Turkey’s Bounty on Ex-Palestinian Security Chief Reveals Web of Intrigue

January 13, 2020

Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan was involved in mercenary operations in Palestine and Yemen, and was expelled from Palestine's Fatah party. Evidence of his involvement in the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey reveals his operations are more extensive than previously thought.

Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan was involved in mercenary operations in Palestine and Yemen, and was expelled from Palestine's Fatah party. Evidence of his involvement in the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey reveals his operations are more extensive than previously thought.


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Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Arlington, Virginia.

Few individuals in the Middle East embody the contradictions and backroom wheeling and dealing more than Mohammed Dahlan. He’s someone straight out of a cold war spy novel it seems and whom Turkey last week placed a $700,000 bounty for his capture according to the newspaper Hürriyet, and $1,700,000 according to the website Middle East Eye. Dahlan is a Palestinian from the Gaza strip and was the Palestinian Authority’s Chief of Security between 1993 and 2007, during which time he was also a prodigy of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In 2007, when the Hamas Party took over the Gaza Strip, Dahlan was accused of funneling US weapons to Fatah fighters and of fueling a civil war between Hamas and Fatah. Then in 2011, the Fatah Party expelled him after evidence emerged that he might have been involved in the poisoning of Yasser Arafat on Israel’s behalf.

Here at The Real News Network we have previously discussed his role in Yemen when he cooperated with the Israeli’s bare operations group, mercenary company on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. So even though Dahlan has been suspected of collaborating with the Israeli government and also with the CIA, he is now considered to be a candidate to replace Mahmoud Abbas as head of the Palestinian authority. How is this possible? And what does Dahlan represent in this complicated situation which involves not only Israel and Palestine but also Turkey, Egypt, Libya, the UAE and the United States?

Joining me now to explore how Dahlan figures in all of this and what he represents for the situation in the Middle East is Antony Loewenstein. He is an investigative reporter, filmmaker and author of the book Disaster Capitalism, making a killing out of catastrophe. Last November Antony was also awarded the 2019 Jerusalem Al Quds Peace Prize. Thanks for joining us again Antony and congratulations on winning the Peace Prize.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Thanks so much for having me on. I appreciate that.

GREG WILPERT: So help us make sense of this very complicated story. Who would you say is Mohammed Dahlan? And is he a private security contractor or is he a state agent of the UAE? Or what is he?

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: So he’s a complicated figure. And I preface my comments by saying that certainly when he used to be based in Gaza and of course as you said, he’s Palestinian from Gaza, his popularity was very mixed. I mean keep in mind the fact that the Palestinian leadership has been undemocratic arguably since its beginning. Yasser Arafat was not a Democrat; Mahmoud Abbas is not a Democrat. So when 2007, Dahlan was kicked out essentially when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, at that stage he was very unpopular because essentially Hamas had won the election then. And he was seen as trying to stymie that result. I fast forward now so until 2020, and Dahlan essentially has been in some ways a gun for hire.

The best way to describe him I think is a few ways. One, a lot of stories suggest–including in the Israeli press–that he regularly does speak to Israeli officials in Turkey particularly and elsewhere. And that’s possible because keep in mind the fact that there’s now serious suggestion with evidence that Hamas has the presence in Turkey. And Israel is interested in trying to target Hamas in that country and Dahlan is a middleman between those positions. I mean the idea that he would become the next leader of the Palestine authority or ahead of Palestine on the one hand seems unlikely because there’s no actual elections yet that have been called in Palestine. But we’ll come back to that later if you’d like.

And what’s also interesting is his main role in the last few years has been essentially a gun for hire for the UAE. Managing various contracts for that country in Yemen and elsewhere, including alleged arms dealing for the UAE. And clearly also working elements within the Egyptian government as well. He owns a TV station. And this is what it comes down to, that the reason the Turks are very upset at the moment, amongst other reasons, is that his network recently aired an interview with Gülen, the exiled Turkish leader in the US who the Turks alleged was behind the 2016 failed coup in their country. Now, Dahlan denies he has any involvement in that, and it’s frankly impossible to know if that’s true or not. But in some ways it really is not a question of one clean country trying to go after a thug. It’s in some ways the idea of very, very murky people going after each other.

