OpinionIsrael at War

Biden must end Qatar’s malign role in Gaza ceasefire talks and pier

The Biden administration needs to wake up to the real threat Qatar poses to the security of the Middle East.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on March 5, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on March 5, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Con Coughlin
Con Coughlin
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

After the success the Gulf state of Qatar achieved in helping restore the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, Doha is now investing all its energy in seeking to keep Hamas in power in Gaza.

For more than a decade, the tiny Gulf emirate has been using the massive profits it derives from its vast energy resources to sponsor radical Islamist ideology that underpins terrorist organisations such as Hamas.

Qatar was an enthusiastic supporter of the disastrous Muslim Brotherhood regime that briefly ruled Egypt, a period mainly memorable for the murderous attacks carried out against Christian communities and Cairo’s diplomatic overtures to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Qatar has also been an enthusiastic financial and military backer of radical Islamist groups in Libya, Tunisia and Syria, where some of the groups backed by Doha during the Syrian civil war were almost indistinguishable, in terms of their brutality and ideology, from terror groups such as Al-Qaeda.

Despite the Gulf state’s well-documented support for Islamist terrorist groups, and its willingness to use its state-funded Al-Jazeera news network to promote Islamist propaganda, Qatar has managed to achieve the questionable feat of maintaining good diplomatic relations with the West.

These diplomatic ties exists mainly because many European countries are heavily dependent on Qatar, which boasts one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, for their energy needs.

The mainstay of Qatar’s diplomatic ties with the United States, meanwhile, is that it hosts the U.S. military’s Al Udeid Air Base, which is home to the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command and was used as the command hub for recent campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

Qatar financed the building of the base, continues to fund its maintenance and, under the terms of an agreement negotiated with Washington, allows the United States to operate the facility under de facto extraterritorial jurisdiction, meaning it is in effect sovereign American territory, not Qatari.

The base is regarded as a vital strategic asset by the Pentagon, which explains why the State Department has continued to maintain diplomatic ties with Doha even when the Gulf state has faced accusations that it is funding Islamist terror groups.

In one of the more high-profile cases involving Qatar’s financing of terrorism, the family of murdered American journalist Steven Sotloff claimed in a federal lawsuit in 2022 that prominent Qatari institutions wired $800,000 to an Islamic State “judge” who ordered the murder of Sotloff and another American journalist, James Foley. The two were beheaded in Syria in 2014, their killings filmed and published in grisly propaganda videos.

The United States moved its forces to Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base from Saudi Arabia in 2003, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. There seems no reason why it could not be moved once again, to a country in the region that does not support terror groups.

More recently Qatar has come under fire for its funding of the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza, providing billions of dollars to the terror group over the past decade, which have been used to fund the development of its extensive terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian enclave.

This infrastructure was used to deadly effect on Oct. 7, when Hamas carried out the worst terrorist attack Israel has suffered in its history, murdering an estimated 1,200 Israeli civilians in cold blood and abducting around 240 more as hostages. Of these, at least 130 still remain captive in Gaza; 32 have been confirmed dead.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of Qatar’s role in the attacks is that senior Hamas leaders, such as the terror group’s political chief Ismail Haniyeh, were living in luxury as billionaires in Qatar’s capital, Doha, while they planned their devastating attack.

Disturbingly, Qatar’s prominent role in funding Hamas’s terrorist operations does not appear to have affected its relations with Western powers, such as the United States, that have condemned Hamas’s role in the Oct. 7 attacks and claim to support Israel’s right to self-defense.

Qatar’s cosy relationship with Washington has even resulted in it providing funding to U.S. universities, with a recent report revealing that the Gulf state has contributed $5.1 billion to U.S. academic institutions since 1986.

There are now concerns that this funding has been used to radicalize students in the United States, which would certainly help to explain the recent upsurge in anti-Israeli protests at a number of prominent American universities. Part of this funding is used to support foreigners studying in the United States on student visas, some of whom are suspected of inciting hatred of Israel.

Of even greater concern, though, is the Biden administration’s willingness to allow Qatar to play a prominent role in negotiations for a ceasefire in Gaza and manage humanitarian aid delivered to a new pier being built in Gaza, even though Doha’s status as a negotiator and potential caretaker have been thoroughly compromised through its involvement in creating Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure.

It was a result of Qatar’s involvement in recent ceasefire talks that the United States tried to persuade Israel to accept ceasefire terms that were heavily weighted in Hamas’s favor.

Hamas had stipulated that the deal should see the release of hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, among other conditions, in exchange for freeing the remaining Israeli hostages abducted on Oct. 7.

Such an arrangement would have effectively gifted Hamas victory, as it would have ended Israel’s military effort to destroy the organization’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted when he announced that he would not accept the ceasefire terms, agreeing to the terrorists’ demands would “invite another massacre.”

Given Qatar’s well-documented support for Hamas, it is clear that no meaningful resolution of the Gaza conflict is possible so long as Doha is continuing with its efforts to negotiate a settlement favorable to Hamas, one that would enable the terrorist movement to remain in control of Gaza, or that Qatar should operate, or indeed have anything to do with, the delivery of “humanitarian aid” to what seems planned as Hamas’s new beachhead.

Rather than allowing Qatar to continue playing its double game, where Doha pretends to be a close ally of the West while at the same time sponsoring terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Taliban, the Biden administration needs to wake up to the real threat Qatar poses to the security of the Middle East and concentrate its efforts on negotiating a ceasefire deal and finding a custodian for Gaza and its new pier that do not require Qatar’s malign involvement.

Originally published by The Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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