US team said to be in Doha at official request after diplomatic tension with Gulf neighbours blamed on security breach.
Hackers have released the first series of emails taken from the inbox of the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba.
The Intercept reported on Saturday that the emails, released by a group called “Global Leaks”, show a close relationship between al-Otaiba and a pro-Israel, neoconservative think-tank – the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). [Note: Global Leaks is not to be confused with the Milan-based software company GlobaLeaks.]
The hacked emails, some of which date back to 2014, reveal a high level of backchannel cooperation between the FDD, which is funded by pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and the UAE.
They also appear to show clear collaboration between the FDD and the UAE on a campaign to downgrade the image and importance of Qatar as a regional and global power, including collusion with journalists who have published articles accusing Qatar and Kuwait of supporting “terrorism”.
Zaid Jilani, one of the authors of The Intercept report, told Al Jazeera the emails support previous allegations “that there is a growing axis between some of the Gulf countries, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and Israel”.
David Hearst, the Editor in Chief of Middle East Eye, told Al Jazeera the emails laid bare the “mechanism” behind “a very high stakes campaign that is being launched against Qatar”.
Otaiba is a well-known figure in US national security circles – he has been called “the most charming man in Washington” – and has participated in Pentagon strategy meetings at the invitation of defence officials.
The release of the leaked emails comes a week after a cyberattack on Qatar’s official news agency, during which fake remarks critical of US foreign policy were posted and attributed to the Qatari Emir.
Saturday’s email leak includes an exchange in which FDD senior counsellor John Hannah – a former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney – complains to Otaiba that Qatar is hosting a meeting of Hamas at an Emirati-owned hotel.
Otaiba responds that the UAE is not at fault and that the real problem lies with the US military base in Qatar.
He writes: “How’s this, you move the base then we’ll move the hotel :-)”
The leak also includes a proposed agenda for an upcoming meeting between the FDD and the UAE government scheduled for June 11-14.
The agenda includes in-depth discussions specifically on Qatar, including Qatar-based Al Jazeera, and its links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
One item on the agenda is: “Al Jazeera as an instrument of regional instability”.
“They actually discussed recasting Al Jazeera as a disruptive network, a network that is causing instability and chaos, rather than recognised good journalism,” The Intercept’s Jilani told Al Jazeera.
Attendees set to take part in the June meeting include former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Mark Dubowitz, CEO of FDD.
Other FDD emails ask for meetings with high-ranking figures including Mohammed bin Zayed – the crown prince who runs the UAE’s armed forces – as well as Mohammed Dahlan, a former strongman of the Palestinian Fatah group who now lives in Abu Dhabi.
A large portion of the emails focus on “U.S./UAE policies to positively impact Iranian internal situation” and to “contain and defeat Iranian aggression”.
Another email in the leak shows the FDD and the UAE looking to pressure businesses to pull out of Iran.
In early March, Dubowitz emailed Otaiba a list of non-US businesses operating in Saudi Arabia or the UAE “looking to invest in Iran”.
“This is a target list for putting these companies to a choice, as we have discussed,” Dubowitz wrote.
Hearst, of the Middle East Eye, told Al Jazeera he believed the leaked emails showed a clear “agenda” by ruling figures in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.
They have “seized” on Donald Trump’s presidency in the US, “and now they’re using him as a way of getting the job done, which includes getting rid of Al Jazeera… and also muffling Qatar”.