Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arafat's Navy without a Sea ; Existence of the Palestinian Naval Police Represents the Struggle over PA Security Forces

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arafat's Navy without a Sea ; Existence of the Palestinian Naval Police Represents the Struggle over PA Security Forces

Article excerpt

This landlocked city may seem an unlikely place to situate a naval base, but for Palestinians without a state perhaps it is fitting to have a navy without a sea.

Only the small anchors painted in black on the stucco barracks of the Palestinian Naval Police recall the ocean. Nearby are parched Judean desert hills. Today Jericho is surrounded on all sides by the Israeli army.

The Naval Police also have bases in landlocked Hebron, Nablus, and Bethlehem, in addition to forces in Gaza, where its small vessels have been destroyed and its ranks hard hit during the four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

"Our relation with the sea is very weak because the Israelis control the sea and we don't have the capacity to go into the business of the sea," says Lt. Col. Hatim Hasan, the Jericho base commander.

The question of why the Palestinian navy is in Jericho and its relations with the other 10 branches comprising the maze of often competing Palestinian security forces is no laughing matter. It cuts to the heart of whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is going beyond declarations and actually streamlining the 45,000-strong security forces into three branches, as he decreed in July, and whether he is willing to relinquish power over them to Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie.

A visit to the Naval Police base and the assessments of analysts points toward the conclusion that the answer to both questions is, at least for now, no.

Inside Colonel Hasan's office, overseen by a framed poster of a smiling Mr. Arafat, things are hardly on a war footing. An officer in khaki camouflage fatigues offers coffee. No one is carrying a weapon. Back in the old days of the PLO, the Naval Police, founded in 1968 in Latakia, Syria, specialized in training for seaborne attacks on Israeli targets. Its last such effort was in 1985, when frogmen on their way to carry out an attack were intercepted by the Israeli navy.

What was once envisioned as the fledgling navy for an independent state is now a special forces police unit that acts - or refrains from acting - according to Arafat's whim.

"The doctrine of the Naval Police is to show all loyalty to the decisions of the president" says Hasan. Its policing role and loyalty to Arafat explain why the navy has bases in the West Bank, set up by presidential order in 1995, analysts say.

All told, there are 1,500 men in the Naval Police, making it one of the smaller forces among the security branches at Arafat's disposal. "Immediately when the situation gets foggy, the strategic ally of the president is always the Naval Police," says Hassan.

In Gaza after the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the Naval Police had a handful of small vessels ostensibly to patrol against smuggling in the shadow of the Israeli navy, but the force's main job was to combat challenges to Arafat's rule. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.