No smoking gun in hacked emails of UAE envoy in Washington

Yousef Al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US, reportedly had his email account hacked. (Photo courtesy: UAE embassy)
Updated 05 June 2017

No smoking gun in hacked emails of UAE envoy in Washington

JEDDAH: The publication of leaked emails belonging to Yousef Al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US, by a website with links to Iran has been widely criticized and mocked on social media.
Al-Otaiba’s email account was apparently hacked, with the perpetrators offering the emails to a raft of news outlets. All but one website — The Intercept — apparently turned down a direct invitation to publish the content.
Commentators have pointed out that this is because there is no “smoking gun” in the emails — and that all they reveal is an envoy who has Arab interests at heart and is working hard to curb Tehran’s damaging influence in the region.
An Arabic hashtag that translates as “Al-Otaiba’s email speaks for me” was associated with the massive flood of tweets supportive of Al-Otaiba. Saudi users said that what was written in the hacked emails, such as the messages of support for the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 reform plan and criticism of countries that support extremism, was in fact a sign of honest and genuine brotherly feelings and concerns.
Mohammed Al-Sulami, head of the Riyadh-based Arabian Gulf Center of Iranian Studies, reiterated this in a tweet. He said he had attended several events in Washington where Al-Otaiba and his wife strongly defended the Kingdom and showed their support for it.
The UAE ambassador’s father, the renowned poet Mana Al-Otaiba, tweeted: “I’m a proud father.” He added in a screen-grabbed text: “Since his childhood I knew that he would be a great man… the son who works hard and aims high, has great respect and loyalty to his beloved country, the UAE, and to his family.”
A cursory look at what was revealed in the emails shows that there is nothing out of the ordinary, diplomatic sources said.
“The absence of a smoking gun… categorized as a matter of national interest is possibly why many US news outlets declined to run the story, apart from the fact that Otaiba’s email has been hacked,” an Arab diplomat in Washington, who opted not to be named, told Arab News.
According to various sources, the mysterious hackers had approached different news sites offering a sample of the emails, which allegedly show how the UAE is using influence to tarnish the image of other countries. Renowned news platform The Daily Beast ridiculed the contents of the leaks.
“Whatever the leak is meant to accomplish — a distraction, perhaps, from weightier issues involving President Donald Trump and Russia — its contents fall short of the explosive revelations hinted at in the cover letter… they include notes from an symposium on Islamic extremism, a proposed agenda for an upcoming meeting with the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a note on the UAE’s move to impose a tax on sugary soft drinks,” elaborated The Daily Beast.
The Arab diplomat told Arab News: “What is interesting is how The Intercept, of all US websites, was the first to run the leaks and how quickly the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera carried them after that, distancing themselves and pretending to quote American sources.”
Qatar has been at the receiving end of massive international criticism for the past fortnight following what Doha insists are fake statements made in support of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah by the tiny Gulf state’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
The Intercept is little known among Arabic speakers and outside certain circles in the West. However, its editorial line and tactics have raised questions in the US since it was launched in February 2014.
It is owned by a company called First Look Media, funded by Iranian-American billionaire Pierre Omidyar, the founder of the eBay auction site. The news site was launched by journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras — best known for their roles in the series of reports concerning the documents disclosed by Edward Snowden — and Jeremy Scahill.
The Intercept claims to give “its journalists the editorial freedom and legal support they need to pursue investigations that expose corruption and injustice wherever they find it and hold the powerful accountable.”
Despite this professed agenda, it is nonetheless said to have a pro-Iranian stance based on its archive of stories, suggesting an uneven balance in terms of which powers it chooses to hold “accountable.”
While many of its stories are anti-Saudi, the same cannot be said with regard to its archive on Iran. In one lengthy story from 2016 entitled “US media condemns Iran’s ‘aggression’ in intercepting US naval ships — in Iranian waters,” Greenwald goes to great lengths to defend Tehran’s naval actions.
“It goes without saying that every country has the right to patrol and defend its territorial waters and to intercept other nations’ military boats that enter without permission,” he wrote. “But somehow, the US media instantly converted the invasion of Iranian waters by US ships into an act of aggression by Iran.”
Another article on Iran, from 2015, was headlined “Benjamin Netanyahu’s long history of crying wolf about Iran’s nuclear weapons.”
The Intercept’s questionable editorial agenda was grounds for the resignation of some journalists such as renowned Washington-based investigative reporter Ken Silverstein. After nearly 14 months working at The Intercept, Silverstein went on record to criticize his time at the Iranian-American businessman’s venture.
Silverstein announced his resignation from The Intercept in a series of Facebook posts in which he called his former employers a “pathetic joke.” Expressing anger and disillusionment with the company, Silverstein stated: “I am one of many employees who was hired under what were essentially false pretenses; we were told we would be given all the financial and other support we needed to do independent, important journalism, but instead found ourselves blocked at every step of the way by management’s incompetence and bad faith.”

