Reports allege that the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed was ready to pay the Assad regime billions in order to resume an offensive in northern Syria, which left the region on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe.
UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) agreed to provide $3 billion to the Assad regime so that it would violate a ceasefire in northern Syria, according to a report by a UK-based media outlet.
The report alleges that MBZ conditioned the payment on regime forces resuming their months-long offensive on northern Idlib, which has killed thousands and risks forcing 1.5 million internally displaced Syrians seeking sanctuary there with no choice but to flee.
Fighting between opposition forces backed by the Turkish army and the regime came to a halt after a ceasefire brokered between Ankara and Moscow, Assad’s key supporter, in mid-March.
That came after an airstrike that killed 35 Turkish soldiers, and retaliatory drone strikes by the Turkish armed forces that destroyed hundreds of regime tanks, vehicles, and artillery pieces, as well as wiping out a number of regime commanders.
A high-level source told the British outlet that $250 million had already been paid out to Assad before Russian officials caught wind of the plan.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is said to have been furious when he heard and immediately dispatched Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu to put an end to it.
A further $1 billion was delivered to Assad after Shoygu’s visit, but the ceasefire has largely held since.
The Emiratis were apparently hoping to keep Turkey embroiled in a protracted conflict in northern Syria despite the risk to the millions who have sought refuge in the last major opposition-held stronghold in the country.
For years, Assad regime forces have deliberately bombed civilians in opposition held areas, backed by the Russian air force and Iranian-trained militias. A continued offensive in Idlib would have created a humanitarian crisis, as hundreds of thousands would have been in the crosshairs of Assad’s warplanes.
On Wednesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that Assad regime forces were responsible for chemical attacks in the northern Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun in 2017.
According to the MEE report, by providing support for regime violations, the UAE sought to distract Turkey from its campaign to support the UN-recognised Libyan government. Tripoli is currently trying to fend off an attempt by UAE-backed warlord Khalifa Haftar to take over the North African state.
A record of supporting human rights abuse
The report detailing the UAE’s encounter with Assad over Idlib sits comfortably with previous Emirati exploits in the region.
Despite its small population, under MBZ the UAE has sought to create a large influence network across the Middle East, even if those attempts bring about accusations of human rights abuses.
In Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE are embroiled in a war with Houthi rebels, Abu Dhabi is accused of using mercenaries to kill political opponents and running torture camps for Yemeni prisoners.
In Egypt, the UAE was a key force behind the 2013 coup, which overthrew the country’s only freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and replaced him with the current autocratic regime led by Abdel Fattah el Sisi.
Sisi was responsible for the massacre of more than 800 Morsi supporters in August 2013 at Cairo’s Rabaa square.
Abu Dhabi is also believed to have collaborated with the failed July 2016 coup plotters in Turkey by funding the FETO terrorist organisation through its middleman, the Palestinian exile Mohammed Dahlan.
With regard to Syria, despite initially backing the Syrian opposition, the UAE has slowly rebuilt its ties with the regime.
Years of clandestine cooperation has resulted in a very public and enthusiastic diplomatic embrace.
In December, the Emirati ambassador to Assad, Abdul Hakim Ibrahim al Nuaimi, lavished praise on the dictator for his ‘wise leadership’.
In late March, Assad regime media outlets published reports on a phone call between Assad and MBZ, in which the latter promised to support the regime’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, as well as discussing other ‘regional issues’.