GREG WILPERT: Yes. That’s very interesting. And I actually want to return to the point about the Palestinian election. That is, despite his cooperation with the Israeli security forces, Dahlan continues to express desire to return to Palestinian politics. Now, what would you say does this mean? I mean, is he burned in Palestinian politics as a collaborator with the occupation or does he still have a base of support there?

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Look. There is a base of support, but I’d say it’s incredibly small. And we shouldn’t forget when I was in Gaza the last time, a number of people I spoke to in fact, were quite fond of him. But I think I should put that in context. Not because I think he’s a great Democrat or a great person. A lot of people, although not all, are incredibly disillusioned with Hamas. And Hamas has been in control now since 2007. And life in Gaza is incredibly tough. Let’s make it clear.

That’s principally the fault of Israel, which has continued in inhumane siege now for all these years. And of course the Egyptians, which are enforcing that. So the idea of Dahlan is going to come in and save the day is a pipe dream. But I think the idea that Dahlan could be a leader of the Palestinian people and somehow rally them around a cause. To me it’s delusional, not least because: what exactly is his position? I mean, essentially, if you’re working for or with the Israelis–Israeli vision, if you can call it that, is indefinite occupation. There’s no Palestinian state, there’s no two state solution, there’s no democratic Palestine at all. So if Dahlan’s vision somehow is to maintain or continue that status quo, a lot of young Palestinians, especially in the West Bank and Gaza are fed up with party politics for good reason. Because they see Mahmoud Abbas who’s 85, Sikh, is running a police state in the West Bank essentially. Hamas runs a police state in Gaza.

And the idea that someone’s going to come in and save the day like him, to me–I’m a Palestinian, of course… It seems very unlikely. Having said that, finally, it doesn’t mean that if there is an election that someone like him would not be on the ballot and someone like him could not be engineered to win. Although the last election in 2006 was democratic, the Carter Center showed that the last Palestinian election, it’s possible that Israel or the US or someone else would want to engineer a result. Dahlan could be seen as a very favorite candidate. But to be clear, he’s not going to be bringing democracy to Palestine, sadly.

GREG WILPERT: Now I want to turn to the larger context that is in which Dahlan might figure. As I mentioned earlier, Turkey has placed a bounty, some say 700,000 some say it’s $1,700,000 on his head for his alleged involvement, as you said in the 2016 coup against Turkey’s president Erdoğan. Meanwhile, Dahlan also figures in the Libyan civil war because he’s working with the UAE to support the rebel force that general Khalifa Hafter leads against the UN-backed government in Tripoli, which Turkey supports. Now in a recently published article in Hürriyet, it argues that all of this must be understood in the context of the fight over the role of the Muslim Brotherhood; which Turkey, Qatar and Hamas support and which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the United States oppose. What do you think of that analysis? I mean, how does Dahlan fit into that context and the role of the Muslim brotherhood?

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Well, it’s interesting. Because on the one hand, I think Melman’s analysis is probably pretty spot on. But of course it’s ironic in a way because he’s an enemy of Hamas in so many ways in terms of his attempts to try to overthrow the election result in 2006 and trying to support the Palestinian authority in Gaza. And while at the same time Turkey is obviously also a big supporter of Hamas and in fact is allowing many Hamas providers to actually live and work in Turkey. So Dahlan’s role is a strange one. I mean the issue the Muslim brotherhood though is mixed. What I mean by that is that until many, many years ago, many, many Arabs types, both leaders and people supported some kind of Arab nationalism, which sometimes was secular but often was religious. It was both.

