Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich fired back at Qatar for supporting Hamas terrorism after the Arab Gulf state attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for alleged remarks about Doha’s role as a mediator in hostage talks.
“Qatar is a country that supports terrorism and finances terrorism. It is the patron of Hamas and is largely responsible for the massacre committed by Hamas of Israeli citizens,” the Religious Zionism Party leader tweeted in response to an earlier tweet from Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs official spokesman Majed Al Ansari.
“The West’s attitude towards it [Qatar] is hypocritical and based on improper economic interests. The West can and should exert much stronger leverage on it and bring about the release of the abductees immediately,” Smotrich continued.
The minister’s response came after Al Ansari wrote on X that Doha is “appalled” by the unconfirmed audio recordings reported in Israeli media of Netanyahu criticizing the Gulf state during a meeting with Israeli hostage families.
Israel’s Channel 12 on Tuesday published what it claimed was a leaked audio recording in which Netanyahu can be heard discussing Qatar’s role as a mediator with Hamas during a roundtable with families of hostages taken on Oct. 7.
“When I talk about Qatar, you don’t hear me thank Qatar,” said Netanyahu. “Because for me, Qatar is no different in essence from the United Nations. It is no different in essence from the Red Cross, and to some extent, it’s even more problematic.”
In the recording, Netanyahu also appears to express frustration with Washington over its renewal earlier in January of a 10-year deal to host U.S. troops at Al Udeid Air Base without any apparent conditions related to the hostages.
“I’ve been very angry recently—and I didn’t hide it from the Americans—that they renewed the contract on the military base they have with Qatar,” he said. “Why didn’t you say, ‘I ask you to return the abductees to us.’”
In a statement on social media, Al Ansari wrote, “We are appalled by the alleged remarks attributed to the Israeli prime minister in various media reports about Qatar’s mediation role.”
If the report is validated, “These remarks … are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives, but are not surprising,” said the Qatari spokesman.
“If the reported remarks are found to be true, the Israeli prime minister would only be obstructing and undermining the mediation process, for reasons that appear to serve his political career instead of prioritizing saving innocent lives, including Israeli hostages,” he added. “Instead of concerning himself with Qatar’s strategic relations with the United States, we hope Netanyahu decides to operate in good faith and concentrate on the release of the hostages.”
Despite being a frequent critic of Israel and having no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, Qatar played a significant role in mediating between Israel and Hamas over the release of more than 100 hostages in November. Doha is working with Egypt and the United States on another hostage release deal, although an Israeli official said that Hamas is hardening its positions.
There are 108 hostages alive in Gaza out of 253 taken during Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, according to Israeli estimates. Hamas is also believed to be holding 28 bodies, including 24 from those taken on Oct. 7.
On Thursday, Smotrich doubled down on his criticism of Qatar, accusing Doha of working with Hamas to scuttle the hostage talks.
“Qatar is the biggest obstacle for returning the hostages. We could get all 136 hostages tomorrow if Qatar would give Hamas an ultimatum to return all the hostages, and if the West would give Qatar an ultimatum to do that,” Smotrich said at an Israel Defense and Security Forum conference in Ashkelon.
“Qatar has a clear interest in preserving Hamas, its survival and its rule in Gaza and outside of it on the day after. And it is doing everything to thwart our efforts, of the State of Israel, to totally destroy the military and governance capabilities of Hamas,” the minister charged.
Hamas came to the defense of the Gulf monarchy on Thursday, denouncing Smotrich’s “targeting of the brotherly State of Qatar” in a statement by Taher al-Nunu, media adviser to the terrorist group’s political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh.
Referring to the hostage negotiations, al-Nunu asserted that Qatar has “played an active political role to stop the aggression on our people and advance the exchange file.”
Western intelligence officials interviewed by Politico say that Qatar, a longtime patron of Hamas in Gaza, may have had prior knowledge of the Oct. 7 attack.
“We’re still looking into it,” a top intelligence official from a major European country told the U.S. news site when asked if Doha had advanced information about the mass assault. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue, added that there was “smoke,” but no gun.
Other Western officials indicated that Doha stood to benefit greatly from the Oct. 7 attack, principally in derailing U.S.-brokered normalization talks between its rival in Riyadh and Jerusalem.
“It is in Qatar’s interest to put obstacles in the way of the normalization process between Saudi and Israel,” one of the officials said. “Any refitting for the balance of power is going to undermine Qatar’s position as the top diplomatic player that can do everything.”
Qatar is under increasing scrutiny over its ties to the Hamas terrorist group as some U.S. lawmakers urge the Biden administration to toughen its approach to the Gulf state.
The leadership in Doha supports the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist movement of which Hamas is a branch.