Australia/Israel Review


Time to stop the nice words about Qatar

Dec 21, 2023 | Jonathan Schanzer

Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, Qatar (Image: Alamy Live News)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, Qatar (Image: Alamy Live News)

David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad, announced on December 2 that he was withdrawing the Israeli negotiating team from the Gulf Arab Emirate of Qatar. The announcement signalled the end of the hostage channel facilitated by the Qataris that worked to secure the release of more than 100 hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. War returned to Gaza shortly thereafter.

A gaggle of senior American officials has thanked the Qataris for their efforts since the outbreak of the war on October 7. They say Doha worked for weeks to try to end the war and to broker the release of Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages.

These American statements are cringe-inducing. In fact, the Qataris are long-standing financial sponsors of Hamas, having forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to the terrorist group in recent years. The regime has also provided Hamas with a headquarters where the terror group has operated for more than a decade. Top Hamas figures Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh have for years operated out of Doha. Hamas military official Saleh Arouri — who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens that triggered the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel – often travels to Qatar too.

In other words, when America thanks Qatar for its assistance, it’s a bit like thanking the thug who punched you in eye for bringing you an ice pack.

But it’s worse than that. In their efforts to steer the Gaza conflict toward a permanent ceasefire, the Qataris have actively tried to help save Hamas from destruction, which is Israel’s stated war aim. In other words, Washington’s support for Qatar’s efforts directly contradicts President Biden’s assertion that Israel cannot go back to the “status quo” that existed before October 7.

All of this points to a deeply dysfunctional relationship between America and the terror-sponsoring Gulf emirate.

Qatar has secured a level of immunity from American criticism through a massive lobby and influence campaign in Washington, which is buttressed by the hosting of US forces at the sprawling, high-tech Al-Udeid Air Base, America’s largest in the Middle East.

This arrangement has somehow endured amidst criticism of the group’s lax terror finance controls. One US Treasury official in 2016 stated that Qatar has demonstrated “a lack of political will… to effectively enforce their combating terrorist financing laws.” Another Treasury official stated that “designated terrorist financiers” are “operating openly and notoriously” in the country.

In addition to Hamas, the terrorists running around in Qatar include al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, the Taliban, and more. Famously, the Qataris sheltered 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, and likely alerted him to the fact that American forces were closing on him, enabling his escape.

Despite this track record, the United States has continued to work with the Qataris as partners. And with a full understanding of this dynamic, the Israelis somehow agreed to enable the Qataris to provide a steady stream of funds to (in theory) keep the Hamas government functioning. It was never an arrangement the Israelis trusted. But Qatar insisted that a flow of cash would help keep Gaza quiet. And Washington leaned on Israel to keep the scheme going.

We know how it all worked out. Gaza has been anything but quiet for years. Multiple rounds of conflict (2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021) have undermined the logic of the Qatari role in the region. And then came the Hamas pogrom on October 7 that claimed the lives of 1200 Israelis. Doha insists it was surprised by the attack. But that doesn’t let Qatar off the hook. As former Israeli national security advisor Eyal Hulata recently revealed, the Qataris have sent funds surreptitiously to Hamas fighters.

The mask has fallen. The Qataris are terror sponsors, not stewards of Gaza.

The regime has been taking fire for nearly 60 days now. The emirate’s leaders know that the entire war has reflected poorly on them. They have tried to explain themselves in the media. But that has largely failed. This is why they are trying to resuscitate the hostage channel.

While it is certainly possible that Qatar could make itself relevant again, the Israelis don’t seem particularly interested at the moment. They are now signalling that they have reached the end of the line with Doha. A Foreign Ministry spokesman recently noted that all accounts would soon be settled with Doha. And after an initial news report suggesting that officials in Doha would be spared in Israel’s forthcoming assassination campaign of Hamas leaders, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet announced in early December that Hamas chiefs in Qatar (and Turkey) will soon meet their end.

Washington, for its part, is not threatening Hamas. But the Biden White House is signalling the need for a revision of the contract between Qatar and the United States. According to Politico, the US may soon demand that Qatar jettison its Hamas leaders from the country.

That move would be long overdue. But additional steps are needed. Qatar must be stripped of its status as a Major Non-NATO Ally. It should be sanctioned as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the State Department. The Pentagon should also begin to make contingency plans for moving our air assets out of the country.

All of that should happen while the Israelis embark upon their campaign of eliminating the leaders of Hamas worldwide.

Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. © Commentary magazine (www.commentarymagazine.com), reprinted by permission, all rights reserved. 

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