Emirati royal seeks asylum in rival Qatar in unprecedented move

Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad al-SharqiA member of one of the United Arab Emirates’ seven royal families has defected to Qatar and asked for political asylum, in what appears to be the first time that an Emirati royal has publicly turned against the oil-rich kingdom. In May of last year, the UAE joined an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which broke off all diplomatic relations with Qatar. The coalition accuses the tiny oil kingdom of clandestinely supporting Iran and funding Iranian-backed militant groups in the region. The UAE also participates in an ongoing large-scale commercial embargo against Qatar, which observers say is part of the regional cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

But on the morning of May 16, 2018, security officers in the Qatari capital Doha were stunned when an Emirati royal appeared before them and asked for political asylum and protection from the UAE. The royal was Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad al-Sharqi, the second son of the emir of Fujairah, one of the seven kingdoms that form the UAE. As a son of Fujairah’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed al-Sharqi, Sheikh Rashid, 31, had been placed in charge of the kingdom’s state-owned media arm. But in a stunning development, which appears to be a first in the 47-year history of the UAE, the prince has now defected to the UAE’s rival Qatar, and is publicly airing criticism of the UAE’s secretive rulers. In an interview with The New York Times last weekend, the prince provided what the paper described as “a rare glimpse into tensions among the rulers of the UAE” —especially between the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, which dominates the UAE, and the other six kingdoms.

Sheikh Rashid told The Times that Emirati officials were displeased with the country’s military intervention in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling against Iranian-backed rebels. The increasingly bloody war is now in its third year without a clear end in sight. According to the prince, the rulers of Abu Dhabi have repeatedly failed to consult the country’s six remaining kingdoms before making major decisions about the war in Yemen. The sheikh also accused the leadership of the UAE of money laundering, and claimed that it was routine for UAE royals like himself to be asked by the country’s rulers to make secret payments “to people he did not know in other countries”, in direct violation of international money-laundering laws. Prince Rashid also alleged that the UAE government had tried to blackmail him by threatening to reveal audiovisual material that would discredit his reputation.

The Times said it reached out to the government of the Emirate of Fujairah, but its messages were not returned. The paper also contacted the UAE’s embassy in Washington, DC, but officials there declined to comment. For the time being, Sheikh Rashid remains at an unspecified location in Qatar, but the Qatari government will not comment as to his whereabouts.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 July 2018 | Permalink

Advertisements

Israel has secretly worked with Emirates against Iran for decades, report alleges

Mohammed bin Rashid EmiratesA lengthy exposé by a leading American newsmagazine has claimed that Israel and the United Arab Emirates, two countries that officially have no relations, have been secretly collaborating for more than two decades. Their secret cooperation has been extremely tight and has included clandestine weapons sales and intelligence-sharing, according to the exposé, which was published on the website of The New Yorker on Monday and will feature in the magazine’s print edition on June 18. The lengthy piece, which deals with the changing geopolitics of the Middle East, is written by Adam Entous, national security correspondent for The Washington Post, who has previously reported for more than two decades for Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

Officially, Israel and the UAE have never had bilateral relations. The Emirates, an Arab federal state ruled through an absolute monarchical system, does not recognize Israel as a country. Consequently, the two Middle Eastern states have no official diplomatic, economic or military relations. But in his lengthy article published on Monday, Entous claims that Israeli and Emirati officials have been meeting in secret for at least 24 years. He alleges that the first clandestine meeting between the two sides happened in 1994 in Washington, after Abu Dhabi sought to purchase a number of American-made F-16 fighter jets. The US warned the UAE that Israel would veto the deal, fearing that these fighter jets in the hands of Arabs may eventually be used against it. But Israel did not pose a veto. Motivated by the Oslo I Accord, which it had signed the previous year, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin secretly reached out to the Emiratis and offered “to discuss the matter directly” with them.

