The United Arab Emirates paid former British prime minister Tony Blair millions of pounds when he served as envoy for the Quartet mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a report in The Sunday Telegraph.

Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office responded on Monday to the report.

The British broadsheet newspaper said Blair received millions of pounds in consultancy fees from the UAE as he was trying to mediate Israeli-Palestinian peace. The report said he also received fees from the sovereign wealth fund of the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.

In addition, according to a report on Monday in the Daily Mail, the UAE helped fund Blair’s office in London while he was the Quartet envoy.

The Quartet – made up of the US, EU, Russia and the UN – was established in 2002 to facilitate the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process. Blair served as the group’s envoy from 2007 until 2015.

The report about the UAE funds raises potentially troubling questions about the objectivity of Blair during the time he served as the Quartet envoy. Nevertheless, the former British prime minister is held in high esteem in Jerusalem as a close friend and staunch supporter.

Allegations of a conflict of interest between Blair’s role as Quartet envoy and the business interests of his private consultancy firm have dogged him intermittently over the last number of years.

That Daily Mail report quoted a spokeswoman for Blair as saying that money he received from the UAE paid for the travel expenses for him and his staff. During his time as envoy, Blair made dozens of trips to and from the Mideast.

“As has already been publicly acknowledged, the UAE have supported the work of Mr. Blair over the years including his work on governance – now done solely on a not-for-profit basis – in countries like Colombia and Serbia,” the spokeswoman was quoted as saying. “In addition, they contributed to the costs of Mr. Blair and his London-based staff for the work he and they did for the Quartet role, particularly travel. None of this money went to Mr. Blair personally. It was quite separate from the funding of the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem, which Mr. Blair also raised from a range of different governments.”


UAE welcomes Qatari decision to amend anti-terrorism laws

DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates on Friday welcomed Qatar’s decision to amend its anti-terrorism laws, in one of the first positive signs from the UAE and three other Arab countries since they imposed sanctions on Doha last month.

In a move to counter their accusations of supporting terrorism, which it denies, Qatar has set rules for defining terrorism, freezing funding and terrorism financing and established national terrorism lists.

“The Qatari decree to amend the anti-terrorism law is a positive step to deal seriously with the 59 terrorists,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain designated dozens of people with alleged links to Qatar as terrorists, including Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi, and 12 entities, among them Qatari-funded charities.

“The pressure of the crisis has started to bear fruits, and the wiser course would be changing the whole orientation,” Gargash added.

Gargash also said the countries’ concerns about Qatar’s relationship with Iran had eased since Kuwait ordered the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador and 14 other diplomats for alleged links to a “spy and terror” cell on Thursday.

The four countries led a diplomatic and economic campaign to pressure and isolate the small Gulf state, which is a critical global supplier of gas and hosts the biggest U.S. military base in the Middle East.

Last week, Qatar signed an accord with the United States on working together to fight terrorism financing. Details have not been released but sources said it provides for the United States to post officials at Qatar’s state prosecutor’s office.

UAE said to be behind hacking of Qatari media, sparking regional upheaval

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of a Qatari government news site in May, planting a false story that was used as a pretext for the current crisis between Qatar and several Arab countries, according to a Sunday report by The Washington Post.

The Emirati Embassy in Washington released a statement in response calling the Post report “false” and insisting that the UAE “had no role whatsoever” in the alleged hacking.

The report quotes unnamed US intelligence officials as saying that senior members of the Emirati government discussed the plan on May 23. On the following day, a story appeared on the Qatari News Agency’s website quoting a speech by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in which he allegedly praised Iran and said Qatar has a good relationship with Israel. Similarly incendiary statements appeared on the news agency’s Twitter feed.

The agency quickly claimed it was hacked and removed the article. But Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt all blocked Qatari media and later severed diplomatic ties.

The ongoing crisis has threatened to complicate the US-led coalition’s fight against the Islamic State group as all participants are US allies and members of the anti-IS coalition. Qatar is home to more than 10,000 US troops and the regional headquarters of the US Central Command while Bahrain is the home of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

President Donald Trump has sided strongly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, publicly backing their contention that Doha is a supporter of Islamic militant groups and a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently concluded several days of shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf, but he departed the region without any public signs of a resolution.



United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash has accused Qatari broadcast network Al Jazeera of promoting antisemitism, supporting terrorist groups, and incitement to violence.

