TURKEY

“A person who seeks to create disorder and we are dealing with him as a terrorist.”

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, November 16, 2020

Turkey has accused Mohammed Dahlan of a number of crimes. An attempt to overthrow the government in 2016, financing terror groups and has also accused him of plotting against governments in the Middle East and Africa. Turkey has aggressively competed with the UAE/KSA axis up until November 2021 when UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nahyan visited President Erdoğan and triggered rapprochement between the two countries. Turkey is aligned with Qatar to form an alternative path for developing nations from Afghanistan to Somalia. To counter this, the UAE insists that this alignment is part of the political Islam movement that divides nations and creates terrorism.

Beginning with the Arab Spring, Turkey and the UAE have had a harsh rivalry leading to direct conflict in Libya in the summer of 2020 when Turkish drones curtailed the expansionist ambitions of MBZ in Libya. On a diplomatic level, East Africa has been a focal region for both spheres. Often creating overlapping and conflicting spheres of influence. While Turkey has repeatedly accused the UAE of destabilizing Middle Eastern and African countries, the UAE accused Turkey of fomenting terrorism. Dahlan was tasked by the Abu Dhabi ruling family with being their main interlocutor in Africa. Directly putting Dahlan and his proxies in the cross hairs of Turkey.

Unlike most places, Mohammed Dahlan’s is known in Turkey, not for his Palestinian political efforts in Gaza, but for attempting to overthrow the Turkish government. Dahlan has been accused of financially aiding the Gülen Movement, which has been accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt. Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu accusedDahlan of “running a terror cell.” On February 16, 2020 Dahlan was added to Turkey’s most wanted terrorist list. Minister of Interior Affairs, Süleyman Soylu would not rule out Dahlan’s role in the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi who was grisly murdered by Saudi operatives in the Saudi consulate.

Turkey requested Interpol issue an arrest warrant for Dahlan. Yet, this request was rejected. Proof that Dahlan with his many international connections is able to walk the fine line between aggressor, fixer, banker and paymaster without suffering any consequences.

Turkey is in the cross hairs of Dahlan and the UAE, as part of their harsh rivalry in several Middle Eastern and African countries. Turkey supported Arab Spring movements in Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Libya. The movements shook the confidence of familial autocracies like the UAE and KSA. The UAE’s direct hiring of Dahlan as a Security Advisor for their Middle Eastern and African Foreign Affairs is a result of this need for self-preservation.

These fairly young nations that survive on petroleum exports have the funds and will to prevent the installation of democratic regimes at any cost. Driven by the fear that any possible populist wave, internal intrigue or foreign adventuring would shake its authoritarian rule. Although countries like the UAE hire thousands of foreign advisors, former Oslo Accords peacemaker Dahlan has appeared as the UAE’s dark shadow in disputed regions fought over between Turkey and the UAE. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted that Dahlan, as the former leader of Fatah, had a $700,000 bounty put on his head on the very day that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was visiting Turkey. The paper described described Dahlan as a “shadowy wheeler and dealer” a far cry from Israel’s choice to bring about a secure Palestine.

Dahlan’s tracks in Turkey are far from subtle. Two former Palestinian soldiers were arrested in Istanbul on charges of international espionage against Turkey. Their names were Samir Samih Shaban and Zaki Yusuf Hasan. The latter was found hanged in his cell a week after his detention. His case was closed and his death deemed ‘suicide.’ The other soldier’s case ongoing with confidentiality order. They were arrested after lengthy surveillance by Turkish intelligence. Allegedly, the two were tasked by Dahlan to surveil UAE’s dissidents, including Jamal Khashoggi. An anonymous source told the Anadolu Agency that the two were also collecting information about dissident Egyptians living in Turkey.

Is Dahlan working against Turkish interests? In 2015 Dahlan told the Atlantic Treaty Association in Brussels, “I am not against Turkey. But I am against not exposing the facts of those who are not confronting ISIS, those who are providing it with financial facilities trading in oil with it or smuggling weapons to it.” Dahlan has also come down squarely as supporting groups and nations who support the UAE, KSA, Israel and Egypt’s battle against mortal enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood.

While the Syrian case is complex, Egypt was the first post-Arab Spring country where the two rivals were at each other’s throats. Dahlan was allegedly involved in the ousting of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and in installation of current president, Abdelfattah el-Sisi. Also, Dahlan began using Egypt as a media base. Several Dahlan-linked TV channels constantly attacked the Erdoğan government and even released an interview with Fethullah Gülen, US-based leader of the Gülen Movement.

The second post-Arab Spring rivalry was seen in Libya, in the form of a proxy war between the two. Turkey supported Libya’s internationally recognized government. Turkey deployed unarmed drones and even allegedly shipped in Syrian mercenaries against UAE-backed Khalifa Haftar. The UAE has been trying to instate Haftar as Libya’s new Gaddafi. Allegedly, Dahlan was responsible with providing weapons to Haftar forces.

Turkey viewed Somalia as a gateway to East Africa providing humanitarian help and building TurkSom, their largest foreign military base, which trains a third of Somali forces. Turkey’s style of openly engaging developing nations to great fanfare was evidenced when President Erdoğan made a great show of Somali’s new statehood by arriving with his family in Mogadishu in August 2011. That same year regular flights between Mogadishu and Istanbul were established.

This rivalry permeated to surrounding countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. For instance, in Sudan, Turkey backed the transition council while the UAE supported the coup leader, Abdelfattah al-Burhan, involving Dahlan as a mediator between al-Burhan and neighboring countries’ leaders, including Israel.

Also, Turkey’s pro-government media outlets claimed that Dahlan enabled Sedat Peker, a well-known mafia boss and arms smuggler, to seek refuge in Montenegro. There are further claims that Dahlan brought Peker to Dubai to use as a leverage against the Turkish government. After his arrival in Dubai, Peker released an array of YouTube videos, in which he propounded several allegations about state-mafia relations in Turkey, mostly targeting Süleyman Soylu, the Minister of Interior Affairs. Dahlan has been accused of funding the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, allegedly orchestrated by the Gülen Movement.   Turkey has been instrumental in rebranding Dahlan from being seen as an internationally supported political hopeful to a person of interest in clandestine activities. Whether this changes with Erdoğan’s reproachment with the UAE remains to be seen.