views are the ones that really matter here. What do the mothers of slaughtered Hamas fighters think about Hamas vs Fatah? They are the ones with a “vote” on this issue and that’s where the media should be focusing.