Gargash made the remarks in a letter written Sunday and made public Wednesday on the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation’s website.

The four-page letter was addressed to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, as a rebuttal to the UN Special Rapporteur’s statement on June 30, that recent demands to close Al Jazeera breached rights of freedom of expression.


Gargash defended demands to close the network by explaining that, “Freedom of expression cannot be used to justify and shield the promotion of extremist narratives.” He also added that, “It is the international community’s responsibility to remain vigilant as the media and new technologies are being exploited by terrorists and their supporters to disseminate extremist ideologies, as well as mobilizing, recruiting, inspiring followers, and raising funding.”

The UAE minister further stated that, “Al Jazeera is a platform for spreading terrorist ideology,” by conducting interviews with leaders of various terror organizations such as Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki of al-Qaida, Khaled Mashal and Mohammed Deif of Hamas, and Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah.

Gargash also accused Al Jazeera of promoting antisemitic violence in its programming, citing comments by Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi in one of his broadcast sermons on the Qatar-based network. According to Gargash, Qaradawi “described the Holocaust as ‘divine punishment’ during which ‘Hitler… put [the Jews] in their place.’”

This comes after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Maldives and Egypt cut ties with Qatar in early June, including the state-funded satellite television network. Reports that Israel was considering shutting down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem office also surfaced in June.

UAE’s (Freemasons and Crypto Jews) battle-hardened military expands into Africa, Mideast

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates is better known for its skyscrapers and pampered luxuries, but its small size belies a quiet expansion of its battle-hardened military into Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The seven-state federation ranks as one of Washington’s most prominent Arab allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, hosting some 5,000 American military personnel, fighter jets and drones. But the practice gunfire echoing through the deserts near bases outside of Dubai and recent military demonstrations in the capital of Abu Dhabi show a country increasingly willing to flex its own muscle amid its suspicions about Iran.

Already, the UAE has landed expeditionary forces in Afghanistan and Yemen. Its new overseas bases on the African continent show this country, which US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calls “Little Sparta,” has even larger ambitions.

From protectorate to protector

The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, only became a country in 1971. It had been a British protectorate for decades and several of the emirates had their own security forces. The forces merged together into a national military force that took part in the 1991 US-led Gulf War that expelled Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait.

In this Nov. 7, 2015 file photo, made available by the Emirates News Agency, WAM, a convoy of UAE military vehicles and personnel travels from Al Hamra Military Base to Zayed Military City, marking the return of the first batch of UAE Armed Forces military personnel from Yemen, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Ryan Carter-Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi/WAM via AP)

The UAE sent troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission there starting in 1999, giving its forces valuable experience working alongside Western allies in the field. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it deployed special forces troops in Afghanistan to support the US-led war against the Taliban. Emirati personnel there combined aid with Arab hospitality, working on infrastructure projects in villages and meeting with local elders.

Today, the UAE hosts Western forces at its military bases, including American and French troops. Jebel Ali port in Dubai serves as the biggest port of call for the American Navy outside of the United States.

Bulging ranks

The UAE decided in recent years to grow its military, in part over concerns about Iran’s resurgence in the region following the nuclear deal with world powers and the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

In 2011, the UAE acknowledged working with private military contractors, including a firm reportedly tied to Blackwater founder Erik Prince, to build up its military. The Associated Press also reported that Prince was involved in a multimillion-dollar program to train troops to fight pirates in Somalia, a program by several Arab countries, including the UAE.

 In this Feb. 22, 2015, file photo, United Arab Emirates armed forces demonstrate during a military show at the opening ceremony of the International Defence Exhibition and Conference, IDEX, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

“As you would expect of a proactive member of the international community, all engagements of commercial entities by the UAE Armed Forces are compliant with international law and relevant conventions,” Gen. Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri, a senior Emirati military official, said in a statement on the state-run WAM news agency.

Media in Colombia have also reported that Colombian nationals working as mercenaries serve in the UAE’s military.

In 2014, the UAE introduced mandatory military service for all Emirati males between the ages of 18 to 30. The training is optional for Emirati women.

“Our message to the world is a message of peace; the stronger we are, the stronger our message,” Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wrote at the time on Twitter.

War in Yemen

In Yemen, UAE troops are fighting alongside Saudi-led forces against Shiite rebels who hold the impoverished Arab country’s capital, Sanaa. Areas where the UAE forces are deployed include Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramawt, and the port city of Aden, where the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is stationed.

