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Leaked emails: UAE, pro-Israel think tank plans on Qatar, Al Jazeera

Leak of emails belonging to UAE ambassador to US follows recent hacking of Qatari state news agency
Casey Wasserman, CEO of Wasserman Media Group, chats with Yousef al-Otaiba at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in 2015 (AFP)

Hackers have released email exchanges between the Emirati ambassador to the US and top foreign policy figures that include details of a forthcoming meeting between UAE officials and a pro-Israel think tank, reports said on Saturday.

UAE envoy Yousef al-Otaiba is an influential figure in Washington DC, and is in "almost constant phone and email contact" with US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

The emails reveal what appears to be a close relationship between Otaiba and members of the pro-Israel think tank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which is funded by businessman Sheldon Adelson, an ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a major donor to US conservative and Republican Party Causes.

Such a high level of backchannel cooperation between a Gulf monarchy that does not recognise Israel and a leading neoconservative think tank might seem surprising had they not worked together in the past against their common rival, Iran.

The emails also detail a multi-page proposed agenda of a forthcoming meeting between FDD and UAE government officials that is scheduled for 11-14 June.

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Mark Dubowitz, FDD's CEO, and John Hannah, FDD's senior counsellor, are listed as attending, as well as Jonathan Schanzer, FDD vice president for research. UAE officials requested for meetings to include Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince who commands the armed forces.

The agenda includes an extensive discussion between the two sides on Qatar. They are scheduled to discuss, for example, "Al Jazeera as an instrument of regional instability". Media network Al Jazeera is based in Qatar and is state-funded.

Also included is discussion of possible US-UAE "policies to positively impact Iranian internal situation". Among the list of policies are "political, economic, military, intelligence, and cyber tools," which are also brought up as a possible response to "contain and defeat Iranian aggression".

Then national security adviser Susan Rice speaks with Yousef al-Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to US, during an Iftar dinner at the White House in 2013 (AFP)

In another email, Dubowitz sends Otaiba a list of companies that invest in both Iran and the UAE, in an apparent attempt to encourage the Emirati government to apply pressure on those companies to make a choice.

And last August, Hannah sent Otaiba an article claiming the UAE and FDD were both behind an attempted military coup in Turkey.

"Honored that we're in your company,” Hannah writes to Otaiba. One month before the attempted coup Hannah set out the case for a military takeover of Turkey in an article in 

Hannah wrote: "Some kind of military intervention also can't be dismissed entirely - especially if coupled with widespread popular opposition to Erdogan's rising despotism and disregard for Turkey's existing constitution ... Should Turkey's situation continue to deteriorate, the theory goes, it's not unthinkable that the military would turn on Erdogan in order to 'save' Turkey from his road to Islamist dictatorship and state failure."

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In a recent email exchange in April, Hannah complains to Otaiba that Qatar is hosting a Hamas meeting at an Emirati-owned hotel.

Otaiba replies that the real issue was the US military base in Qatar - "How's this, you move the base then we'll move the hotel :-)."

The leaks follow the recent hacking of the Qatari state news agency, which published fake remarks by the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, that purportedly had him criticising some leaders of fellow Gulf Arab states and calling for an easing of tensions with Iran.

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Writing to Washington Post journalist David Ignatius, after the latter wrote a column about Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Otaiba writes: "It looks from how you wrote this piece, that you are beginning to see what we've been seeing for the last two years. Change!"

“Change in attitude, change in style, change in approach,” the Emirati ambassador writes.

“I think we should all agree these changes in Saudi are much needed…” he continues, before saying: “Our job now, is to do everything possible to ensure MBS succeeds,” referring to the deputy crown prince and defence minister.

In July 2013, after Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was deposed, Otaiba wrote excitedly to former George W Bush administration officials Stephen Hadley and Joshua Bolten. 

“Today’s situation in Egypt is a second revolution. There more people on the streets today than January of 2011. This is not a coup, this is revolution 2.0. A coup is when the military imposes its will on people by force. Today, the military is RESPONDING to people’s wishes.”

An email from Otaiba to Robert Gates, former defence secretary for Barack Obama, and now a principal at RiceHadleyGates, an influential Washington consulting firm, reveals friendly associations between Gates and Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

"MBZ sends his best from abu dhabi," Otaiba writes. "He says 'give them hell tomorrow'."

The anonymous hackers, calling themselves GlobalLeaks, sent the emails to the Intercept, Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast.

The hackers used an .ru email address, associated with Russia, meaning they may be connected with Russia or trying to give the impression that they are.

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