December 8, 2008

Jonesing for jones

I'm not going to pretend that a recent positive IDF assessment of the Palestinian Authority security forces didn't happen. Maybe something's changed, but this is in stark contrast to past experience. I'd like to see something sustained before declaring success.

David Ignatius - writing in Gen. Jones: Mideast Facilitator on Board (or here) - is bound by no such constraints and sees Gen. James Jones's success in turning around the Palestinian Authority as a sign of great things to come.

Jones's record though, is not as unambiguous as Ignatius alleges.

Ignatius writes:

Jones took the post in November 2007, just after the Annapolis peace conference, at the request of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His mission was to help crack the toughest nut of all in this dispute -- Israel's lack of trust that the Palestinians are serious about stopping terrorism. Until that confidence about security exists, all the talk about creating a Palestinian state is just so much hot air.

In this paragraph, and later when Ignatius writes about Israeli "anxieties" he dismisses the very real Israeli concerns of trusting the Palestinian security forces - even (or maybe especially) those trained by the Americans. The second fatality of the so-called Aqsa intifada was Yossi Tabeja who was shot by his Palestinian partner. Since the violence was planned in advance, I suspect - though the PA denies it - that his killer was acting on orders. He just jumped the gun by a couple of hours.

Daniel Doron, a few months later, wrote of having his house broken into and his car stolen by CIA trained thieves. In 2002 a Palestinian sniper, almost certainly trained by the Americans, killed nine people at a checkpoint near Ramallah. And as the Muqata noted, there are solid suspicions that Palestinian security forces were involved in terror even until a year ago.

There are very real reasons for Israel to be wary of Palestinian security forces. This wasn't some idle "anxiety" as Ignatius would have us believe.

But if Ignatius underplays Israeli concerns, he overplays Jones initial success significantly.

The U.S. plan was to train Palestinian paramilitary forces and deploy them -- despite Israeli anxieties -- in West Bank cities to keep order. Leading this effort was Army Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator. Starting last year, he organized training for Palestinian security forces in Jordan. About 1,100 Palestinians have now graduated from that U.S.-directed training program, with another 1,000 on the way.

Of course when you saw the pictures of the supposedly trained Palestinian police prancing, dancing and balancing chairs on their noses (not to mention their pants splitting) It seemed that these displays - eagerly photographed by news organizations - were shows. In actuality a fellow named Steven Smith - who was involved in the training and later quit - wrote:

I was part of that program and watched as nearly a thousand young officers were being put through the motions of an effort that was dominated more by political pressure than by the need to produce well-trained graduates.

Designed by a U.S. contractor in Florida based on specifications written by Dayton and his staff, the plan of instruction calls for a 1,400-hour curriculum that includes human rights law, defensive tactics, first aid, urban and rural small-unit tactics, firearms, mounted- and foot-patrol techniques, crime scene investigations and more.

If that seems ambitious, it is. With a day off for the Muslim sabbath, it means 12 to 14 hours of instruction a day for four months. Indeed, the plan of instruction is so detailed that every minute of every day is accounted for, including showering and prayer.

Unfortunately, when the American monitoring group that I was part of arrived in Jerusalem in January, just two weeks before training was scheduled to begin, not a page of curriculum was ready for our review and nothing had been translated into Arabic.

(See more at My Right Word and Israel Matzav.)

Finally, Ignatius gives us a specific example of success of the newly trained Palestinian police.

Next, the Palestinians wanted to deploy their forces to the southern city of Hebron -- a double challenge because it is home for militant Israeli settlers as well as a stronghold of the radical Palestinian group Hamas. The Israelis at first balked, but by late October they had agreed to allow the Palestinians to share responsibility for security in the city. Since then, Palestinians have arrested 250 suspected Hamas members, as well as about 150 smugglers and thugs. They also uncovered a Hamas ammunition dump in a tunnel -- and informed the Israelis, who promptly destroyed it.

There's a certain amount of ambiguity here. The Israelis destroyed the tunnel as soon as they were informed of it. But they weren't informed of it right away.

The Post learned on Thursday, however, that several hundred kilograms of explosives and arms were found in a branch of the tunnel and that the PA security forces confiscated it before informing the IDF of the discovery.

(See more at Israel Matzav.) While Ignatius plays up the tunnel angle, he totally ignores the question of the munitions, which doesn't bode well for future cooperating between the Palestinian security forces and Israel.

The point of Ignatius's column is that Gen. Jones is a top notch diplomat who can be expected to bring together the likely contentious members of President-elect Obama's security cabinet. But seeing Jones's flawless record is a result of not looking all that closely.

Crossposted on Yourish.

Posted by SoccerDad at December 8, 2008 6:31 AM
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