The first series of meetings between the two sides took place “off the record […] in a nondescript office in Washington”, says Entous. Israeli and Emirati officials were diametrically at odds over the Palestinian issue, but were in almost complete agreement on the topic of Iran. Abu Dhabi saw Iran as a major threat to the stability of the Middle East, and so did Israel. Following the secret meetings, Israel lifted its objections to Washington’s sale of F-16s to the Emiratis. That, says Entous, helped “build a sense of trust” between the two Middle Eastern countries. By the end of the 1990s, there were allegedly regular secret meetings between Israeli and Emirati officials, which included the sharing of military, security and intelligence data.

Read more of this post

Was Dubai ruler’s daughter kidnapped by UAE and Indian Special Forces?

Sheikha LatifaThe international advocacy group Human Rights Watch has joined calls for information on the whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa, a member of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates, who some say was abducted in international waters by Emirati and Indian special forces. Princess Latifa, 32, is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE. But she has fallen out with the royal family and has repeatedly issued public calls for democratic reforms and more rights for women. In 2002, when she was just 18, she attempted to leave the UAE but was forcibly repatriated by her father’s bodyguards. In recent years, Princess Latifa has continued to vocalize her opposition to her father’s rule, whom she has accused of deploying “death squads” to suppress dissent within the UAE royal family.

It is believed that on February 24, Princess Latifa was joined by Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish martial arts instructor who has lived and worked in the Middle East, with the aim of implementing an elaborate escape plan. The two women traveled to neighboring Oman and used jet skis to transport themselves to international waters. There they boarded a yacht captained by Hervé Jaubert, a French former intelligence officer who also has United States citizenship. Jaubert became internationally known in 2009 for escaping from the UAE without a passport, after authorities there accused him of owing money to investors. Jaubert’s yacht, The Nostromo, sailed from the Arabian Gulf toward India with the two women and three Filipino crew members onboard. On February 26, Princess Latifa posted several messages on social media, including a video in English, explaining her reasons for leaving her home country. But soon afterwards, The Nostromo went missing while sailing toward the coastal Indian state of Goa. It didn’t reappear again until March 20, when it sailed for Sri Lanka with its captain and crew, but without the two women on board.

Jaubert has since told reporters that his ship was intercepted in international waters by “two unmarked speedboats” carrying between six and eight commandos. They used stun guns and smoke grenades to neutralize the yacht’s crew, which they proceeded to handcuff and blindfold. The soldiers then took the two women. Notably they spoke to Princess Latifa in English, prompting Jaubert to conclude that they were Indian, not Arab. Some reports later claimed that a minimum of five Indian and Emirati warships, as well as two military airplanes and a helicopter, participated in the attack on The Nostromo. Jauhiainen, who was eventually released and is now back in Europe, confirmed Jaubert’s account.

But the Indian authorities have rejected these claims, arguing that they have no knowledge of such a military or paramilitary operation off the coast of Goa. Human Rights Watch recently issued a formal call on the Indian and Emirati governments to reveal the precise whereabouts of Princess Latifa, who has not been seen since the raid. “Failure to disclose the whereabouts and status of the princess could qualify as an enforced disappearance, given the evidence suggesting that she was last seen as UAE authorities were detaining her”, said the international advocacy group. The government of the UAE has not responded to media requests for comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 May 2018 | Permalink

Western ex-spooks flock to Emirates to set up new agency modeled after CIA

Abu Dhabi, United Arab EmiratesDozens of Western former spies, most of them Americans, are being hired by the United Arab Emirates, whose ruling family is trying to create a new spy service modeled after the United States Central Intelligence Agency. According to Foreign Policy magazine’s intelligence reporter, Jenna McLaughlin, Western contractors are paid $1000 a day for their services. They also reside for free in five-star hotels in Abu Dhabi, while helping the UAE “create its own spy empire”. The lucrative compensation makes it difficult for former spooks to turn down invitations to join a handful of Western consulting companies, who are leading the effort to create the UAE’s “professional intelligence cadre modeled after the West’s”, says McLaughlin.

