The Bush administration had drawn up plans to topple the ruling Hamas after its January 2006 parliamentary victory with the help of Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan, prompting Hamas to take a preemptive action by taking over the Gaza Strip, the US magazine Vanity Fair revealed in its April edition.
"The administration spoke with one voice: ‘We have to squeeze these guys.’ With Hamas’s election victory, the freedom agenda was dead," a senior State Department official told the magazine.
Citing confidential documents, corroborated by former and current US officials, Vanity Fair said President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed overthrowing Hamas by force.
As clampdowns by Israel and a West aid freeze appeared not working, Rice told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Hamas-led government as soon as possible, declare emergency and call fresh elections.
"So we’re agreed? You’ll dissolve the government within two weeks?" Rice told Abbas in October of 2006, eight months after Hamas was democratically elected to power, according to one official who attended the meeting.
"Maybe not two weeks. Give me a month. Let’s wait until after the `Eid (Al-Fiftr," Abbas told Rice after a Ramadan iftar banquet in Ramallah.
When Abbas did not move quickly enough, the US consul general in West Jerusalem, Jake Walles, was dispatched to Ramallah to deliver an ultimatum.
"You should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government," he told Abbas, according to a memo seen by the magazine.
Hamas trounced Abbas’s Fatah in the 2005 general elections, winning a surprising 74 of the 132-seat legislature, against 45 for the Fatah party.
After Fatah refused to join a national unity government, Hamas formed its own cabinet with the inclusion of independents and Christians.
Fed up with Abbas’s inaction, the Bush administration turned to his former national security advisor Dahlan to lead an elite armed force to topple Hamas.
American officials told Vanity Fair that Bush could not have found a more better ally in the Palestinian territories than Dahlan to achieve his schemes.
Bush publicly praised Dahlan as "a good, solid leader."
In private, say several Israeli and American officials, the US president described Fatah strongman as "our guy."
"Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, ‘Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Mohammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this," a State Department official said.
Dahlan asked Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, appointed the US security coordinator for the Palestinians for funds and weapons necessary to overthrow Hamas.
"I need substantial resources. As things stand, we do not have the capability," Dahlan told Dayton according to one US official who took notes of their meeting in November 2006.
Failing to get Congress to approve $86.4 million to support Abbas military against Hamas, the Bush administration started looking for other options to get the job done.
According to State Department officials, Rice met with leaders of four Arab nations – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – and asked them to provide military trainings to Abbas’s forces and buy his forces weapons.
But the administration was taken aback after Saudi Arabia brokered a peace deal between Fatah and Hamas in the holy city of Makkah following weeks of bloody confrontation.
"It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen," Wurmser said.
Rice decided to move to "Plan B" and asked Abbas to "collapse the government" if Hamas, again by using an elite force under Dahlan with military training from Egypt and Jordan, according to a State Department memo.
Leaks in some Arab and Israeli newspapers about the US plans alerted Hamas and prompted a preemptive take-over of the Gaza Strip.
Since then, the impoverished Strip has been subject to a massive US-led economic boycott and Israeli sanctions including crippling closures.
David Wurmser, the avowed neoconservative who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, accused the administration of "engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory."
He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand.
"It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen."
The Bush’s military strategy in Gaza, which saw Hamas emerging more stronger than ever, has divided his administration.
"Everyone blamed everyone else," says an official with the Department of Defense.
"We sat there in the Pentagon and said, ‘Who the f…(expletive) recommended this?’"
Several neoconservatives — who until last year were inside the administration — said Bush did not learn the lesson from depending on a strongman like Dahlan instead of solving problems directly.
To rely on proxies such as Dahlan, says former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, is "an institutional failure, a failure of strategy."
According to Vanity Fair, the Bush administration is now rethinkingits blanket refusal to talk to Hamas.
Staffers at the National Security Council and the Pentagon recently asked experts to draw up research papers on Hamas and its principal supporters.
"They say they won’t talk to Hamas," says one such expert, "but in the end they’re going to have to. It’s inevitable."
(IslamOnline.net and newspapers)