Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of the PA security forces in Gaza, struck a deal with a mercenary firm run by an Israeli to carry out targeted assassinations in Yemen on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, a Buzzfeed report disclosed Tuesday.
Spear Operations Group, incorporated in Delaware and run by Israeli-Hungarian founder Abraham Golan, was contracted to carry out a series of attacks, beginning December 2015.
According to Buzzfeed, Golan used a team of American mercenaries — including former members of elite units in the US military — to carry out the operations in Yemen.
“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” Golan told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”
The deal was apparently struck between Golan and Dahlan at a lunch in the officers’ club of a UAE military base in Abu Dhabi, in a meeting which reportedly started badly. “In a well-tailored suit, he [Dahlan] eyed his mercenary guests coldly and told Golan that in another context they’d be trying to kill each other,” reported Buzzfeed.
Dahlan has been living in the Gulf since he left the Palestinian territories several years ago. For many years he has been a bitter rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, 81, who in 2011 accused of him murdering late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Golan told the outlet he was born in Hungary to Jewish parents and was educated in France before joining the French Foreign Legion. Buzzfeed was unable to verify his military record, but sources who carried out actions in the field with him said it was clear he had experience. However, he’s “prone to exaggeration,” a former CIA officer told Buzzfeed, but “for crazy shit he’s the kind of guy you hire.”
Buzzfeed says that Golan “maintains long-standing connections in Israel for his security business,” according to several sources. Golan says he lived in Israel for several years, and according to a 2008 article in Mother Jones he once partied in London with former Mossad chief Danny Yatom and an unnamed Israeli real estate tycoon. His area of expertise was said to be “providing security for energy clients in Africa.”
Golan claims to have been responsible for a series of high-profile assassinations in Yemen, without giving further details. He said he based his business on Israel’s targeted assassination program, in which a number of Palestinian terror leaders were killed in air strikes and more covert operations starting in the 1970s.
He said the program, which was criticized internationally and has seemingly fallen out of favor in Israel in the last several years, was done correctly despite some high-profile errors.
“He argues there are some terrorist enemies so dangerous and implacable — and so difficult to arrest — that assassination is the best solution,” reported Buzzfeed. “Golan heralds his brand of targeted assassinations as a precision counterterrorism strategy with fewer civilian casualties.”
The UAE, part of a Saudi-led coalition that has carried out hundreds of airstrikes and has been accused of creating the world’s largest humanitarian disaster, is backing an array of Yemeni militias in the country’s three-year-old civil war.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE — as well as the United States — say their campaign aims to restore the recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and thwart what they contend is an attempt by Iran to seize control in Yemen through the rebels. Iran denies that the Houthis are its proxy.
But the resulting war has pushed Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, fragmentation and chaos.
Golan says he only killed terrorists who were identified by the UAE government, a key ally of the US.
The first operation in the country was allegedly the failed assassination attempt on Anssaf Ali Mayo, the local leader of the Islamist political party Al-Islah. The UAE says Al-Islah is a local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE has declared to be a terrorist organization. The first Yemeni woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakkol Karman, was a member of Al-Islah.
When asked by Buzzfeed, the CIA said it had no information on the mercenary program, and the Navy’s Special Warfare Command declined to comment.
A former CIA official who worked in the UAE initially told the outlet US citizens would not be allowed to carry out those kinds of operations. However, he later seemed to confirm the existence of similar programs.
“There were guys that were basically doing what you said,” he said. “What vetting procedures are there to make sure the guy you just smoked is really a bad guy?” The mercenaries, he reportedly said, were “almost like a murder squad.”