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GAZA & IRAQ

Shalom Harari: 'Level Of Internal Palestinian Violence Has Approached Situation In Iraq'

'U.S. Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice Trying To Build Pro-Western Bloc In Middle East Against Islamist Movement'

'Democratizing Middle East Is Pipe Dream If Citizens Keep AK Automatic Weapons Under Their Beds'

'The internal Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip is approaching the violence you see in Iraq' - that's the assessment of Shalom Harari, an IDF Brig, Gen. (res). Harari is a leading Israeli expert at the Counter-Terrorism Institute in Herzliya. In an interview with David Essing, Harari analyzes the internecine Palestinian violence and its significance for Israel. He also assesses the chaos in many Arab states against the backdrop of this week's visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In the wake of the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas have been talking about trying to rev up some momentum in the stalled political process. This comes against the backdrop of Israel's demand that Hamas release the abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and the internecine violence in the Palestinian areas.

Shalom Harari, a Brig. Gen. ( reserve) in the IDF Intelligence Corps, has served as an advisor to Israeli Defense Ministers and is analyst at the Counter-Terrorism Institute in Herzliya. Harari assesses  the fundamental problems of the situation in an interview with David Essing: Read text of interview Listen to interview The bloody clashes between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip recently are not new but they did reach a fever pitch of violence.

Are the Palestinians closer than ever to a civil war? Shalom Harari says there is the potential for civil war with the situation reaching what is called ' fitna' in Arabic, hatred among brothers. But this has been going on for the past couple of months at a lesser magnitude.

This was ignored by the Western media until the casualties suddenly rose. Shooting in the streets by the different factions is common. A full scale civil war is possible but not predetermined.   Is the Palestinian flareup linked to Israel or is it a result of the power struggle between Palestinian chairman Mahmud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh? The current violence in the Palestinian areas has nothing to do with Israel although Israel may be dragged into it.

Local Palestinians may try to provoke Israel into action and thereby deflect attention from their internal troubles. We see cases of this - of Palestinian elements trying to draw Israel back in to the Gaza Strip and thereby 'solve' their own internal problems by focusing attention on Israel.But this is a long-standing war between Fatah and the PLO on one side and the Islamic bloc headed by Hamas on the other. It has been waged under the table for years and now it has erupted for everyone to see.

Question ... Most Israelis are wondering today is this internal Palestinian strife is good or bad for Israel? Harari : It's hard to say. We used to say their troubles are our joys but we discovered their troubles are our troubles.  Such  incidents can spill over the border into Israel. The ' fouda' or Palestinian chaos is at such a level that it can affect the security of Israelis in more ways than one.  For example also in environment, health and disease control because there is no central Palestinian government in Gaza and the West Bank that is in control and as you know germs and environmental problems have no borders.

 Question: Where does this leave the political process? U.S. Secretary  of State Condoleezza Rice was back in town this week and as usual she called on Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians to shore up Chairman Mahmoud Abbas vis a vis Hamas.But what chance is there for the political process if the Palestinians are at each others' throats?Harari: I wish we had a central address on the Palestinian side but the problem is that we don't have. Actually we have never had one on the Palestinian side in my humble opinion.

Even in the days of Arafat part of his problem in leading a political process with Israel was due to internal divisions between Islamic bloc and his own Fatah. Now it's even much harder and more problematic. I hear Israeli politicians often say: ' Let's talk with them, we have an address. My answer is I wish we could talk with them but there is not an address'.

There are many addresses and as long as we don't have one real address and attempts to reach a peace agreement will be worthless even if its signed by an Israeli prime minister with Palestinian prime minister Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas under the auspices of Russian President Putin and the 'president of the entire world'. This is because it's the local gangs and groups that control the West Bank and Gaza. They are armed from head to toe with a lot of weapons and every day they decide the  Palestinian agenda and not the people who sit in offices.

We estimate there are 70,000 to 80,000 automatic weapons in Gaza in the hands of private citizens and not just the security forces. Everybody does exactly what he wants- that's the problem in Gaza and also in the West Bank as well- this chaos. Question: So is Secretary Rice simply going through the motions  trying show the Arab world that the U.S. hasn't given up but in fact there is little chance of moving anywhere with the political process? Harari: Look, I'm not a spokesman for Secretary  Rice  but in my opinion the Europeans and others are pressing the Americans to do something to show there is movement in the Palestinian arena.

 This is to unite pro-Western Arab countries such Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan in a pact against Iran and the Islamic fundamentalist world that is trying to destabilize the Middle East and pro-Western states and not just Israel. Iran is making a great effort to destabilize Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon from within for its own political purposes. So the American idea is to unite a pro- Western bloc but the Europeans and pro-Western Arab countries tell the U.S to do something about the Israeli- Palestinian story-at least create the image that something is moving forward.

However  I regret that we don't have anything more than an image to show for it. Question : Is the internecine violence in the Palestinian areas something that could deteriorate into the current chaos in Iraq? Harari: As least in the Gaza Strip the situation is approaching what you see in Iraq. I repeat what I call the 4-F words in this process: Fouda - chaos Fasad - corruption Fitna- hatred among  brothers but the most important of all is Falatan - the losing control of weapons that everyone is equipped with and the different groups and clans set their own private agendas.This 4-F disease afflicts many Arab states in the Middle East. Look at Sudan and the last ten years in Algeria. It's the same story in Lebanon and Iraq and wherever you go you have this problem of fouda , the chaos.

 This is part and parcel of the Bin Laden ideology for developing a future Islamist fundamentalist state. If you follow the Bin Laden ideology on the Internet and other paces they talk of the need to create fouda chaos as the preliminary stage before injecting the el Qaeda ideology into these states.

Question : So all the talk about bringing democracy to the Middle East is no more than a pipe dream and the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better? Harari: It's a nice dream but I'm sorry to say that if you hold elections without the public support for democratic understandings then the elections by themselves won't bring democracy. Nor can you create a democracy in an armed society of private citizens and that's what exists now in many Arab states. It's an armed society where nearly everyone has a AK automatic rifle  under his bed; every second family also has hand grenades in their closets while every third family stores explosives  in their homes for both defense and offense.

Such societies cannot be democratic. That's why I say the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections was not democratic because on election day each political party had its own militia stationed near the polling stations. I'm talking about thousands of people. Fatah had its Tanzim forces, Hamas had its Izza Din al Qassam Brigades and so on. If every party maintains its own private army that's not a democracy and the elections are only an image of democracy. This is one of the problems.

David Essing

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