From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi with his third wife Farah and their son Reza (left). Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right). (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2019

From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

  • Forty years ago on Wednesday, the shah went into exile and less than a month later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power
  • His departure paved the way for the establishment of an Islamic republic hostile to Arab Gulf states

DUBAI: Forty years ago today, Iran’s then-shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled the country after a 37-year reign, in the first stage of a revolution that would replace 2,500 years of monarchy with an Islamic republic.

Prior to the revolution, Iran very much resembled Western countries, with a flourishing economy and tourists flocking to the country for its breath-taking landscapes, beaches and various activities, including hiking and skiing. 

The shah’s departure, prompted by mass protests, paved the way for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to return from exile in France, assuming power on Feb. 11, 1979. 

It was “a genuine social revolution against tyranny, domestic and foreign — the first represented by the shah and the second by… the US,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College in Abu Dhabi.

“The revolution went awry when religious leaders dominated the government, imposed its version of Islam and eliminated their partners in the revolution, including Iranian nationalists.”

Not long after Khomeini took over, the world got a taste of the new regime. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage on Nov. 4, 1979, and were held for 444 days, after a group of Iranian students who supported the revolution took over the US Embassy in Tehran. 

The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980 and lasted for eight years, contributed to the deterioration of Iran’s situation. 

“Fear of the new regime’s attempt to export the revolution to a Shiite-majority neighbor led Iraq to initiate the war,” Al-Shateri said. 

“However, Iran’s insistence on continuing the war until the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein exacted a heavy cost on both countries in human and economic terms,” he added. 

“Iran had legitimate grievances against the US, but the way it tried to redress these gripes was counterproductive.”

The shah was considered one of the best customers of the US defense industry. But his Western-inspired reforms sparked turbulent social change that aggravated the clergy, while his consolidation of power and the secret police gave him the reputation of a dictator.

Opposition to his reign and corruption among Tehran’s elite created an influential alliance of radical Islamists. 

Although Pahlavi tried to modernize Iran, driving up oil prices in the early 1970s and implementing reforms in education and health care, he became alienated among Iranians and angered the conservative clergy, who helped drive his exile. 

“Iran changed significantly from before the revolution to after, from a more civil, open and decent Iran to a closed, aggressive and sectarian one,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences. 

“Post-1979 Iran is deeply sectarian, and is not only responsible for sharpening the Sunni-Shiite divide, but also wholly responsible for politicizing and militarizing it,” he added.

Iran “has funded and armed Shiite militias, and has done everything possible to strengthen them so they can challenge the nation-state, Lebanon being a clear example.” 

Post-1979 Iran does not “play by the rules of the game,” Abdulla added. “It became radical, revolutionary and sectarian, and was about to become nuclear, which is deeply destabilizing.”

He said: “Gulf states have lived with Iran for thousands of years, and they knew how to deal with it all along. They had the best possible neighborly relationship, but it has always been a difficult Iran, whether under the shah or Khomeini.”

Abdulla added: “We’ve never seen an Iran that has become the number-one terrorist country in the world except in the last 40 years.”

Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at the Schar School of Police and Government at George Mason University in the US, said: “Unlike the shah’s Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to export its revolution to other Muslim countries, especially the Arab Gulf ones.” He added: “Still, it must be remembered that the shah’s Iran was also fairly aggressive. It seized Abu Musa and the Tunbs (islands) right when the British were leaving the Trucial States and the UAE was being formed. It had also laid claim to Bahrain.” 

Furthermore, while the shah’s troops helped defend Oman against a South Yemeni-backed Marxist insurgency in the 1970s, Katz said the presence of those Iranian troops in Oman was unsettling to Saudi Arabia in particular. 

“The shah had also got the best of Iraq in their border rivalry — something that Saddam Hussein sought to reverse after the Iranian revolution,” he added. 

Before the revolution, the shah’s Iran often behaved “aggressively toward its Arab neighbors, but its close cooperation with the US against the Soviet Union, which Iran bordered and the Gulf Arab states didn’t, meant that Washington wasn’t willing to act against the shah for doing so,” Katz said. By contrast, the rise of an anti-American government after the revolution led to the US working with Arab Gulf states against Iran. 

“Because the Islamic Republic behaved in such a hostile manner, both toward the Gulf Arabs as well as the US, the 1979 revolution led to the isolation and containment of Iran for many years,” Katz said. 

“Although it may seem counterintuitive, Iran may have posed a far greater problem for the Gulf Arabs if the… revolution hadn’t taken place, because if it hadn’t and Western investment in Iran continued or even grew, there would’ve been a tendency for Tehran to assert — and the US to value — an Iranian effort to be the leader in the Gulf in collaboration with the US.”