Qatar caught between Hamas and West

Doha skyline  credit: Shutterstock
Doha skyline credit: Shutterstock

Qatar is trying to walk a tightrope between western public opinion and support for Hamas.

Qatar has so far avoided any major Israeli and international pressure and recriminations against it in social network campaigns, following the horrific massacre that took place during the terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel.

The small but very wealthy Gulf country, controlled by the Al Thani family, is one of the biggest contributors to Hamas, alongside Iran, and has not renounced ties with the organization.

To a great extent, despite the global shock and despite the radical change in world public opinion towards Hamas, Qatar is trying to continue walking the tightrope it has been able to balance on over recent years.

On the one hand, to be the country that talks to everyone, that finances terrorism to the same extent that it manages relations with Israel and the West. A tool for mediating with the most extreme elements in the Arab world while also transferring money to those extreme elements. Qatar transfers an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Hamas.

This policy is funded by Qatar's vast wealth from gas production and and the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) - gold in today's energy market, after Russia has almost completely shut off the natural gas taps to Europe.

Qatar is the world's largest LNG exporter, and the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) currently manages about half a trillion dollars.

Germany bows before the Emir of Qatar

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and before him Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economic Affairs Robert Habeck both visited Qatar after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war to beg for gas.

Habeck, head of the Greens party, which is sensitive to human rights issues, has even been photographed bowing his head respectfully to the Qatari leadership. The visit was successful and a 15-year gas supply agreement was signed.

Hamas also bows its head before Qatar's leaders, where they are hosted and operate unimpeded in Doha and in recent days have been interviewed by the world's media, and in particular "Al Jazeera," which is financed by Qatar and become a main tool and is proud of the "successful operation."

An example of Qatari success in playing the double game was seen on Thursday when the Emir met the German Chancellor on a state visit to Germany. The Germans rolled out the red carpet during an official reception at the President's residence and again during a meeting with Scholz, even though he had pledged to "stand by Israel's side."

The German media drew attention to Qatar's poisonous alliance with Hamas. "Terror supporter comes to lunch," wrote "Der Spiegel" on Thursday. "I saw him come to visit Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2012. How can you receive him with such royal dignity," TV news anchor Christian Sievers aggressively asked German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

The Europeans don't recognize the Qatar-Hamas connection

Germany exemplifies the way in which Qatar uses money to wash clean the fact that they support Hamas with huge amounts. It must be stressed that Qatar helps the Gaza Strip with the knowledge of Israel and the assistance has been welcomed by many Israeli governments.

But these days, when international pressure could lead to a humanitarian prisoner deal, due to the large number of women, children, babies and elderly among those abducted to the Gaza Strip, Qatar's name is only mentioned by a handful of experts, and the European public - the one shocked to the core by the actions - is largely unaware of the Qatari-Hamas connection.

The reason for Qatar's excellent image in Germany is, among other things, the fact that the emirate has invested more than €25 billion in the country. Qatar invested wisely, targeting the most respected companies and organizations in the country: its national airline Qatar Airways was for years the sponsor of soccer club Bayern Munich. The cooperation was stopped in preparation for the World Cup in Qatar late last year, and due to the enormous criticism of the conditions and deaths of foreign workers building the stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup.

Other collaborations continue. Qatar Investment Authority acquired 11% of carmaker Volkswagen, 6% of Deutsche Bank, 5% of Porsche automobile company - all core corporations in German industry, thus mixing politics and commerce. Qatar Investment Authority has also invested in shipping giant Hapag Lloyd and energy company RWE. It also finances the Munich Security Conference.

"Connections with the Taliban, Iran, Israel and US"

Dr. Moran Zaga, a researcher into the Gulf states at the University of Haifa's Mitvim Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies says, "Since the 1990s, Qatar has developed an ambitious foreign policy which aims to create a sphere of influence and a capacity that is actually greater than its natural size and its fundamental shortcomings as a very small country, which depends on the Strait of Hormuz for its economic activity."

It has woven an extensive network of contacts with Arab and Western, Islamist and democratic countries and non-state organizations.

"The result is that Qatar maintains relations with the Taliban, Iran and Hamas, alongside relations with Israel, the US and Germany. This policy allows it to generate political capital, economic capital and security stability."

In response to the mild criticism leveled at the authorities in Germany over the past day for hosting the Emir of Qatar precisely at this time, the German Foreign Ministry made sure to clarify that the country may be used as a mediator with Hamas, and therefore it is important to maintain ties with it.

But the wording used shows that Germany is far from exerting real pressure. "We expect all the main players in the region to use their connections, which are better than Germany's, to bring calm," it said.

"Qatar does not need international pressure in order to act as a mediator in this event," says Dr. Zaga, "since it always strives for this and even began to engage in this from the first or second day of the war.

"The critical question is whether it has a strong enough influence on Hamas to the point that it will cause the organization to lose its bargaining chips."

Some sources have pointed to the sensitivity of the renegade country to international criticism as a "soft underbelly" that may cause it to act in this direction.

At the beginning of the year, European police arrested several members of the European Parliament, among others from Greece and Italy, on suspicion of accepting bribes of millions of euros from Qatar in exchange for their public statements regarding the "adequate working conditions" in the country before the World Cup, and working to suppress European criticism.

"The impact of the pressure on Hamas is limited"

From the popint of view of these sources, this illustrates that Qatar is concerned about its international image, especially when hundreds of billions are invested in Europe (in addition to investments in Germany, Qatar owns the Harrods chain in the UK, for example, and the Paris Saint-Germain football club in France).

Dr. Zaga believes that the leverage of Qatar's pressure on Hamas is limited.

"Therefore, Qatar may lose twice from this situation. On the one hand, it damages its image as a country that hosts terrorists and supports an organization whose brutality the whole enlightened world now understands. At the same time, it cannot leverage its connections and funding in order to create a significant achievement due to the independence of the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip."

According to her, "It is possible that Qatar will be able to obtain a partial achievement in a deal for 'humanitarian' exchanges of Israeli citizens for the female Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

"But if Qatar does not succeed in influencing Hamas, it may find itself at a crossroads, in which it must choose between stopping funding Hamas and hosting its political arm, and becoming a blacklisted country in the international arena."

"Qatar has not yet faced the dilemma of continuing to support terrorism in the face of international pressure," says Dr. Zaga.

According to her, "History shows that pressure from the international community has influenced Qatar's policy in the past, such as on the issue of foreign workers in its territory. Therefore, only a sufficiently significant and widespread pressure on the issue of terrorist financing and the expulsion of the political leadership of Hamas from its territory can affect it."

"Israel is not in a rush to point an accusing finger

Regarding the question of how Israel should treat the Qatari channel, after years of cooperation and even relying on the money coming from Qatar for the restoration of the Gaza Strip after Operation "Protective Edge", Zaga says: "Israel is now focusing on leveraging Qatar's capabilities to free the hostages and therefore is not in a hurry to point an accusing finger at it."

"Pointing an accusing finger at Qatar would have a disadvantage and an advantage. The disadvantage would be the loss of an important channel for any achievements, even partial ones, especially on the subject of the release of those who have been kidnapped. The advantage would be in leveraging the war from a one-off event into an ideological regional struggle between the moderates and the extremists, between the good and the bad. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt, and Israel now have the ability to produce this equation."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on October 15, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Doha skyline  credit: Shutterstock
Doha skyline credit: Shutterstock
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