Arms deal and the secretive nature of UAE-Serbia relations

UAE ambassador, Juma Rashid Saif Al Dhaheri and Serbian President, Tomislav Nikolic | uaeinteract

The UAE has been spending tremendous amounts of money to develop the Serbian arms industry; bought a significant share in its national airline; and handed out multibillion dollar loans to the government, a source reported.

For instance, an agreement worth up to $200mn was signed between the Serbian arms company Yugoimport SDPR and the UAE’s Emirates Advanced Research and Technology Holding (EARTH) at the International Defense Exhibition in Abu Dhabi last year.

The Middle East Eye quoted sources as saying that the investment relates to the Serbian missile system ALAS (Advanced Light Attack System), which is a “multipurpose anti-armor weapon with effective range up to 60km”. The source said the UAE is interested in these missiles because “they should be able to destroy all existing models of tanks in the world”.

According to the source, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan has been accused of acting as a proxy for the US and Israel in Eastern Europe while also trying to exploit a loosely regulated Serbian arms market to distribute weapons across the Middle East.

Also, Palestinian strongman Mohammed Dahlan is said to be at the center of a web facilitating communication between the UAE with American and Israeli intelligence figures while also assisting corrupt Emirati investments in Serbia that have lined the pockets of their political leaders.

The UAE-Serbian defense relationship is becoming increasingly close, according to the Serbian source, who said “initial forms of cooperation have been established at the level of military security agencies, military police and special units, and in the fields of information and communication technologies and cyber defense”.

While the source said the UAE is primarily interested in Serbia’s burgeoning defense industry, the Emiratis have also made numerous other investments across several industries.

Dahlan was the linchpin in improving ties between Serbia and the UAE in 2012, after relations had soured four years earlier when the Emiratis became the first Arab country to recognize Kosovo as an independent and legitimate state.

Due to the secretive nature of the UAE’s bilateral agreement with Serbia it is impossible to say with certainty what the goals of this relationship are, the source pointed out. It is clear, however, that for some analysts at least, there is far more than meets the eye when it comes to the Emiratis newfound love affair with Eastern Europe.