Close American ally UAE is secretly training Syrian intelligence units, report claims

KBZACThe United Arab Emirates, one of the United States’ closest Arab allies, is training Syrian intelligence and military officers and is giving financial aid to government-owned civilian facilities in Damascus, a report claims. The UAE broke off diplomatic relations with Damascus at the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. But relations between the two countries were restored in 2018, when the oil kingdom reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital.

According to an investigation by the French-language Arab-affairs publication Orient XXI, which was reported on by the Middle East Monitor, Abu Dhabi began providing logistical, technical and financial assistance to the Syrian government soon after the embassy of the Emirates was reopened in Damascus. Orient XXI said that Emirati instructors are currently training around 40 Syrian military intelligence officers. Of these, 31 are non-commissioned officers, while at least 8 more are information technology and communication systems engineers.

Another group of Emirati instructors are allegedly training members of the Syrian Arab Army’s general staff, including at least five Syrian fighter pilots. The pilots are currently attending an all-expenses paid course at the UAE Air Force’s Khalifa bin Zayed Air College (KBZAC) in Al Ain. Orient XXI reports that the duration of the courses range from 60 days to a year, and are supervised by the intelligence services of the Syrian government. The Syrian supervisory mission at the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College is reportedly headed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, Lieutenant Colonel Jihad Barakat, who previously commanded Syrian paramilitary units. Washington has tried several times to kill Barakat.

The report by Orient XXI also alleges that the Emiratis have been providing substantial financial aid, medical provisions and food supplies to Syrian government-owned hospitals and welfare centers in Damascus and other regions of the country, which are controlled by al-Assad’s forces. The UAE has already helped rebuilt several public buildings, electric power stations and water plants in Damascus, which were damaged during the war, says Orient XXI.

Officially, the Syrian government is subject to a wide-ranging embargo by the Arab League, of which the UAE is a member. Additionally, the UAE’s alleged assistance to the Syrian government appears to be in direct violation of broad sanctions imposed on Syria by the US. Last year, Washington unveiled the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, a far-reaching legislation that aims to punish governments around the world that provide financial or material support to Damascus.

On June 19, the US government threatened for the first time to impose sanctions on the UAE, in response to its support for the Syrian government. During a press conference to announce the implementation of the Caesar Act, James Franklin, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, condemned the reopening of the Emirati embassy in Damascus and the rapprochement that is apparently taking place between Damascus and Aby Dhabi. “The UAE knows that we absolutely refuse that countries take such steps […]. We have clearly stressed that we consider this a bad idea”, said Franklin. The US government has not commented on the Orient XXI report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 June 2020 | Permalink

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