Israel and Qatar: A Tense and Troubled Relationship

italiatelegraph

 

 

 

 

Altaf Moti
Pakistan

 

 

 

The conflict between Israel and Hamas dates back to 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party. Since then, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, restricting the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory citing security reasons. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, and the EU, has been firing rockets and launching attacks on Israel demanding an end to the blockade and the recognition of its rule in Gaza. Several rounds of violence and wars have erupted between the two sides, causing thousands of casualties and widespread destruction.

The latest round of violence started on October 7, 2023 when Hamas launched a cross-border attack on Israel killing at least 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages . Israel responded with a military campaign and a siege on Gaza, where more than 15,500 people have been killed, according to Hamas. The international community has been calling for an immediate ceasefire and a humanitarian intervention as the situation in Gaza has deteriorated to a humanitarian crisis with shortages of food, water, electricity, and medical supplies .

The conflict has also sparked protests and clashes in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel, where Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have expressed their solidarity with Gaza and their anger at Israel’s policies . The conflict has also affected the relations and the dynamics among the regional and international actors who have different agendas and perspectives on the conflict .

Role and Interests of Qatar
Qatar, which has close ties with Hamas and provides humanitarian and development aid to Gaza, has been involved in the mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas since the outbreak of the war. Qatar has been working with Egypt, Turkey and the US, which are also involved in the mediation process, to broker a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange deal between the two sides. Qatar has also been hosting the Israeli and Hamas negotiators in Doha, the Qatari capital, where they have been holding indirect talks .

Qatar’s role and interests in the region are complex and multifaceted. Qatar is a small but rich country, with the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves and a high per capita income. Qatar is also a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional alliance of six Arab states which includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. However, Qatar has also pursued an independent and ambitious foreign policy, often diverging from its GCC allies and supporting different actors and causes in the Middle East and beyond.

Qatar’s support for Hamas is part of its broader strategy of backing Islamist movements and groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which Qatar sees as legitimate and popular forces for change and democracy in the region. Qatar actively supported the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, providing financial and media aid that contributed to the downfall of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The country also played a significant role in intervening in the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, offering financial and military assistance to diverse factions and militias. However, it’s important to note that Qatar’s support was just one factor among many that led to regime change in the Arab Spring countries, and the nature of the factions it supported varied greatly depending on the specific conflict.

Qatar’s involvement in the region has also been motivated by its desire to enhance its regional and international influence and prestige, and to counter the dominance of its rivals. Qatar has also invested heavily in its soft power such as by hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, establishing the Al Jazeera media network, and sponsoring cultural and educational initiatives .

Qatar’s role and interests in the region have also provoked criticism and opposition from some of its neighbours and adversaries, who accuse Qatar of meddling in their internal affairs, destabilizing the region, and supporting terrorism. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a diplomatic and economic blockade on Qatar, severing ties and imposing sanctions, demanding that Qatar stop its support for Hamas and other Islamist groups and align its policies with the GCC . The blockade was partially lifted in January 2021, after a reconciliation agreement was reached, but the underlying tensions and mistrust remain .

Allegations and Reactions of Israel
Israel has accused Qatar of being biased and unhelpful in the mediation process, and of supporting Hamas with funds and weapons. Israel has also claimed that Qatar is trying to undermine Egypt’s role as a regional power and a peace broker, and to increase its own influence and leverage in the region.

According to Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, Israel’s warning to Qatar was delivered by the Mossad chief, David Barnea, who visited Doha on December 2, 2023, along with the CIA director, William Burns. The newspaper quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Barnea told the Qatari leadership that Israel would not tolerate Qatar’s interference in the region, and that Israel would take action against Qatar’s interests if it continued to support Hamas.

Qatar’s Response and Reaction
Qatar’s response to Israel’s warning was defiant, and Qatar said that it would not abandon its role as a mediator, or its support for the Palestinian cause. Qatar also accused Israel of violating the truce and the humanitarian principles by bombing the Hamad City complex in Gaza, which was funded by Qatar and housed thousands of families.

On December 3, 2023, the same day that the Haaretz article was published, Israel resumed its airstrikes on Gaza, targeting and destroying the Qatari-funded Hamad City complex in Khan Younis, which was a housing project for low-income families, according to the MSN. The MSN said that the Israeli military claimed that the complex was used by Hamas as a command center and a weapons depot. The MSN also said that the Qatari foreign ministry condemned the attack and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Qatar said that it would hold Israel accountable for its actions and that it would seek international support and intervention to protect the civilians and the infrastructure in Gaza. Qatar also said that it would not be intimidated or deterred by Israel’s threats and that it would stand by its principles and values.

The relationship between Israel and Qatar, which has been strained and complicated for a long time, has reached a new low, and it may have serious implications for the regional stability and security. Israel’s threat to settle scores with Qatar may escalate the tensions and the violence, and may undermine the trust and the cooperation that are needed for a peaceful and lasting solution.

Qatar has been a key and contentious player in the Gaza crisis, as a mediator and a donor, as well as a supporter and an ally of Hamas. Qatar has shown its humanitarian and diplomatic role in the region, and its power and influence over the conflicting parties. However, Qatar has also faced opposition and aggression from Israel, which has warned Qatar of consequences for supporting Hamas. Qatar’s role in the Gaza crisis is an opportunity to define its identity and role in the region and the world, and to work for a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict that respects the rights and dignity of all the parties involved.

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