There’s corruption and there’s corruption. Those who took money from the USSR to sell out their countries during the Cold War could at least fantasize that they were doing it for the sake of a “better world” that might one day vindicate them. Those who take Qatari money, on the other hand, have no excuse, even if those who take it—legally or illegally—may tell themselves that they are helping the beleaguered “Third World” or the holy cause of Islam.
Unfortunately, Qatari corruption has already reached into the highest circles of the European establishment. For example, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Maria Arena, has now been forced to step down due to corruption accusations, and it is likely no coincidence that she has tweeted militant declarations of support for the Palestinians and vicious attacks on Israel. This is not simple avarice: It aids and abets an enemy of the West that is pursuing a grand strategy that is a threat to us all.
The most public aspect of this strategy is, of course, the Qatari network Al Jazeera, which has the facade of a legitimate news outlet, but is in fact a mélange of disinformation and incitement, and not only against the West. In fact, several Arab countries that severed ties with Qatar, claiming that the Qataris are terrorist financiers, demanded that the network be shut down as a condition for reestablishing ties.
These Arab states’ hostility to Qatar should not be surprising, given the country’s role in destabilizing the region. Although it hosts the Pentagon’s regional command, Qatar has long supported terrorism. For decades, it has opened its doors to Islamist terrorists, Taliban warlords and African insurgents who have taken innumerable innocent lives.
Qatar also gave sanctuary and succor to the late Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, along with a platform to spread his radical message to the entire Muslim world. This shouldn’t have been surprising, given Qatar’s longstanding support for the Brotherhood. Indeed, when the Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi won the 2012 Egyptian election, he quickly received a $7.5 billion loan from Qatar.
The leaders of the terror group Hamas, a branch of the Brotherhood, are regular guests in Qatar, and one of them, Ismail Haniyeh, has established permanent residence in hotels and villas worthy of a multi-millionaire. Millions of Qatari dollars flow into Gaza, no doubt to be diverted towards terrorist purposes. Clearly, Qatar is playing the same game with Hamas as it did with the Taliban, which opened a political office in Doha and used it as a base to take back control of Afghanistan.
The U.S. has also credibly accused the Qataris of harboring members of Iran’s terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). Indeed, Qatar’s ties to Iran are legion. In Feb. 2022, 14 bilateral agreements were signed in Doha between Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, touching on everything from trade to energy and tourism. Even worse, when Argentina requested the arrest of Iran’s then-Vice President for Economic Affairs Mohsen Rezaee—a former top terrorist in the IRGC—for his involvement in the terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people, the Qataris ignored the request.
Qatar has made it clear that it supports terrorism and is, in fact, proud of doing so. Al Thani said in an interview with CNN in 2014: “I know that in America and some countries look at some movements as terrorist movements. … But we don’t. There are differences.” This played a major role in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt’s decision to cut ties with Qatar.
Of course, Qatar has its excuses. It is good at laundering its cash. The country’s rulers claim that they do not finance terrorism, only private citizens do so. This gives Doha plausible deniability even as billions pour into the European Union. How such a remarkable number of private citizens managed to lay their hands on such fantastical sums and funnel them into Europe and to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda remains officially unknown.
This cash has ended up in the pockets of various European politicians and lobbyists. There was, for example, the thousands of dollars discovered in the home of former socialist MP Antonio Panzeri, head of the NGO Fight Impunity—NGOs being a favorite tool of the West’s enemies. Then there is E.U. Parliament Vice President Eva Kalili, who was found in possession of some 750,000 euros. There are also suspicions regarding MEPs Andrea Cozzolino of Italy and Marc Tarabella of Belgium, along with others.
This money, of course, had a specific purpose: to buy political support for Qatar. In particular, to induce European politicians to defend the emirate in the public square and help whitewash its involvement in terrorism and widespread human rights violations, which might offend European voters.
Thus far, Qatar has largely enjoyed impunity, promoting terror and bribing European politicians without consequence. This is strategy, part of a “cold war” waged by a state that supports extremism and violence. It is time for the Qataris to be held accountable.
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is the author of Jewish Lives Matter.