The United Arab Emirates’ government collaborated with coup plotters in Turkey before the unsuccessful attempt was launched, using exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan as a go-between with the US-based cleric accused by Turkey of orchestrating the plot, sources close to one of Turkey’s intelligence services told Middle East Eye.
Dahlan is alleged to have transferred money to the plotters in Turkey in the weeks before the coup attempt and to have communicated with Fethullah Gulen, the cleric alleged by Turkey to have masterminded the plot, via a Palestinian businessman based in the US.
The identity of this man, who is close to Dahlan, is known to a Turkish intelligence service.
Throughout the night of the coup on 15 July, pan-Arab media based in Dubai including Sky News Arabic and Al Arabiya reported that the coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party had been successful.
At one point, media outlets influenced by the Emirates claimed that Erdogan had fled the country. Still, there is no suggestion that the media outlets were involved in the coup.
It took the government of the UAE 16 hours – one hour after a statement by Saudi Arabia – to condemn the coup and to support Erdogan as the legitimate president of Turkey.
According to sources who spoke to MEE, the UAE then launched an operation to distance itself from Dahlan.
UAE indicated on social media that there was “anger with Dahlan”. Shortly afterwards, he was forced to leave the UAE and is understood to be in Egypt.
Dahlan is a former leader of the Palestinian political party Fatah who was exiled from Gaza and the West Bank and is thought to have close ties to Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
He is alleged to have been used as a conduit for UAE funds and communications in various operations throughout the Middle East.
MEE reported in May that the UAE, Jordan and Egypt had identified Dahlan as a favoured successor to the current Fatah leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Dahlan is also linked to attempts to stoke the civil war in Libya. In a secret recording of Abbas Kamel, then-office manager of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Kamel revealed that Dahlan, accompanied by three people, would secretly visit Libya on a private jet.
Kamel recommended that a military official allow Dahlan to leave the Libyan airport in secret. Kamel said Dahlan had already caused a problem for the Egyptian authorities because he travels “upon orders from the UAE, which monitors all of his movements”.
Since the failure of the coup, the Emiratis have tried to mend fences with Ankara. They detained two Turkish generals at Dubai international airport on suspicion of having links to the coup .
Mehmet Cahit Bakir, a major general in command of the Afghanistan Turkish Task Force, and Sener Topuc, a brigadier general in command of the Train, Advise and Assist Command in Kabul, were deported back to Ankara.
The UAE are even more fearful of a backlash that may come after the purge of the Turkish army that Erdogan is conducting.
An informed source told MEE: “They now feel that Erdogan is in full power. They do not like him personally and think of him as a man who will seek to take revenge. Once Erdogan has cleaned out the stables, they think he will then turn on those outside the country who supported the coup.”
A total of 126 army generals have been arrested in connection with the attempted coup. This represents about one-third of all the generals in the Turkish armed forces.
Revelations about Dahlan’s conversations with the Palestinian businessman in the US before the coup could also increase pressure on Washington to consider Turkey’s request for Gulen to be extradited.
Turkey’s foreign and justice ministers are set to travel in person to the US to demand the extradition of Gulen, but for that to succeed they must present a US judge with prima facie evidence to back the list of criminal charges, and proof that similar charges exist under US law.
If the charges clear that hurdle, Gulen would still be open to the defence that the charges are political in nature and that he could not be guaranteed of a fair trial in Turkey. About 2,700 judges were removed from their posts after the coup.
This article was first published on the Middle East Eye on 29th July 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.