Additionally, the UAE appears to be building an airstrip on Perim or Mayun Island, a volcanic island in Yemeni territory that sits in a waterway between Eritrea and Djibouti in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait, according to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. That strait, some 16-kilometers (10-miles) wide at its narrowest point, links the Red Sea and the Suez Canal with the Gulf of Aden and ultimately the Indian Ocean. Dozens of commercial ships transit the route every day.

Already, the waters have seen Emirati and Saudi ships targeted by suspected fire from Yemen’s Shiite rebels known as Houthis. In October, U.S. Navy vessels came under fire as well, sparking American forces to fire missiles in Yemen in its first attack targeting the Houthis in the years-long war there.

“More incidents at sea, especially involving civilian shipping, could further internationalize the conflict and spur other actors to intervene,” the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy warned in March.

UAE forces and aid organizations have also set foot on Yemen’s Socotra Island, which sits near the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, after a deadly cyclone struck it. It too represents a crucial chokepoint and has seen recent attacks from Somali pirates.

The UAE has suffered the most wartime casualties in its history in Yemen. The deadliest day came in a September 2015 missile strike on a base that killed over 50 Emirati troops, as well as at least 10 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and five from Bahrain.

A Yemeni fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president carries a bottle of water during a patrol of a hill-top position northwest of the central city of Taiz, on April 20, 2017. ( AFP PHOTO / SALEH AL-OBEIDI)

Meanwhile, Emirati forces were involved in a Jan. 29 Yemen raid ordered by US President Donald Trump that killed a U.S. Navy SEAL and 30 others, including women, children and an estimated 14 militants.

Expanding to Africa

Outside of Yemen, the UAE has been building up a military presence in Eritrea at its port in Assab, according to Stratfor, a US-based private intelligence firm. Satellite images show new construction at a once-abandoned airfield the firm links to the Emiratis, as well as development at the port and the deployment of tanks and aircraft, including fighter jets, helicopters and drones.

“The scale of the undertaking suggests that the UAE military is in Eritrea for more than just a short-term logistical mission supporting operations across the Red Sea,” Stratfor said in December.

UAE officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on its military operations or overseas expansion.

South of Eritrea, in Somalia’s breakaway northern territory of Somaliland, authorities agreed in February to allow the UAE open a naval base in the port town of Berbera. Previously, the UAE international ports operator DP World struck a deal to manage Somaliland’s largest port nearby.

Further afield, the UAE also has been suspected of conducting airstrikes in Libya and operating at a small air base in the North African country’s east, near the Egyptian border.

Meanwhile, Somalia remains a particular focus for the UAE. The Emiratis sent forces to the Horn of Africa country to take part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the 1990s, while their elite counterterrorism unit in 2011 rescued a UAE-flagged ship from Somali pirates. The unit has also has been targeted in recent attacks carried out by al-Qaida-linked militants from al-Shabab.

A UAE military expansion into Somalia is also possible, as Trump recently approved an expanded military, including more aggressive airstrikes against al-Shabab in the African nation. The UAE recently began a major campaign seek donations for humanitarian aid there.

Israel, UAE to fly together in Greek air force exercise

Pilots from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fly alongside one another as part of a Greek air force exercise that kicked off on Monday.

The Jewish state does not have formal diplomatic ties with the UAE, though Israeli officials regularly boast of improving relations and military contacts with Gulf states.

The United States and Italy will also take part in the this year’s Iniohos exercise, the Hellenic Air Force announced on its website.

The 11-day drill will consist of “complex air operations” and also include naval and ground forces, according to the HAF.

The symbol of a Greek aerial exercise, in which Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Italy will take part, on March 27, 2017. (Hellenic Air Force)

The annual exercise, which runs through April 6, will not be the first time Israeli and UAE pilots fly in the same military exercise.

In August 2016, the two countries’ air forces also met at the US Air Force’s Red Flag exercise in Nevada, along with representatives from Pakistan.

Through such exercises abroad, Israeli pilots are meant to gain experience operating in conditions unlike those inside the geographically tiny Israel. Flying alongside foreign air forces also requires Israeli air teams to learn how to communicate in languages other than Hebrew.

In addition, the international exercises present a strategic opportunity for Israel to create and improve diplomatic relations with foreign nations.

Though there are no formal ties with the United Arab Emirates, there was a thaw in Israel’s relationship with the Gulf state. In November, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold visited Bahrain in order to open its first diplomatic mission in Abu Dhabi, which is part of the UAE.

