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Terror Watch: It’s Time to Rethink Our Relationship With Qatar

As the horrific scenes of the terrorist Hamas attack on Israel played out on social media, with videos of mutilated corpses, gang rapes and abductions, Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh—safe and likely in his penthouse hideaway in Doha—celebrated and prayed over the successful massacre of over 1,200 people. The Qatari Foreign Ministry said it held Israel “solely responsible” for the bloodshed due in part to its “incursions into the Al Aqsa Mosque.”

Qatar has a long history of supporting terror. Qatari funds and political support have reportedly made their way to groups like the Janjaweed who carried out the infamous genocide in Darfur, Sudan, to various branches of Al Qaeda, and to the Taliban. According to a 2017 congressional hearing, a top Qatari official “provided support” to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Top U.S. officials have said that Qatar created a “permissive terrorist financing environment.”

Why does Qatar do this? To the West, they deny these claims, instead casting themselves as a regional mediator, with ears everywhere. Indeed, the U.S. has used Qatar for negotiations with the Taliban and Iranian regime. However, being a mediator is not what drives Qatar’s relations with regional radicals. The Qataris truly believe in the radical Islamist ideology that they push. The national security advisor to the emir said that Qatar and the Taliban share “deep ideological ties.”

Qatar has gotten away with supporting terrorism and spreading radical ideology because of, well, money. There is a saying in Washington that if you walk by the Qatari Embassy, your pockets will grow. Qatar has spent many millions on public relations firms in the U.S. and other Western countries and has spent billions of dollar on top U.S. colleges, including Cornell University and premier U.S. think tanks on both sides of the aisle, including the Brookings Institution and Atlantic Council. These payments ensure Qatar freedom from condemnation. Salem Ali, a visiting fellow at Brookings’ Doha Center, said that in his job interview he was told he could not take positions critical of Qatar.

When it comes to Israel, Qatar reserves a particular hatred. Its government openly houses Hamas leaders and uses the state-funded channel Al Jazeera to carry out one of the largest propaganda campaigns against Israel in both the Middle East and the West. Qatar is also one of the largest funders of Gaza, pumping more than $1 billion into the Hamas-run territory.

Yet despite all this, Doha and Washington have never been closer. The United States is Qatar’s largest foreign direct investor and single largest source of imports. Last year, the Biden administration upgraded relations with Qatar to major non-NATO ally status, a designation shared by a select few countries, including Israel. Former President Donald Trump wasn’t much better. One day after calling Qatar a sponsor of terrorism, Trump sold the nation $12 billion worth of weapons.

Israel is not the only country in the region to feel the impact of Qatari-funded terror or destabilization. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed relations with Qatar and created a blockade due to the latter’s funding for terrorism, close relations with Iran and funding of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar fought back the way they do best, through manipulation of the press. In English-language media, they claimed the blockade was breaking up families. In Arabic, through Al Jazeera, they accused the U.A.E.’s policy of religious tolerance as “idolatry.” The blockade was opposed by the Trump administration and the Kuwaiti government but was brought to an end in 2021. According to the Atlantic Council, the reason for the end of the blockade was not because Qatar acquiesced but to preempt additional pressure from the incoming Biden administration.

If there is any lesson to take from the latest massacre in Israel, it is that we cannot tolerate any easing of pressure against terrorists and their supporters. The U.S. must immediately call on Qatar to hand over any terrorists on its soil or at least expel them from its territory and stop the funding and support for extremists. How many more massacres, genocides, and terrorist attacks from groups supported, financed and “deeply ideologically tied” to Qatar do we need?

Joseph Epstein is a legislative fellow for the Endowment of Middle East Truth (EMET).

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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