UAE's unending Turkey war: Now the Zarrab case and Ahval News

MEHMET SOLMAZ
Published 06.12.2017 00:08
Updated 06.12.2017 00:10
A courtroom sketch shows Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab testifying before Judge Richard Berman, New York, Nov. 29.
A courtroom sketch shows Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab testifying before Judge Richard Berman, New York, Nov. 29.

If Gülenists' deadly coup attempt on July 15 had not failed, the UAE would probably not now be interfering in the ongoing Zarrab case and not funding anti-Turkey media figures

Reza Zarrab asks Judge Richard Berman in the ongoing Iran sanctions case in New York: "Yes your honor, shall I describe this on the diagram?" Meanwhile, almost everyone, including government supporters and dissidents, are asking the same two questions: Did Zarrab pledge on what he is going to say to save himself during bargaining for a plea deal, and what kind of charges are they trying to put on Turkey?

While the so-called confessions that were negotiated beforehand are ongoing as expected, I would like to draw attention to the United Arab Emirates' front of this multilateral alliance. First of all, it would be useful to touch on this Gulf country's connections to the Zarrab case in consideration of the UAE's running schemes against Turkey in the regional context and with a focus on the UAE's latest media move targeting Turkey.

FDD testimony in Zarrab case via Israel and UAE

Funded by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is a prominent supporter of Israel and known for its neoconservative politics and anti-Turkish sentiments, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is chaired by Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer is its senior vice president. These two people attended the Zarrab case as government witnesses. The FDD took on a crucial role in converging Israel and the UEA and setting common goals for the two countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan were revealed to have secretly met in New York in 2012. But, the connections between the FDD and the UAE first came out with the Emirati ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba's hacked emails in June. In the leaked series of emails authored by Otaiba, Dubowitz and Schanzer, it was revealed that the ambassador was in back-channel cooperation with the pro-Israel FDD, and some of the discussions in the emails displayed efforts to develop common policies against Turkey and Qatar.

A month later, several days before the July 15 coup attempt orchestrated by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), a three-day program was organized by the FDD and the UAE during which a number of topics such as "Share assessments of Turkish developments - Implications of Erdoğan's executive presidency" were discussed. In September 2016, two months after these meetings, the foreign ministers of the UAE and Israel met in New York.

As for the FDD administrators who testified in the Zarrab case, the judge ruled not to allow the FDD's donations outside of public financial sources and that donors be questioned. Although the FDD does not have to publicly announce all its donors and financial sources according to law, the prosecutor's insistence on the point and opening a separate title on the subject were curious. According to sources closely following the FDD, the UAE is secretly donating to the foundation and discretion seems to favor both sides.

Dubowitz, Schanzer and others

During the early hours of the July 15 coup attempt, Dubowitz wrote on his social media account, "What is correct response to a coup against a regime in the process of destroying democracy?" noting that Turkey, the country he targeted in Foreign Policy for years, would eventually fall. Co-writing the article "Iran's Turkish Gold Rush" with Schanzer and published in Foreign Policy only one day after the Dec. 25 plot, Dubowitz said that transferring gold to Iran in return for gas and oil continued after U.S. Congress decided to shut it down. He also alleged in the article that the suspicious transactions between Iran and Turkey could exceed $119 billion, referring to a FETÖ-linked media outlet.

Schanzer is known for his aspersions on Turkey in the articles he has written on Hamas and Daesh. When media covered the talks on the extradition of American pastor Andrew Brunson in return for the extradition of FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen, Schanzer continued his affronts by saying, "Every American should know the name Andrew Brunson. Every American should know Turkey's president is a thug."

Other figures at the FDD do not have clean records at all. Former Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Aykan Erdemir, for whom an arrest warrant was issued on claims he supplied fake evidence for the case, and John Hannah, who suggested exactly one month before the coup attempt that the Turkish military would intervene, are also with the FDD.

Hannah's article "How do you solve a problem like Erdoğan? Slowly, but inexorably, Turkey is headed off a cliff" was published in Foreign Policy on June 15, 2016. In the article, Hannah contends that the Turkish military would turn on Erdoğan in order to save Turkey while the country yielded to terrorism and the problems with the West worsened, that "some kind of military intervention also can't be dismissed entirely."

When Hannah wrote this article, Zarrab had been in a U.S. jail for three months. The same article also goes on to suggest that Zarrab might confess, so the case might also involve Turkey and go beyond the issue of evading sanctions on Iran. Ending the article with expressions such as "the Erdoğan problem is getting worse" and "a day of reckoning is likely to come," Hannah emailed an article alleging that the FDD and UAE are among those behind the coup attempt to the UAE ambassador, saying, "Honored that we're in your company." Although many regarded this as levity between the two, it seems more than a simple joke when all the aspects of the issue are considered.