Clearing out prison, US sends 15 Guantanamo detainees to UAE

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Fifteen prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center were sent to the United Arab Emirates in the single largest release of detainees during the Obama administration, the Pentagon announced Monday.

The transfer of 12 Yemeni nationals and three Afghans to the UAE comes amid a renewed push to whittle down the number of detainees held at the US prison in Cuba that President Barack Obama wants to close.

The Pentagon says 61 detainees now remain at Guantanamo, which was opened in January 2002 to hold foreign fighters suspected of links to the Taliban or the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. During the Bush administration, 532 prisoners were released from Guantanamo, often in large groups to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

The latest batch of released prisoners had mostly been held without charge for some 14 years at Guantanamo. They were cleared for release by the Periodic Review Board, comprised of representatives from six US government agencies.

The UAE successfully resettled five detainees transferred there last year, according to the Pentagon.

Lee Wolosky, the State Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo’s closure, said the US was grateful to the United Arab Emirates for accepting the latest group of 15 men and helping pave the way for the detention center’s closure.

“The continued operation of the detention facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists,” Wolosky said.

Obama has been seeking to close the detention center amid opposition from Congress, which has prohibited transferring detainees to the US for any reason. The administration has been working with other countries to resettle detainees who have been cleared for transfer.

Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA’s director of national security and human rights, said the transfers announced Monday are a “powerful sign that President Obama is serious about closing Guantanamo before he leaves office.”

According to Amnesty, one of the Afghans released to the UAE alleged that he was “tortured and subjected to other cruel treatment” while in US military custody. The man, identified only as Obaidullah, was captured by US special forces in July 2002 and allegedly admitted to acquiring and planting anti-tank mines to target US and other coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan.

In clearing him for transfer, the review board said he hasn’t expressed any anti-US sentiment or intent to re-engage in militant activities. However, a Pentagon detainee profile also said he provided little information and they had little “insight into his current mindset.”

One of the Yemeni men sent to the UAE was identified as Zahir Umar Hamis bin Hamdun, who traveled to Afghanistan in 1999 and later apparently acted as a weapons and explosives trainer.

A Pentagon profile from September 2015 said he expressed dislike of the US, which they identified as “an emotion that probably is motivated more by frustration over his continuing detention than by a commitment to global jihad.”

Israel to fly alongside Pakistan, UAE in US Air Force drill (NOT GOOD!!!)

Israeli aircraft will fly alongside Pakistani and United Arab Emirates planes in the United States Air Force’s Red Flag exercise in the Nevada desert later this month.

Red Flag is considered the US military’s “premier air-to-air combat training exercise,” in which participating countries are divided into two teams and simulate dog fights to improve both their aviation skills and their military’s international connections, according to the US Air Force.

Last year, Israeli pilots took part in the Red Flag exercise for the first time in six years. During the aerial simulation, Israeli Air Force planes flew with — and reportedly refueled — Jordanian fighter jets.

In 2016, there will be four Red Flag exercises at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The first ran from January to February, the second from February to March and the third in July, while the final exercise will be conducted August 15-26, according to the US Air Force.

Two F-16 Royal Jordanian Air Force jets (photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, by Caycee Cook, US Air Force, Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative photo of two F-16 Royal Jordanian Air Force jets (photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, by Caycee Cook, US Air Force, Wikimedia Commons)

Israel will take part in the August exercise, sending both fighter jets and cargo planes to Nellis Air Force Base, an IDF spokesperson said.

Those planes will apparently be joined by two Muslim countries, according to the US Air Force.

“For the second and fourth Red Flag, we will be including foreign players which include the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Spain,” Col. Jeffrey Weed, a Combat Training Squadron commander in the US Air Force, announced after the 2015 Red Flag exercise.

The Aviationist, a website dedicated to aviation news and analysis, reported that Pakistani F16 fighter jets were seen en route to the Nevada desert, refueling at the US Air Force Lajes Field base in the Azores, Portugal.
The Israeli military would not officially comment on the presence of Pakistani and United Arab Emirates pilots at the Red Flag exercise, other than to say that the drill was being run by the Americans and Israel sees itself as a “guest” of the country.

However, earlier this year a senior IAF official stressed that, in addition to their benefits for training, international military exercises can be seen as a form of “roundabout” diplomatic strategy.

