Mohammed Dahlan: A Middle East Interloper Used in a Game of Nations

Seeking the blessings of Egyptian, UAE, and Israeli intelligence agencies, the most controversial Palestinian figure accused of financial corruption is poised to replace Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mohammed Dahlan A Middle East Interloper Used in a Game of Nations
Image by: Youssef Qabli/Inside Arabia

Amid many developments in the troubled Middle East, one name keeps surfacing whether in counter-revolutions, meddling in Palestinian politics, or just being involved in behind-the-scenes groundwork for the so-called “Deal of the Century”: Mohammed Dahlan, the most controversial of Palestinian politicians.

Dahlan started dabbling his fingers in a wide array of Middle East affairs in 2011 when he was expelled from Fatah’s ruling body. Mahmoud Abbas had decided to expel Dahlan permanently from the movement in June 2011, as a result of criminal and financial cases for which Dahlan was tried.

News reports estimated Dahlan’s personal wealth at more than $120 million in 2017.

In May 2012, a Palestinian court in the West Bank sentenced Dahlan to two years in prison after convicting him of slandering the institutions of the Palestinian state.

In May 2012, a Palestinian court in the West Bank sentenced Dahlan to two years in prison after convicting him of slandering the institutions of the Palestinian state. Relying on the court judgment, Abbas issued a decision stripping Dahlan of his parliamentary immunity, which then enabled the head of the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Department, Rafiq al-Natsheh, to refer Dahlan to the Court of Corruption Crimes in late 2014.

Surprisingly, despite his criminal convictions and prison sentence, Dahlan ascended to the position of a trusted security advisor to United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed.

Mohammad Oweis, a Palestinian-American political analyst, explains why the former head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force has now become the UAE’s hitman.

“The UAE hates political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Dahlan has a track record of an anti-Islamist iron fist in Gaza, where he captured and tortured thousands of Hamas followers. Also, it is well known that Dahlan is very well connected to the Israeli and the Egyptian intelligence agencies, and the UAE values such connections,” Oweis said.

The Emirates backed Dahlan’s involvement in counter-revolutions in Egypt and Libya.

David Kirkpatrick, The New York Times’ correspondent in Egypt who was recently deported from Cairo Airport because of his detailed book, “Into the Hands of the Soldiers,” described in the book how the military had manipulated Egyptian activists into laying the groundwork for the military coup using the UAE’s financial backing of a campaign called “Tamarrod” (“Rebellion,” in Arabic).

Again, Dahlan was the name that surfaced in connection with collaborations with then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to oust the then-elected Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi.

Kirkpatrick said, “President Trump boasts that he has reversed American policies across the Middle East. He has embraced the hawks of the region, in Israel and the Persian Gulf, as his chief guides and allies.”

“But in many ways, this hard-line approach began to take hold under President Barack Obama, when those same regional allies backed the 2013 military ouster of Egypt’s first [democratically] elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Kirkpatrick added.

Andrew Miller, who oversaw Egypt for the National Security Council under Mr. Obama, and who is now with the Project on Middle East Democracy, said, “Some of the coup’s most vocal American advocates went on to top roles in the Trump administration, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser.”

The UAE had also used Dahlan in counter-revolution efforts in Libya headed by Ahmed Gaddaf Eldamm, the elder son of the Libyan dictator based in Cairo.

Dahlan has been also investigated by the International Criminal Court for his involvement with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the second son of Muammar Gaddafi, in war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder and persecutions of civilians.

Dahlan and the “Deal of the Century”

Jared Kushner, the White House senior advisor and President Trump’s son-in-law, concluded a Gulf tour in February to garner support for a new U.S. initiative to ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The U.S. has been expected to announce the details of the so-called “Deal of the Century” some time after the Israeli elections on April 9.

However, Mohammed Dahlan’s name has surfaced again as the key intermediary in taking the first step of pulling Hamas closer to Egypt and the UAE. He has traveled to Gaza to coordinate with Yahya al Sinwar, the new head of Hamas, on an economic assistance offer by the UAE through Egypt, with Israel’s blessing, which aims at weakening the hard-liners’ control.

Dahlan and his Emirati backers have a bigger plan though: to finance a $100 million electricity plant, to be built on the Egyptian side of the border to power the Gaza Strip.

Why use Dahlan as a mediator and a front for the UAE’s role in Trump’s new initiative?

According to Mohamed Oweis, “Both Dahlan and al Sinwar are adopting the Israeli perception of a deal that ignores the right of return for the Palestinian refugees, so the Gulf money is the means to offer the alternative maybe through rebuilding the refugee camps into small cities with roads and infrastructure.”

Oweis noted also a more significant role for Dahlan’s wife, Jalila, using her charity fund to funnel UAE’s aid to buy political influence for Dahlan in refugee camps in Lebanon and Gaza, and bolster support for him in the West Bank.

Preparing Dahlan as a Replacement

Aging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his rival in exile, Mohammed Dahlan, continue to present themselves as the “saviors” of Palestinians through seeking a peaceful resolution of the conflict. However, there is a regional plan in the making to pave the way for Dahlan to lead the Palestinians once Abbas disappears.

Oweis explained how Dahlan, while perceived by many Palestinians as a collaborator with Israel and a corrupt official, could, in fact, be the next Palestinian president.

“In the Middle East, dictators like Abbas suffocate political life to prevent any emerging leader from competing, so Dahlan managed to introduce himself as an alternative using the UAE money to buy political influence.”

Experts are detecting movements by UAE, Egypt, and Jordan—supported by Hamas and blessed by Israel—to install Dahlan as a replacement.

Experts are detecting movements by UAE, Egypt, and Jordan—supported by Hamas and blessed by Israel—to install Dahlan as a replacement. To that effect, the UAE has already financed a new political party formed by Dahlan, representing him both inside and outside the Palestinian territories to compete in future Palestinian elections.

The Democratic Reform Movement (“Harakat al-Islah Demokraty,” in Arabic) will have three locations: the UAE, Egypt, and Gaza. Hamas has already looked into dealing with Dahlan because it has given up on Abbas. Hamas wants to benefit not only from Dahlan’s Gulf money but also by being a mediator with al-Sisi to keep the Rafah Crossing open in return for giving Dahlan and his wife freedom to operate in Gaza.

According to Ahmed Youssef, political advisor to former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, “Dahlan may have a better chance at accessing high Palestinian positions than any other Palestinian figure.”

However, Oweis believes Egypt will wait for Abbas’s departure before any attempt is made to replace him with Dahlan.

“When Abbas disappears,” said Oweis, “in the absence of political leaders in the West bank, Dahlan will garner the full support of the Egyptians, the Israelis, the UAE backing, and a residual support of him in the West Bank, and [he will] be the leader of choice for the game of nations.” 

Whether a game of nations or a sequel to Game of Thrones, the intrigue is as Machiavellian as it comes.