In mid-April, Turkish authorities in Istanbul arrested two intelligence operatives who were suspected of spying on Arab nationals on behalf of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The spy ring confessed to the charges and said their intelligence operation aimed to target political exiles and students from the Arab world, especially Saudi and Egyptian dissidents. They also admitted that they were sent to Turkey to meet and form an anti-Turkish network. One of the two suspects committed suicide in Silivri prison within a few days, Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office said. The prosecutor's office said that his body was found hanging from the bathroom door in his cell by prison guards. According to judicial sources, the two UAE nationals were detained as part of the investigation and were brought to a court on charges of political, military and international espionage. Both were suspected of links to Mahmoud Abbas' rival, Abu Dhabi-embraced Mohammed Dahlan, a close and powerful adviser to Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan – considered the de-facto ruler of the country. Since one of them was suspected of having connections to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by a Saudi hit squad on Oct. 2, 2018, Turkey has investigated this aspect as well.
Turkish intelligence put the two under physical and technical surveillance following their suspicious activities and found that they had been gathering information from contacts in exchange for cash. Evidence of money transfers through UAE-based banks was found in encrypted computers seized in a hidden compartment at what the Turkish officials described as the spy ring's official base. The digital evidence gathered by Turkish security officers has been analyzed, bringing even more information to light. According to Turkish intelligence units, Dahlan had actual connections to the UAE spy network arrested in April. It has been revealed that the UAE was actually going to try to destabilize Turkey in cooperation with Israel. Dahlan is said to be serving this cause by channeling funds to certain anti-Turkish outlets recently established within the country. He is also accused of transferring funds to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the network which tried to carry out a coup against the Turkish government three years ago. Turkey has been suspicious of Dahlan’s connection to FETÖ and its involvement in the attempted coup since 2016; but now he is officially accused of funding heinous attacks on Turkey and its democracy. Middle East Eye’s (MEE) editor-in-chief David Hearst also wrote two weeks after the failed coup that the UAE had collaborated with the coup plotters, and that Dahlan had been used as a go-between, based on the claims of a high-level Turkish security source. Dahlan initiated legal action against the MEE and Hearst nearly a year after the accusations. However, he dropped it two months ago as he had to disclose all materials and digital documents relevant to the case. Dahlan is now on Turkey’s most wanted criminals list. The Turkish government issued a red notice for Dahlan last week over his role in the coup, placing a TL 4 million bounty on his head. Turkey is not only fighting members of the Gülen network, but also Turkish citizens and foreign nationals who are not members of FETÖ, but who have helped the terror organization and have been involved in the coup attempt. Dahlan is one such individual. Who is Mohammed Dahlan? Dahlan is known as the “hitman” of the Middle East. He was also behind the 2013 coup d'etat in Egypt, which overthrew the country's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, who was arbitrarily killed this summer. Once a prominent official in Fatah, Dahlan was ousted from the group in 2011 following accusations of skimming tax revenues and corruption. Denying the charges, he remained a powerful figure on the sidelines, forging ties with the leaders of the Arab world. Dahlan was also in close contact with the CIA and Israel's Shin Bet security service. A Wikileaks document revealed those links and his profile as an intimidating figure. Many people today believe that Israel initially planned for him to assume possible future control in the Gaza Strip. It is also widely believed that he also had a hand in the mysterious death of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Dahlan played a role in the confrontation with Hamas after it won the Palestinian elections in 2006, especially during the June 2007 CIA-backed, UAE-funded coup in Gaza, which backfired and led to the ejection of Fatah from the strip. For then-U.S. President George W. Bush, Dahlan was "our guy." He was relocated to the West Bank, where he was still seen as an asset by the Israelis, but fled to the UAE in 2010. Today, he is the arch-foe of Mahmoud Abbas and is the adviser of Mohammed bin Zayed. Once Arafat's strongman in the Gaza Strip, Dahlan is now one of the most dangerous people in the Middle East. He was also quietly granted Serbian citizenship four years ago after a closed cabinet meeting session. Most probably it was because he had served Serbian "state interests" after investing billions of dollars in the Balkan nation. The UAE has used those investments in Serbia's arms trade to distribute weapons throughout the Middle East acting as a proxy for Israel. UAE policy in Mideast As a matter of fact, the UAE's collaboration with Israel dates back to the 1990s. According to archived reports, the recent close relationship between the Emiratis and Israel began when bin Zayed wanted to buy fighter aircraft, but was suspicious that Israel would object. Bin Zayed met with Israeli leaders with the help of George H. W. Bush and made Israel believe that