Western instructors provide courses daily at two different locations in Abu Dhabi. In-class instruction takes place at a luxurious villa located in Mina Zayed, a port in the northern outskirts of Abu Dhabi. Field training is conducted at a secret facility located about 45 miles from the UAE capital. The facility is referred to as “The Academy” and is highly reminiscent of Camp Peary, a 10,000-acre US Department of Defense training base that is used to train CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency operations officers. Just like Camp Peary (known informally as “the Farm”), the UAE’s “Academy” features driving course instruction areas, military-style barracks, and gun ranges, among other training elements.

Foreign Policy says it spoke to “six sources with knowledge of the matter” who said that the effort to create a CIA-like agency in the UAE is spearheaded by CAGN Global Ltd., a consultancy company based in Baltimore, MD. The company’s president is Larry Sanchez, a former CIA operations officer, who struck a personal relationship with the UAE’s ruling royal family while working on counterterrorism for the US government in the early 2000s. He has reportedly been living in the UAE for the past six years, helping to build the UAE intelligence services “from the ground up”, says Foreign Policy. At times he has been joined by other high-profile American former ex-spooks, such as Blackwater founder Erik Prince and Richard A. Clarke, who served as National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism under Presidents George Bush, Sr, and Bill Clinton.

According to McLaughlin, the work of CAGN Global Ltd. came under scrutiny last year, as several US government agencies, including the State Department and the CIA, became concerned that the training of Emirati intelligence recruits was too closely modeled after the training provided at the Farm. But a review of the company’s instructional provision in the UAE concluded in its favor and the issue seems to have been resolved said McLaughlin. In researching its story, Foreign Policy reached out to Sanchez, the CIA, the Department of State, and the UAE embassy in Washington, DC, but received no responses.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 December 2017 | Permalink

Israeli weapons, airpower, secretly given to Libyan warlord, source claims

Khalifa HaftarIsrael is secretly providing military assistance to Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, one of the factions in the Libyan Civil War, according to a British-based publication. Libya has remained in a state of war since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Currently the strongest faction in the ongoing Libyan Civil War is the eastern-based Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011 to launch his military campaign.

In February of 2011, shortly after the popular uprising erupted in Libya, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which —among other things— forbids the export of war materiel to Libya. In June of this year, the United Nations accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of violating the embargo by providing secret military assistance to Haftar and the LNA. Now a new report in a British-based Arab news outlet claims that, in addition to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Israel too is helping the LNA. Allegedly, Tel Aviv has given the LNA war materiel and air power support, with the help of the United Arab Emirates.

Published in the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab) newspaper, the report claims that the Libyan strongman has been holding secret meetings with Israel since 2015. The publication cites a high-ranking official in the LNA, who spoke on condition of anonymity “out of fear for his safety”. The source, who is reportedly close to Haftar, told the newspaper that he is personally aware of two meetings held between Haftar and agents of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, in 2015 and 2016. The LNA official said the meetings between the LNA and the Mossad were held in Jordan “in strict secrecy”under the supervision of the United Arab Emirates. Soon after the meetings, said the unnamed official, Israel began to provide the LNA with military aid, including night vision equipment and various sniper rifles. He also claimed that this is known to the LNA fighters on the ground, because there are Israeli markings on the rifles issued to them. The official also claimed that Israel may have secretly provided air cover during at least one of the LNA’s offensive in recent years.

The claim of collusion between Israel and the LNA is bound to raise popular pressure against the pro-LNA government in Egypt, which borders with Libya. It will also increase tension between the LNA and Algeria, which borders Libya from the west. According to The New Arab, the government of Algeria issued “a strong warning” against Israel’s involvement in Libya, following reports of secret cooperation between the LNA and Tel Aviv.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2017 | Permalink

US spies confirm Qatar’s claims that its media were hacked by Emirates to spark crisis

Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-ThaniAmerican officials appear to confirm Qatar’s allegations that its news media were hacked by its Gulf adversaries, who then used the fake news posted by hackers to launch a massive campaign against it. Tensions between Qatar and other Muslim countries have risen since late May, when the country’s state-controlled news agency appeared to publish an incendiary interview with Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani. In the interview, which appeared on May 24, the sheikh appeared to praise Saudi regional rival Iran as a “great Islamic power” and to express support for the militant Palestinian group Hamas. On the following day, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain immediately banned all Qatari media —primarily Al Jazeera— from broadcasting in their territories and broke diplomatic relations with Doha. Later on, they declared a large-scale commercial embargo against the small oil kingdom. They have since threatened war unless Qatar changes its alleged support for Iran and for a number of militant groups in the region.

