UAE denies any hacking of Qatar
The United Arab Emirates was not responsible for an alleged hack of Qatari websites which helped spark a month-long diplomatic rift with Doha, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs said yesterday. Anwar Gargash denied as false a story in the Washington Post that cited US officials saying the UAE had orchestrated the hack of Qatar’s state news agency.
The report quotes unnamed US intelligence officials as saying that senior members of the Emirati government discussed the plan on May 23. On the following day, a story appeared on the Qatari News Agency’s website quoting a speech by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad AlThani, in which he allegedly praised Iran and said Qatar has a good relationship with Israel. Similarly incendiary statements appeared on the news agency’s Twitter feed. The agency quickly claimed it was hacked and removed the article. But Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt all blocked Qatari media and later severed diplomatic ties.
“The Washington Post story today that we actually hacked the Qataris is also not true,” Gargash told the London-based thinktank Chatham House. The Emirati Embassy in Washington also released a statement in response calling the Post report “false” and insisting that the UAE “had no role whatsoever” in the alleged hacking.
“The information published in the Washington Post on 16 July 2017, which revealed the involvement of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and senior Emirati officials in the hacking of Qatar News Agency, unequivocally proves that this hacking crime took place,” Qatar’s government said in a statement yesterday. US officials have said that experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) helping Qatar investigate the incident are convinced QNA was hacked, but that identifying the culprit will take time.
Gargash said the four Arab powers were in the process of discussing additional sanctions on Doha. “There will be some tightening of the screws,” he said in an interview, declining to give a timeframe on when new measure could be introduced. “We will see what are these screws, whether they are financial, whether they are other, but they completely within our (remit) as sovereign states.”
Yet the UAE would not escalate its boycott by asking companies to choose between doing business with it or with Qatar, he added. Gargash, who also suggested international monitoring of Qatar was needed, added there were no plans for a meeting between the two sides under the auspices of Kuwait, a neutral Gulf Arab country seeking to mediate in the spat.
Gargash also warned Qatar it could not belong to the Gulf Cooperation Council if it undermined regional security, calling for a “change of behavior” but not “regime change”. He repeated claims - denied by Qatar - that the country funds extremists. “This is our message: You cannot be part of a regional organization dedicated to strengthening mutual security and furthering mutual interest and at the same time undermine that security,” he said. “You cannot be both our friend and a friend of al-Qaeda.”
The Gulf crisis is the worst to hit the region since the establishment of the GCC in 1981. “We’ve sent a message to Qatar. We’ve said we are not there to escalate. We are not after regime change. We are after a change of behavior,” Gargash said. “We need to do that and when we do that, come back to the fold and we can work together,” he added.
Gargash said there was a broader problem with financing for extremists in the Gulf but that countries like Saudi Arabia were “dealing with it”. “The difference is that the Saudi government realizes it does have an issue and the Saudi government is acting over the last years to deal with this issue,” he said. Regarding the possibility of Qatar being excluded from the GCC, Gargash said: “The GCC is in crisis and I don’t think it serves our purposes to say let’s take Qatar out.”
“What we really do want is we either reach an agreement and Qatar’s behavior changes, or Qatar makes its own bed and they can move on and we can move with a new relationship. But we cannot have a member who is undermining us and supporting extremism,” he said. — Agencies