In 2007, then-Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad told the US Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Stuart Levey that Qatar provides “more support to fundamentalists than Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.”
Qatar was “willfully bad,” Fayyad said.
It is one of many reports about Qatar’s support for Hamas and other groups across the Middle East that antagonized Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates 10 years ago that are revealed in State Department cables under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In 2010, WikiLeaks published 251,287 leaked diplomatic cables, mostly from 2003 to 2010. These include cables marked “secret” and “confidential” from embassies and consulates in the Middle East. Of them, 536 reference both Qatar and Hamas, and 70 relate to Qatar and terrorism financing. They paint a picture of high-level interest in Qatar’s role in the region.
Saudi-led squeeze on Qatar leaves Hamas facing big questions (credit: REUTERS)
In 2009, a cable from then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton inquired about Qatar’s relations with Iran and Iran’s interest in Gaza.
They also show that Saudi Arabia and five other Muslim countries that broke relations with Doha last week, had long-standing disputes with Qatar.
The cables reveal numerous concerns among US allies that Qatar was hosting extremists.
In 2007, Indonesian officials warned the US about Qatar-based Islamist preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, saying his Al Jazeera program condones suicide bombings. A cable from the US Embassy in Algiers noted that Algeria was also worried about Qatar’s hosting of Qaradawi. In 2009, an official in Abu Dhabi told the Americans Qatar was “part of the Muslim Brotherhood” and warned against its policies.
After Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian Authority legislative elections, cables reference Qatar’s interest in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. A March 27 cable says Qatar pays $3 million monthly to the PA. “Hamas does not have a major base of support in Qatar, despite the fact that [it then leader] Khaled Mashaal resided in Doha in the late 1990s,” an August cable notes.
Meir Dagan, then head of the Mossad, was quoted as telling a delegation led by Sen. Joseph Lieberman that Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas had a good relationship with Qatar but that the US should be wary of Hamas’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.
When John Kerry visited Qatar in 2010, prior to becoming secretary of state, the Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani told Kerry that the US had pressured Qatar to get Hamas to participate in Palestinian elections.
The emir claimed he warned US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that Hamas would win the elections. After Hamas won, the Bush administration asked Qatar to cut off financial assistance to Hamas and its government, which Doha refused. When Hamas was isolated in Gaza, Fayyad told the Americans in 2007 that Qatar was using charities to move funds to the Strip. Some of these organizations may have been the same as those that appear on a list sent from the US Embassy in Israel to Washington in 2008, including the Charitable Qatar Society and Palestine Qatar Committee for Relief in Palestine.
In a 2008 assessment by US ambassador to Qatar Joseph LeBaron, the diplomat indicated that while the government in Doha did not support terrorism, “Qatar’s citizens can, however, support terrorism financially, and the capacity of the Qataris to do so may outstrip the ability of the government to stop it.”
Qatar was an “inconsistent partner in combating terrorist financing.” This was made clear in a December 2009 cable to Doha relating to the interagency Illicit Finance Task Force which noted that it was not worth trying to disrupt finance for terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan when the US was trying to stop Qatar from supporting Hamas. “Qatar has adopted a largely passive approach to cooperating with the US against terrorist financing.
Qatar’s overall level of CT [counterterrorism] cooperation with the US is considered the worst in the region.”
The US cables reference Qatar’s connections to Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria. While Qatar told the Americans it wanted to play a helpful role in the Israel-Palestinian peace process and said Hamas supported a two-state solution, Doha also hosted meetings with Iran’s president, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others.
Qatar pursued a two-pronged policy; after 2007 it held frequent conversations with Hamas officials such as Khaled Mashaal, Mahmoud al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, while also telling the Americans it would welcome a way to smooth over relations with Israel. Qatar had hosted an Israeli trade office from the 1990s to 2009.
Qataris claimed in 2010 to Kerry that Hamas was prepared to accept Israel’s right to exist. This would mark a change from 2009 when the US ambassador met with the PLO ambassador to Qatar, Munir Abdulla Ghannam, and was informed; “Hamas would reject any working relationship with Fatah, given that many in Hamas view the concession of any Muslim land as an affront to Islam.”
The cables reveal US pressure on Qatar going back more than a decade to crack down on terrorism financing and relations with Hamas. They highlight that Qatar’s desire to be a regional player “rubs many of its neighbors the wrong way.” Jordan was annoyed at Qatar for “playing an outsized regional role,” for instance.
For US diplomats, the desire to pressure Qatar was tempered by arms sales, expanding US military and educational presence in the emirate, and even a yearning to be portrayed positively on Al Jazeera, which diplomats claimed reached 60 million viewers in 2010.
The current US policy on Qatar, condemning it for terrorism finance while trying to work closely with the emirate, reflects the indecision that has plagued decades of relations in the Gulf
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