The Qatari government has dismissed the embargo as unjust and has claimed that Sheikh al-Thani’s controversial interview was fake, and was placed on the country’s state-owned news agency and social media as a result of a computer hack. It has also claimed to have evidence of a number of iPhones that were used from locations in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to launch the hacks on its networks. Qatari officials have also said that an investigation into the incident is underway, but their claims have been criticized as outlandish by Qatar’s regional rivals.

Now, however, a report by The Washington Post claims that American officials have uncovered evidence that Qatar’s allegations of a computer hack are true. The paper cited “US intelligence and other officials” who spoke “on the condition of anonymity”. The officials said that US intelligence agencies recently became aware of a meeting of senior UAE state administrators that took place on May 23 in Abu Dhabi. At the meeting, the officials discussed a plan to hack Qatari news websites and social media, in order to post incendiary messages that could be used to spark a row between Qatar, the Saudi government and its allies. The alleged computer hacks is reported to have taken place on the following day. According to The Post, the only thing that US intelligence is unsure about is “whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done” by a third party.

The Post said that several US intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, refused to comment on its report. The paper received a response from the UAE embassy in Washington, DC, which said that the Emirates had “no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 July 2017 | Permalink

Emiratis, Saudis, secretly assisting Libyan rebels with air power, says UN

Khalifa HaftarSecret military assistance from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which violates United Nations sanctions, is helping Libya’s eastern-based rebels prevail in the civil war there, according to a new report. Libya has remained in a state of anarchy since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Currently the strongest faction in the post-2011 Libyan Civil War is the eastern-based Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the US under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011.

The Tobruk-led Government is ostensibly supported by the United States, but has also received Russian assistance. The status of the group is further-complicated by the fact that, in recent years, its military wing, led by Haftar, operates semi-autonomously. Some believe that Haftar has now stopped taking orders from Tobruk and has aspirations to lead his own armed faction in Libya.

In February of 2011, shortly after the popular uprising erupted in Libya, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which —among other things— forbids the export of war materiel to Libya. The resolution was further-strengthened in 2014 and today remains in place. But the UN embargo did not appear to stop the military domination of Haftar’s LNA. In the past few months, the armed group has managed to extend its control over dozens of urban centers, oil installations and military bases and outposts throughout eastern and central Libya. Today, the LNA is seen as the dominant military authority in the war-torn country.

Now a new report published by the UN suggests that the main reason for the LNA’s military prowess lies in the secret support it receives from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The report was published on Friday by the “Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970”, a panel of experts appointed by the UN to oversee the implementation of the arms embargo. In its annual report, the panel asserts that Haftar’s forces received significant military assistance from the UAE in both ground and aerial support. Specifically, the LNA received nearly 650 armored and non-armored vehicles in April of 2016 alone, as well as helicopters and unmanned drones. The latter are now stationed the Al-Khadim air base, which was built by the LNA specifically in order to house the UAE-supplied aircraft. It is believed that the UAE operates the Al-Khadim air base, which is located approximately 60 miles east of Benghazi, Libya’s second most populous urban center.

The UN report goes on to state that much of the war materiel reaches Libya through ships that sail from Saudi Arabia, and that some Belarus-based companies are also involved in the illicit transfer of helicopters, non-armored vehicles and other items to Libya. It concludes that the materiel assistance provided by the UAE has “significantly increased the air support available to the LNA”, which in turn explains the group’s impressive military performance in the past year. The report’s authors noted that they contacted the government of the UAE in regards to the report’s findings, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 June 2017 | Permalink