UAE, FETÖ and Zarrab's Dubai connections

David Hearst, editor-in-chief of the London-based Middle East Eye known for its special intelligence news reports, wrote that the UAE transferred money to FETÖ putschists via Muhammad Dahlan and communicated with Gülen in the weeks before the coup attempt. Also, Egyptian Al Ghad TV, owned by Fatah member Dahlan who fled from Gaza after the corruption investigation, conducted an interview with Gülen. During the interview released three weeks after the attempted coup, Gülen called the West to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and eliminate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Several UAE-based media organizations, including Sky News Arabic and Al Arabiya, put out some unfounded claims such as that the putschists succeeded and Erdoğan fled abroad. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu hinted at the UAE when he said, "We know that a country provided $3 billion in financial support for the coup attempt in Turkey and exerted efforts to illegally topple the government. On top of that, it is a Muslim country." UAE-based media organizations published many pieces both in their English and Arabic outlets that whitewashed FETÖ in the aftermath of the attempted coup while the Gulf country accelerated its steps against Turkey.

Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the UAE, is one of the centerpieces of the Zarrab case. Those who are knowledgeable about trade procedures contend that the UAE must be held accountable since the food or gold trade was conducted via Dubai. If food was purchased in the UAE, where are the details of the activities in Dubai? Any records? Customs declarations? The fate of the money exchanged to Dirham?

It is still curious why only Turkey is targeted even though many banks, exchange companies and people based in the UAE were involved in the alleged incidents. It is possible that relations between the FDD administrators testifying in the case and the UAE might have solved the Dubai offshoot of the issue before the case began. If Zarrab really decided to confess months ago and entered FBI custody after being released from prison, it is highly possible that all these aspects might have been negotiated down to the last detail beforehand. It is also possible that the UAE did not undertake any risky business with regard to the questions above, and submitted documents that would stalemate Zarrab. Of course, they might fabricate false documents and evidence if desired.

UAE's propaganda assignment to fugitive journalists

Making its debut last month, Ahval News is chaired by Yavuz Baydar and İlhan Tanır is the chief of the English desk. The Turkish desk chief is Ergün Babahan and the Arabic desk chief is Ibrahim Ghassan.

Giving an interview to a website with an aim to promote their news portal, Baydar said the following which can answer so many questions, "Right after the attempted coup, I left Turkey due to my strong intuition that we journalists will get into even worse trouble. ... An Arab investment group which has been exclusively in the media business in London for a long time contacted me. I saw that their insights are professionally on point: They were thinking that an important country like Turkey and its dynamic society is not represented sufficiently, and there is a gap in this respect. ... They have a pluralist, secular and participative vision of journalism with an emphasis on human rights, and we agreed in terms of fundamental professional standards."

Having read this, I recalled a meeting I had in June with a British colleague of mine in London. I am referring to someone who has close contacts with the media company that owns the Arab Weekly for which Baydar writes columns. During our meeting, my colleague said that this media group, which is owned by the UAE, declared total war against Turkey after holding a meeting on the subject and demanded extra effort from everyone.

As I continued reading the interview something else grabbed my attention, Baydar said, "We have been exerting effort for almost four months now." Ahval News made its debut one month after the meeting was held. After that, I sent the website link to my friend in London, upon which he directly called me the same minute and affirmed, "Yes, Mehmet. This website is financed by the Arab Weekly, in other words, by the UAE."

A twitter whistleblower @mujtahidd, who has around 2 million followers, wrote that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are making plans to turn public opinion against Erdoğan by buying Turkey-based media outlets and hiring Turkey-based journalists. Baydar's website was launched 40 days after this allegation was written in September.

The following details are also significant: P24, which was co-founded by Baydar, is financed by the Open Society Foundations (OSF) owned by George Soros. Baydar and many other journalists either directly receive financial aid from the OSF or its partner organizations or they write articles for the portals that engage in propaganda, such as Index on Censorship, in return for money.

In an article he wrote for Hürriyet Daily News in July 2009, Ahval News's English desk Chief Tanır said, "I was part of the movement for a long time in the '90s while the movement was still very young. … The movement that I was involved in on many levels," referring to the Gülen movement. In another long piece he wrote, Tanır tried to justify himself after an arrest warrant was issued for him. In this article he says, "My defense against the charges in Cumhuriyet case indictment: Get lost!" he seems to hold back some details that he would like to hide.

For instance, while giving a record of his professional past, he did not say how long he worked for the Haberdar news portal, owned by FETÖ operative Said Sefa, one of the users of the @fuatavni Twitter account, used by Gülenist infiltrators in state institutions. Although Tanır said, "I started working for Haberdar toward the end of 2014 as far as I can remember," we could have learned when exactly he started had he not erased all the content published on the website with his signature.

Another point he did not want to touch on was when he worked with Fuat Avni. He does not draw on this in his defenses and, apparently, he had his articles published on the website removed. But this is not a problem thanks to Google cache. As far as I could see, he continued working as the Washington representative of Haberdar after the coup attempt until the end of 2016.

Affronting U.S.-based Turkish journalists lately, Tanır attempted to teach a journalism lesson by claiming that the companies these journalists work for are either state-run news agencies or organizations financed by the state.

I would like to respond to Tanır, who is funded by the UAE, whose arguments are in line with Gülen's remarks and who worked with Fuat Avni even after the coup attempt. I will remember your independent journalists on every anniversary of the Gülenist coup attempt and I will also celebrate your UAE National Day on Dec. 2 every year.

* Daily Sabah Brussels representative

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