Who Is Muhammad bin Zayed?
During a 2007 meeting with the US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Abu Dhabi's crown prince and the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates gave his two cents on the ‘appeal' of extremist groups.
"I am an Arab, I am a Muslim, and I pray. And in the 1970s and early 1980s I was one of them," Muhammad bin Zayed [MBZ] said.
Leaked US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks later exposed the meeting's disturbing exchanges.
All of the cables referring to MBZ were marked "secret" or "confidential", and none left any doubt as to who the crown prince regards as his foes.
In the meeting that took place over 10 years ago - long before Hezbollah's involvement in Syria - MBZ describes the Lebanese resistance group as being more dangerous than Al Qaeda.
He justified the claim by adding that Hezbollah "did a very tough job on "Israel" this summer", in reference to the 2006 "Israeli" attack on Lebanon.
With all that in mind, it is hardly surprising that the UAE ended up playing a crucial role in bankrolling and aiding terrorist groups that attempted to overthrow the Damascus government - proving that MBZ was in fact "one of them".
But this crown prince should not be confused for just another Daesh-supporting royal who desperately seeks the approval of Riyadh and Washington.
On the contrary, Muhammad bin Zayed wields enormous power, and his role in the Middle East is often understated.
The Seychelles meeting
Following the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in January of this year, the UAE's Bin Zayed was among the first foreign leaders to be hosted at the White House.
This fact alone testifies to MBZ's importance, not just in the Middle East, but on the world stage as well. And if one is to believe the Washington Post, his global reach is significant.
In April of this year, the paper reported that MBZ brokered a meeting between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian national close to Vladi¬mir Putin.
The encounter, which reportedly took place around January 11 in the Seychelles islands, was designed to establish a back-channel line of communication between the Kremlin and the Trump White House.
No, Muhammad bin Zayed wasn't hoping to ease tensions between Washington and Moscow. He was exploring whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria.
The purported role of Erik Prince, who has close ties to the Trump administration, is also interesting.
Best known as the founder of a security firm that became a symbol of US abuses in Iraq, Prince has been building a private paramilitary empire across the Middle East in recent years.
In 2010, he was contracted by MBZ to put together a secret American-led mercenary army for the UAE.
Since then, foreign mercenaries operating under the umbrella of Prince's Frontier Services Group [FSG] have popped-up in every country where the UAE is attempting to exert its influence, including Yemen, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan as well as Saudi Arabia.
In late November, a source cited by the UK's Daily Mail revealed that American private security contractors were brought in to work for Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, and were "torturing" princes and billionaire businessmen arrested in MBS's power grab.
"All the guards in charge are private security," the source was quoted as saying. "They've transferred all the guys from Abu Dhabi. Now they are in charge of everything."
If Erik Prince's private little armies are indeed "in charge of everything", then it is not too difficult to ascertain as to who is really calling the shots in Riyadh.
The mentee/mentor relationship
One of the region's less talked about relationships is also one of its most important.
Earlier this year, the online portal Politico described the 56-year-old crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the 31-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia as the region's "dynamic duo", where the older MBZ tutors the younger MBS in the ways of the world.
"They appear to have a mentee/mentor relationship," a Politico article reads.
As far back as 2015, MBZ's man in Washington - the UAE's ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba - began laying the groundwork for Salman's rise to the top.
Otaiba's recently hacked emails reveal that he was promoting MBS among Washington's political elites for years. Salman is now the Saudi king in everything but name.
According to the Intercept, "MBS is a project of the UAE."
The Intercept cites one of Otaiba's leaked emails in which the diplomat sums up Abu Dhabi's relationship with Riyadh as one "based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around."
Testifying to MBZ's "influence" in Saudi Arabia is the sheer fact that all his opponents in Riyadh have been completely sidelined by the rise of his "mentee".
Some of the more prominent names on that list include Mohammed bin Nayef - the ex-crown prince who was removed as next in line to the throne in June and who MBZ compared to a monkey.
Meanwhile, the ousted Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who escaped house arrest in his home country, is now a prisoner in Riyadh over his enmity with the UAE.
The UAE-led coalition
The grotesque war in Yemen has dragged on for nearly three years now.
So far, tens of thousands have been killed, and the country is being ravaged by an outbreak of cholera.
This calamity is credited to Saudi Arabia's Bin Salman, who started the war as defense minister in 2015.
More than two years later and the Saudis clearly lack the recourses to bring the war to a successful conclusion.
Legitimate military targets have been exhausted, and the indiscriminant bombing of civilians is drawing increasingly harsher international condemnation.
From a military standpoint, the so-called blockade is utterly useless as Yemen's vast coastline and land border with Oman can never be completely sealed-off.
Moreover, there is no plausible scenario that would allow the Saudis to mount a successful ground invasion of northern Yemen where the Ansarullah movement is still capable of very stiff resistance.
Meanwhile, MBZ, who is described as a junior partner in the coalition bombing Yemen, has had far greater successes than his protégé in Riyadh.
The UAE now enjoys a considerable presence in southern Yemen, especially in Aden where it recently deployed a military brigade, tanks and other heavy armaments.
With the help of Erik Prince's mercenaries, the Emirati-backed Aidarous al-Zubaidi - the former governor of Aden and leader of the newly formed Southern Transitional Council - has completely suppressed Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's influence and is fuelling a growing secessionist movement.
This brings MBZ one-step closer to fulfilling his goal of South Yemeni secession, which would translate into the creation of an Emirati protectorate, antagonistic towards the north.
The Emiratis have also extended their influence in the region surrounding the highly strategic Bab Al-Mandab Strait - a busy oil and gas route leading to Europe and North America.
Aside from colonizing the islands of Socotra and Abd al-Kuri, the UAE completed the construction of a naval base in the Eritrean port of Assab and is already building a second base in the nearby Somaliland port of Berbera.
As such, the UAE is the only actor in the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe in living memory to record very significant geopolitical gains.
There are no Berlin Wall moments in the Middle East
MBZ's gains in Yemen come amid his catastrophic failures in Syria where the terrorist scourge was unsuccessful in undermining Iran, Hezbollah and its regional allies.
These developments have given rise to a highly erratic and unpredictable Riyadh, new frontlines, new alliances and the strengthening of some old ones.
But despite all the noise and commotion, don't hold your breath waiting for something dramatic like the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the Middle East there are many walls.
The war against Daesh was only one theater in a much wider geopolitical struggle. New theaters are opening up, and many of the old actors are still around.