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When our allies are Hamas allies

The issue of Qatar gets to the heart of the policy dilemma facing Western nations in the Middle East, in that the emirate effectively plays both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a joint press availability with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, Qatar, on Jan. 7, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a joint press availability with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, Qatar, on Jan. 7, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Haaretz and many other publications.

During the middle of December, New Yorkers were treated to the sight of brash maroon and white beams splashed across the Manhattan skyline when the Empire State Building was lit up in the colors of the Qatari flag in honor of the Gulf emirate’s national day.

Qatar owns 10% of the iconic skyscraper as a result of a $622 million investment made by its sovereign wealth fund in 2016. Qatar also owns lucrative real estate elsewhere in the city, including the Park Lane and St. Regis hotels, and retail outlets along Fifth Avenue that house such names as Victoria’s Secret and Ralph Lauren—a purchasing strategy that the Qataris have utilized in other world cities as well, including Paris and London, enabling one of the world’s smallest countries to become one of the most influential.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s message of greeting to Qatar on its national day neatly illustrated this status. “I want to express my gratitude for Qatar’s key role as a mediator in efforts to secure the release of unjustly detained Americans in Iran in September, and hostages held by Hamas in Gaza,” he stated. “These efforts reflect a shared U.S. and Qatari commitment to promote security and stability in the Middle East and beyond.”

So much, of course, was left unsaid, particularly regarding Qatar’s role as a principal financier and supporter of the rapists and murderers in Gaza known as Hamas. The unvarnished truth here is that Qatar’s colossal wealth—on display every day in office buildings, university campuses, private hospitals and myriad other locations in Western cities—effectively gives the ruling Al Thani clan a pass on precisely those matters of “security and stability” that Blinken talked about.

The issue of Qatar gets to the heart of the policy dilemma facing Western nations in the Middle East, in that the emirate effectively plays both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Qatar is a key American ally in terms of both hard power, hosting the US Central Command (CENTCOM), and soft power, as at least six U.S. universities operate their own campuses there. Yet at the same time that Doha is cultivating these relationships, it is backing a terrorist group that is sworn to Israel’s elimination and sending a signal to other Arab countries that it will not be compromised by their peace agreements with Israel. Unlike its neighbors the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Qatar elected not to join the Abraham Accords signed with the Israelis in 2020, while right now, Saudi Arabia looks like a better candidate for the next peace deal.

This isn’t a problem we face in dealing with our more straightforward adversaries. For example, delicate diplomacy isn’t really necessary with Iran or Russia—two more states that actively back Hamas—since we don’t have any major economic or cultural ties with these countries now that robust sanctions are in place. Back in October, Blinken declared on “Face the Nation” that war with Iran was “not at all what we’re looking for, not at all what we want, but we’ll be prepared, if that’s what they choose to do.” One can’t imagine the secretary being so glib about Qatar, even though, like the Iranian regime, its rulers also openly support Hamas and run their state in accordance with Islamic imperatives rather than democratic consent.

Arguably a similar principle applies in the case of Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has outdone even the Iranians when it comes to bloodthirsty rhetoric targeting Israel. Since the Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Turkey has become one of the most hostile countries on earth for Jews and Israelis. Last month, there was a grimly amusing scene in the Turkish parliament when an Islamist MP, Hasan Bitmez, abruptly collapsed and died at the podium while delivering a viciously antisemitic rant. The following day, Bitmez received what looked like a state funeral, his coffin draped with the Turkish and Palestinian flags as a military honor guard gave a salute in front of hundreds of dignitaries. The spectacle communicated the unmistakable message that securing the defeat of Israel is now part of Turkey’s raison d’état, just as preserving the existence of the Jewish state has been part of post-war Germany’s.

During the last week, the Turkish press has been filled with lurid yet vague reports concerning the rest of an alleged Israeli spy ring.  Key details of the arrests are missing; we don’t know the names or nationalities of those in custody, nor the exact charges they are facing, but that hasn’t prevented Erdoğan from waxing enthusiastically about his country’s resolve. “We are aware that plots of some circles were derailed thanks to our country’s stand against crises in our region, particularly against massacres in Gaza,” Erdoğan told a gathering of Turkish intelligence officials last week. “These espionage activities show how disturbed they are. Israel is confounded by how we rounded up those suspects. But wait, this is just a first step. You will recognize what Turkey is capable of soon.”

That last line might just be grandstanding or it might be a threat worth taking seriously. The hatred of Israel and Jews being stoked by Erdoğan’s regime—some Turkish stores have even posted signs in their doorways forbidding entry to Jews—is so intense that you are forced to believe that anything is possible. Certainly, that is the mindset that Western policymakers should carry.

The point is this: Israel is an ally of the West and securing Israel’s continued existence is a declared aim of Western policy. But our countries are allied with states like Qatar and Turkey, both of whom are pledged to fatally weakening Israel. The question therefore arises as to whether we challenge or mollify them.

Disappointingly, our leaders are doing more mollifying than they are challenging. If you were to ask Blinken why this is, his answer would probably be along the same lines as the answer he gave to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell when she asked him about post-war reconstruction plans in Gaza. “There’s something that’s very powerful, and that’s changed in the last few years in the region, and this is why I think—despite the incredible challenge of this moment, despite the horrific suffering that we’re seeing—there actually is an opportunity that we haven’t seen in the past,” Blinken remarked. “And the change is this: All of these countries now want a region that’s more integrated. They want a region that includes Israel. They’re prepared to do things, to make commitments, to give assurances for Israel’s security. But that also has to include the Palestinian piece.”

In other words, the final outcome of the present conflict should be a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side, enjoying good political and commercial relations with their neighbors. But Israel cannot be asked to sign up to such a vision as long as U.S. allies in the region—most clearly, Qatar and Turkey—cozy up to Hamas and laud it as a legitimate “resistance” organization. Both those countries need to be told by Washington that the price of inclusion in any peace process is throwing Hamas under the bus because Hamas isn’t going to be part of any post-war settlement. With a regional conflagration still very much a possibility, the time to deliver that message is very much now.

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