it and the Gulf states had one common enemy: Iran. On that basis, Israel raised no objections to the sale of the U.S. fighter jets to the UAE, the reports said. Of course, both sides deny such meetings; however, the relations between the two countries have become more visible in the last couple of years. Not only have pro-Israeli think tanks been funded and supported by the UAE, but also diplomatic, military and regional contacts between the two countries have increased year-on-year. We can say that there is much trust between Israel and the UAE thanks to a number of shared goals, and this goal is not only about Iran. To be honest, I am suspicious that the UAE sees Iran as the biggest enemy. Remember, Gulf countries have supported the opposition fighting in Syria against Bashar Assad, who has been backed by Iran since the beginning of the civil war. Anisa Makhlouf, Assad's mother, left the war-torn country in 2013, and was with her daughter in Dubai until her death. Her daughter Bushra Assad's husband was an army deputy chief of staff until he was killed in a bomb attack at the National Security Headquarters in Damascus in July 2013. She later enrolled her children in a private school in Dubai. In addition, a large number of businessmen and wealthy Syrians with close ties to the regime fled the deadly bloodshed in Syria to live out the war in Dubai. You might then say that this is about Syria, not Iran; however, UAE banks, including state-owned ones, channeled billions of dollars from Iranian oil sales through its accounts during the sanctions before the Iran nuclear deal. In addition, Iran has always been the UAE's top destination for re-exports, or goods imported into the UAE and sold on to Iran. Since bin Zayed put the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his pocket after King's Abdullah's death, the Syria policy of Saudi Arabia has also changed, while the relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel have started to mature. According to bin Zayed and his pawn bin Salman, the Palestinian cause is a problem standing in the way of closer ties with Israel in order to establish a new order in the Middle East. That is why both are working hard to make Trump's so-called "Deal of the Century" possible between Israel and the Palestinians. According to U.S. officials, bin Salman said, "Israel has never attacked us, and we share a common enemy," referring to Iran several times, repeating the fictitious words of bin Zayed. However, they actually share a number of other common enemies. From the emails leaked between UAE Ambassador Yousef al Otaiba and high-level managers and experts at the pro-Israeli think tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as talk on the Arab street, it is easy to see that the common enemies of Israel and the UAE are not only Iran, but also Turkey, Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and those who don't see the Brotherhood as an enemy. From Libya to Syria, Iraq or Yemen, common people silently utter the name of "the Emiratis," blaming the country for all that has happened following the Arab Spring. You can see the fear in their eyes when they talk about bin Zayed or Dahlan and understand that they fear the UAE even more than Israel. According to many people I have spoken with in those countries, Dahlan made deals with the old guards, which were overthrown during the uprisings, to bring down al-Qaida-affiliated groups such as Daesh or the Nusra Front. Putting the blame on Turkey and Qatar for the spread of terror in the region, most likely, the UAE cheated the whole world while attempting to get rid of Islamists by funneling resources to al-Qaida-linked terror groups that could be used as a tool. Turkey-UAE ties UAE-Turkish relations have always been a bit distant, but the UAE has been blatantly ramping up its anti-Turkey efforts – and not only in a war of words. From the Gezi events in 2013, which were depicted as a "Turkish Spring," to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt by the Gülenists, Turkish authorities have encountered Mohammed Dahlan's influence in various forms. The UAE has funded anti-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan groups, including the outlawed PKK, according to reports. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was alluding to the UAE when he said after the failed coup attempt: "We know that a country gave $3 billion in financial support to the coup attempt in Turkey." In fact, some UAE-based media openly declared their support for the coup. When you look at the conflicts and crises in the Middle East and North Africa, it is clear the two countries stand on completely opposite sides. The gap between Turkey and the UAE started to widen with the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi and continued in Syria. In North Africa, for instance in Libya, the UAE established an Egypt-Emirati axis against the Turkish-Qatari axis by backing Gen. Khalifa Haftar and initiated a civil war after Muammar Gadhafi was toppled. From Somalia to the Sudanese Red Sea port of Suakin, it is almost impossible not to see the UAE's efforts to block the influence of Ankara. Maybe the UAE sees Turkey as a rival or, more than this, a powerful country with a powerful leader that has the ability to spoil the plans it has for a new order in the region, as hatched with Israel. I sometimes wonder if it was the UAE that caused bad blood between the Barack Obama administration and Ankara, which laid the foundation for later problems between Turkey and the U.S. – similarly, it has been trying to completely destroy the relations between Ankara and Riyadh. With such behavior, the UAE appears to be the world's leading Islamophobe, causing harmful rifts between Muslim nations.