Diversionary move? Turkey accuses two Palestinians of 'spying' for UAE

Announcement came as Erdogan's government faced political, economic woes.
Friday 19/04/2019
An image grab taken from a video released on April 19 shows the two Emirati nationals walking in Istanbul.  (TRT World via AP)
An image grab taken from a video released on April 19 shows the two Emirati nationals walking in Istanbul. (TRT World via AP)

BEIRUT - Ankara's announcement of the arrest of two Palestinians it accused of spying for the United Arab Emirates has been described by Turkey experts as a "diversionary move" aimed at distracting attention from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's woes at home and at trying to exert pressure on the UAE because of its opposition to Turkey's promotion of extremism in the region.  

Turkish authorities said they have detained the two individuals Monday on suspicion of spying for the UAE.

Sources in Istanbul identified the two arrested Palestinians as Samir Samih Shabaan and Zaki Yousef Hassan. 

Regional experts said considering its timing, the arrest raises questions about the motivation of Turkish authorities in making the announcement now and in providing the details it did. 

"This looks like a classic diversionary move by Ankara after so many months of fruitless pressures on the US administration and Saudi Arabia and in the wake of setbacks for Erdogan at home," said an Arab analyst who monitor Turkish current affairs in Beirut. 

"Erdogan saw the recent electoral defeats as a major embarrassment. Emphasising and even making up national threats to consolidate the nationalistic constituencies he wants to cultivate and puts the focus on other issues besides his setbacks," he added.

Ankara's announcement comes amid an economic slowdown that has contributed to surprising defeats for the AKP's ruling party candidates in local elections held March 31.  

Election setbacks, in such major cities as Ankara and Istanbul were perceived as personal disavowal of President Erdogan's leadership as he campaigned directly for the AKP candidates. 

Turkish officials said they were investigating the two individuals for about six months but did not say why they were arrested this week.

They added they were investigating whether the suspects could be linked to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year. They pointed out that one of the two men had arrived in Istanbul shortly after the killing and the second one, later.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and senior Turkish officials have relentlessly tried to exploit the Khashoggi murder through official statements and systematic media leaks all aimed at pushing the US administration to taking measures against Saudi Arabia.  Their efforts have not yielded any tangible results as Washington insisted on maintaining good relations with Riyadh although agreeing with Saudi Arabia on holding those responsible for the Khashoggi murder responsible. 

Turkish officials have accused Emirati authorities of backing Saudi Arabia in the Khashoggi case.  They do not see eye to eye with Abu Dhabi on regional issues, especially that the UAE opposes the Islamic extremist groups to which Ankara lends support. 

The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that the suspects faced possible charges of "political, military and international espionage."

Disclosing so much information to the public is an unusual move on the part of Turkish authorities in foreign "spying cases". 

Intelligence related cases are kept under wraps in Turkey except when the government seeks some form from leverage from the disclosures. 

(AW staff with agencies)