In conflict with UAE, Turkey offers reward for key Palestinian official

Ankara claimed Friday that it wanted Dahlan as part of the Turkish Interior Ministry’s “red list” against those involved in a 2016 coup attempt.

A member of security forces loyal to Hamas stands guard as supporters of former senior Fatah official Mohammad Dahlan take part in a rally marking the death anniversary of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in Gaza City November 9, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
A member of security forces loyal to Hamas stands guard as supporters of former senior Fatah official Mohammad Dahlan take part in a rally marking the death anniversary of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in Gaza City November 9, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Turkey said it would give a $700,000 reward for “information leading to the capture” of former Palestinian security leader Mohammad Dahlan, according to Turkey’s TRT. Dahlan lives in the United Arab Emirates and $700,000 is a very small reward, so Ankara’s overall agenda is to strike at Abu Dhabi and to show it still plays a role in Palestinian diaspora politics.
Ankara claimed Friday that it wanted Dahlan as part of the Turkish Interior Ministry’s “red list” against those involved in a 2016 coup attempt. Turkey has blamed the “FETO terror group” for the attempt and detained tens of thousands of people. Now that Turkey is done arresting many of its own local people it has increasingly sought to use the coup attempt excuse to go after foreign nationals, blaming critics and adversaries of the current AKP Turkish leadership of being linked to “FETO,” which Turkey says is linked to an exiled Turkish cleric Muhammed Gulen.
Dahlan, a former leader in Gaza for the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah was forced out by Hamas in 2007 and eventually had to leave the West Bank after tensions with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. He has tried to return to Palestinian politics several times, in 2014 and most recently last month when he discussed Palestinian elections. Turkey has close relations with Hamas and sought to play a role in Gaza’s Erez Industrial Zone in 2006, showing Ankara's long-term interest in Gazan politics. In a larger context Turkey opposes Dahlan and the United Arab Emirates, where Dahlan lives, as part of a regional conflict.
Turkey’s Daily Sabah reported that “Turkish intelligence units revealed that Dahlan also had connections to the UAE spy network in Turkey.” The report claimed that the UAE is working with Israel to "destabilize Turkey, Iran and Qatar.”
The origins of Turkey’s opposition to Dahlan go back many years. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Al-Jazeera in late October that Turkey is seeking Dahlan who it views as a “terrorist.” Turkish media has claimed Dahlan played a role in the murder of Saudi former insider Jamal Khashoggi. This is not the first time Turkish media has made these libelous claims, in 2018 a Turkish newspaper made similar claims and, according to MSN, Dahlan sought to take to court those making the accusations. Turkey says that Saudi agents entered Turkey to kill Khashoggi in 2018. Turkey also claims that the United Arab Emirates is involved in a plot against Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and that the UAE hopes to use Dahlan as a figure in this. Turkey called Dahlan a “terrorist” and accused him of “spying for Israel.”
The avalanche of Turkish claims reveal that the paltry sum of $700,000 is not the real issue. Dahlan, for instance, was accused in 2012 of having millions in assets in an article at The Weekly Standard. One report at the ‘Post’ said that just in Jordan he was worth more than $10 million. In 2012 a Palestinian Authority court accused Dahlan of “stealing $16 million,” according to Haaretz. In this context $700,000 is just pennies.
So what is Ankara really trying to do here? Turkey wants to use the accusations against Dahlan as part of its overall competition with the UAE and Saudi Arabia for regional influence. Turkey views this as competition for hearts and minds throughout the Islamic world and wants to take the mantle from Riyadh as champion of various “Islamic” causes. For instance Turkey has sought to champion the Palestinian cause over the last decade, adopting it and becoming the main opposition to the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Turkey accuses Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan of “pressuring the Palestinian Authority to keep quiet about the US,” according to an Al-Jazeera October 30 report.
Turkey is also seeking to highlight the 2016 coup attempt as part of a new round of attacks on Turkish citizens abroad. It has said it will strip 229 Turkish nationals of citizenship, according to The New Arab.
After the Turkish criticism of Dahlan in late October the Palestinian politician responded in an interview with the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC). “I consider these fabricated charges an insult to the Turkish people and the Turkish army,” He accused Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan of believing he could lead the Arab world. He also said that Qatar was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and undermining stability  in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and the PA. Turkey and Qatar are key allies and Turkey supports the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey has hosted Hamas officials.
According to The New Arab, Dahlan also accused Turkey of looting the Libyan Central bank and supporting “terrorist groups.” He accused Turkey of trying to pretend it is the leader of the “faithful.” Turkey is waging several proxy wars in the region against UAE-backed groups. This is especially true in Libya, hence Dahlan’s Libya comments. The wider picture is made more complex by reports in 2018 about Dahlan’s role in a UAE campaign in Yemen.
Buzzfeed reported that in the UAE Dahlan has “remade himself as a key advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.” The article claimed he played a role in UAE policy in Yemen where the UAE and Saudi Arabia were fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Leaked documents from an Iranian intelligence this month showed that the Muslim Broterhood met with Iran’s IRGC in Turkey in 2014 and sought to coordinate policy against Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen. “The Brotherhood delegation said the two sides could join forces against the Saudis. The best place to do that was in Yemen.” Dahlan’s role in the UAE policy on Yemen occurred in 2015, according to the Buzzfeed report.
These various strands now reveal a much larger conflict in the region that has pitted allies of Turkey, Hamas, Qatar, and Iran against Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies. This impacted Yemen, Libya and other countries, as well as the Palestinian Authority.
That Dahlan has showed up on Turkey’s spotlight is just one of several high profile figures in the Gulf who play a regional role. Azmi Bishara, a former member of Knesset who left Israel in 2007 after being accused of working with Hezbollah, ended up in Qatar. France 24 noted last year that he “is now among the key diplomatic players in the crisis that estranges Qatar from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf peers.”
Are those like Dahlan and Bishara being used by Gulf states to gain influence elsewhere or are Palestinians able to gain influence in the Gulf because they are both outsiders and insiders, able to bridge several different political circles? The overall story is not clear, but what is clear is that what was once a competition over Palestinian politics is now a regional conflict over influence.
Countries like Turkey supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2012 and were dismayed when it was overthrown by the current leader Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi. Sisi and the UAE support Khalifa Haftar in Libya and therefore Turkey and Qatar are on the other side in Libya, supporting the Tripoli government. This has global implications. The US lost a drone over Libya last week. Dahlan, once a key player in Gaza who was viewed favorably by the US and others, has become part of this larger globalized world.