Mahmoud Abbas Purges His Party of Enemies

Fatah—the ruling faction of the PLO that controls the Palestinian Authority—is holding its seventh party congress this week. According to Grant Rumley, Mahmoud Abbas likely sees the occasion as a capstone to his ongoing purge of the party ranks:

In recent years, Abbas has launched an all-out inquisition into dissenters within his own party. He’s fired rival Palestinian officials, stripped his rivals in parliament of their immunity, and even sent his Palestinian Authority security forces into unruly refugee camps to quash dissent. He has fueled his consolidation of power by summarily excommunicating party members. . . .

A bloc of Fatah dissenters met last month in the al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah to discuss how they would react to the upcoming party congress. When Abbas got wind of the meeting, he ordered the PA security forces into the camp to break up the meeting. . . .

Abbas has taken unprecedented steps to silence dissent [at the congress itself]. . . For one, he has reduced the number of delegates attending from over 2,000 [at the last congress] in 2009 to 1,400. For another, he has changed the location from a hotel in Bethlehem at the last conference to his headquarters in Ramallah, [where security forces loyal to him can keep watch].

The congress this week will allow Abbas to solidify his purges of dissenters within his own party. At the last congress, members of Abbas’ presidential guard roamed the balloting areas and in one instance instructed a delegate on who was “the president’s man.” This time, . . . Abbas will be able to reward his loyalists and sideline his rivals. As Dimitri Diliani, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, told me: “We used to call Arafat a dictator, but compared with [Abbas], Arafat was a champion of democracy.”

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More about: Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Politics & Current Affairs


Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war