“Flying outside of Israel is very different from flying out of Ramat David,” the official told The Times of Israel, referring to an air base in northern Israel.

“You don’t know the area, you’re speaking in a different language. It lets you put a mirror up to yourself, and you learn a lot from that,” he said.

And there are other benefits to training with foreign armies, he added.

“[International exercises] are not just military, but strategic in nature,” the officer said. “And the strategic benefits are not always direct; they can also be roundabout.”

While they are not considered “enemy nations,” Israel does not have formal ties with Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Though Pakistan has indicated it would be prepared to formalize its relationship with the Jewish state once there is a peace agreement with the Palestinians, ties between the two countries are often complicated.

There have been reports of covert contacts between Israeli and Pakistani officials, including a WikiLeaks document that indicated that a high-ranking official in the Pakistani army met directly with the Israeli Mossad.

Publicly, however, the two nations have little to do with one another. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly canceled a dinner reservation at a New York restaurant to avoid eating at the same time as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Though there are still no formal ties with the United Arab Emirates, there has recently been a thaw in Israel’s relationship with the Gulf state. In November, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold visited Bahrain in order to open its first diplomatic mission in Abu Dhabi, which is part of the United Arab Emirates.

Report: Egypt, Jordan, UAE preparing for Dahlan to replace Abbas

Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are preparing for the ascent of the Fatah movement’s former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan as next head of the Palestinian Authority, according to the Middle East Eye website.

Dahlan, the 54-year-old former head of the PA security forces in Gaza, has been living in the Gulf since he left the Palestinian territories several years ago. Dahlan has for many years been a bitter rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, 81, who in 2011 accused of him murdering late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Dahlan fell from grace in June 2007, when Hamas drove Fatah from Gaza after days of fierce street battles, and in June 2011 he was expelled from Fatah’s ruling body and lost his parliamentary immunity, following the allegations of financial corruption and murder. He was tried by the PA on corruption charges in 2014 in absentia, after he failed to show up for the trial.

The Middle East Eye said that it received information on the Egyptian-Jordanian-Emirati plan from separate Palestinian and Jordanian sources. There was no official confirmation of the claims.

According to the report, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed is one of the prime movers of the plan. Zayed reportedly informed Jordan that differences in the Jordanian and UAE attitudes toward Abbas were affecting bilateral relations. The Emiratis at one point sought Abbas’s arrest as well as a ban on him entering Jordan or using Jordan as a departure point for foreign travel.

In this January 3, 2011 photo, Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

“The Emiratis, particularly Mohammed Bin Zayed, absolutely reject Abbas on the personal level, to the extent that they told the Jordanians explicitly that the reason the UAE is negative about Jordan is due to the fact that Jordan did not take a stand against Abbas,” an unnamed senior Palestinian source was quoted by the news site as saying.

“The parties [the UAE, Jordan and Egypt] believe that Mahmoud Abbas has expired politically and that they should endeavor to stop any surprises by Abbas during the period when Fatah will remain under his leadership until the elections are held,” the source was quoted as saying.

The plan reportedly includes reintroducing Dahlan to the Palestinian territories, initially in a role that would not directly challenge Abbas, such as parliamentary speaker.

Dahlan, however, is considered to be unpopular among Palestinians and has been accused of links to Israeli security services. His broken relationship with Abbas is also considered problematic.

Abbas is currently serving as PA president for the 11th straight year, even though elections are supposed to take place every four years.

Hezbollah cell in United Arab Emirates allegedly uses sexual blackmail as recruitment tool

trial against five suspects in a Hezbollah-linked terror cell in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) began Monday in the State Security Court.

According to the suspects, the cell provided Hezbollah with sensitive information about UAE’s vital facilities, including details about Abu Dhabi’s oil output and the major oil and gas fields in the country.

During the trial, one of the suspects revealed that the Hezbollah cell used sexual blackmail in order to recruit new UAE citizens, documenting the people it targeted in intimate situations to coerce them to collect vital information about the state.
In addition, the cell’s coordinator married a local woman working in one of the oil facilities in the UAE in order to attain information about the state’s oil output.

The court decided to adjourn the trial against the cell members until May 23, when it will hear the defense’s claims.

This trial is another affront to Hezbollah’s legitimacy in the Arab world, after it was designated on Sunday as a terrorist organization by the Arab Parliament. During the Parliament’s fourth session in Cairo, it condemned “Hezbollah practices, which are aimed at
undermining the security of many countries in the region.”