CAIRO, March 4--A well-timed Vanity Fair expose caused a flap on the first day of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to the Middle East.
The article, "The Gaza Bombshell," by David Rose, cited confidential documents and interviews to allege that the Hamas takeover stemmed from a secret Bush administration plan to use Fatah security forces to confront Hamas. Hamas, the article said, caught wind of the plan and acted before Fatah could, seizing the Gaza Strip.
Since Rice is traveling in the region, trying to stem the fallout from the constant rocket attacks launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza, any article that claims that the current crisis is the result of administration mistakes, rather than terrorist actions, is bound to grab attention. Arab reporters here seemed especially interested in the Vanity Fair piece.
The article does contain excerpts from some fascinating documents--including talking points by a senior U.S. official accidentally left behind in a meeting--that demonstrate how much pressure Rice and other top officials put on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dismiss the Hamas-led government. But many of the reporters traveling with Rice felt the article mostly summarized information that many of us had written about at the time. The administration's plan to bolster the Fatah security forces was well known--and the article does not definitely prove that even a partial coup was part of the plans.
Still, it struck reporters traveling with Rice as odd that the State Department had declined to comment on Vanity Fair's findings. Was that an implicit acknowledgement that it was correct? There was only one solution: We had to ask Rice about it when she held a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
Rice, of course, said she wasn't going to comment on an article she had not read. But then she offered a defense of U.S. aid for Abbas's Fatah forces, calling the central premise of the article "ludicrous" and saying it was necessary to counteract Iranian influence.
"The idea that somehow Hamas used as an excuse American and international assistance to the PA to do what Hamas has always done, which is to sow chaos, on the face of it, I think, is fairly ludicrous," Rice said. "If the answer is Hamas gets armed by the Iranians and nobody helps to improve the security capabilities of the legitimate Palestinian Authority security forces, then that is not a very good situation."
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