And someone like Dahlan I think in some ways represents this idea that you can have a maybe less religious or less overtly Islamic political movement. But in some ways, what does he represent? I mean he’s not representing democracy. He’s not representing the idea of somehow bringing freedom to his own people or the UAE. In fact, he’s working for dictatorships around the world. That’s a known on the record fact. And what’s interesting also I think is that in many ways, the 2016 coup, which he’s alleged to have supported in some ways. The evidence for that by the way, is pretty murky. I’m not suggesting he wasn’t involved, but the evidence that I’ve seen doesn’t exactly prove that point. So we’ll see if it ever comes to a Turkish court to be proven in court. Is that the brotherhood in some ways, Dahlan is close to Sisi in Egypt.

And as many viewers will be aware, what Sisi has been doing in Egypt in the last year is conduct one of the most brutal crackdowns of not just democracy, but the Muslim brotherhood and Islamists. Anyone associated with that organization, anyone who expresses support for their rights or freedoms. Tens of thousands of people are in prison in that country. So if anyone in the Middle East or Palestine looks to Dahlan as some kind of savior to help them bring freedom or peace to Palestine or Gaza or the West Bank, I would say they’re looking at the wrong person.

But again, as I said before, it does not mean that he would not be welcome to run Palestine if he was supported by say the UAE or Saudi or Israel or the US. Because in some ways those countries, they want reliable thugs. That’s what they want, and someone who can be relied on to deliver certain goals. And Abbas for long time was that, Mahmoud Abbas. I would argue in some ways he still is. I mean the Palestinian authority still runs to an extent. I mean it’s deeply corrupt. It’s deeply undemocratic. Hasn’t been an election since 2006. Dahlan’s roll in that is minimal at best. But quietly at least there are many in the Israeli, both intelligence and political elites, that would love someone like Dahlan to run the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem because he’s reliable. But reliable to their interests, not Palestinian.

GREG WILPERT: Yeah. In that context I think it’s interesting to note that on the one side you have a number of governments and individuals supporting essentially both secular and theocratic governments are opposed to the Muslim brotherhood, brotherhood. Such as I mean basically Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the UAE working together in the United States. And then on the other hand you have forces such as Turkey and Qatar which is considered to be more moderate usually supporting the Muslim brotherhood. So just want to see if you have a comment about this strange coalition of horses.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Well, just briefly also, I mean the irony is that someone like Egypt that claims to be opposed to the Muslim brotherhood still supports other Islamist forces or ideas. It’s particularly the brotherhood. And let’s not forget the context of this. The brotherhood of course took over Egypt after Mubarak fell. It was then Morsi who died recently in Egyptian prison, was overthrown by Sisi who now runs the country for the last number of years. So there’s a lot of hatred by the Egyptian elites again, the brotherhood for daring to try to run the country. And the irony is that many Arab States in the Middle East are supporting Islamists. I mean Saudi Arabia is a classic example of that.

So much of the funding for Al Qaeda and ISIS for that matter are coming from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. I’m not saying it’s always coming from the top, but it’s coming from a lot of individuals with serious power in both those countries. Now both Al Qaeda, ISIS and other militant groups in the Middle East and elsewhere are Islamists, some extreme Islamists. And let’s not forget Egypt and Saudi are close American and Western allies. So there’s a double game being played here and sadly I often get frustrated with the media coverage about this. That you see uncritical stories about Saudi Arabia fighting terrorism or Egypt fighting terrorism. What terrorism are we talking about?

The world’s biggest terrorism, in my view, in many people’s views is actually being funded and supported by some of the West’s biggest allies in the region, namely Saudi Arabia and others. So hypocrisy is kind of the name of the game in the Middle East, which is why it’s finally so many people in this part of the world are rising up and trying to protest as much as they can for change. And that means different kinds of governments that are far more democratic.

GREG WILPERT: Well, it’s a fascinating issue to figure out how Dahlan fits into all of this, but we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Anthony Loewenstein, investigative reporter, filmmaker and author. Thanks again, Anthony for having joined us today.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: My pleasure, Greg. Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.