PALESTINIANS TAKE part in a rally in support of Qatar, inside Qatari-funded construction project ‘Hamad City’, in the southern Gaza Strip, in June.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump has called terrorism a “battle between good and evil,” a fight “between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.” The president, along with fellow Republicans, frequently tries to paint Democrats as weak on terrorism.
Yet, when it comes to Qatar, a nation known to harbor terrorist leaders and to provide funding for terrorist activities, the Trump administration, which initially signaled a hard line toward the oil-rich nation, seems to have a soft spot.
While Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in June because of its support for terrorism, including for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Trump administration instead has been cozying up. That’s despite those four nations having published a list of a dozen entities and 59 individuals who finance terrorist groups and are connected to, and even in, Qatar.
In March 2014, a senior US Treasury Department official called Qatar a “permissive jurisdiction” for illicit financing of terrorist groups in Syria, including ISIS and the al-Nusra Front.
Meanwhile, Qatar is growing closer to Iran, beyond the positive media coverage it gives that nation through the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera network, and has been establishing energy, trade and security ties with a country whose officials frequently espouse the destruction of Israel.
Yet in July, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson applauded Qatari leadership in the Middle East and the two nations signed a memorandum of understanding on fighting the funding of terrorism. Does that mean Qatar, a country that Freedom House scores at 26 on a 100-point freedom scale, will stop funding Hamas, which continues to build tunnels into Israel from the Gaza Strip? Does this mean that Al-Jazeera will stop serving as a voice for terrorists or, the next time Israel destroys one of those attack tunnels Qatar won’t, as it has in the past, criticize Israel for destroying it? Unfortunately, not much is known about the details of that memo. It has been classified at such a high level that almost no members of Congress have been able to see it, not to mention the experts on their staffs.
The State Department also announced over the summer that it would sell Qatar three dozen new F-15 fighter jets worth $12 billion. Then, late last month, the department announced an additional $1.1 billion in military support.
And US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has never been shy about condemning terrorism, has been forced to recant her own congressional testimony in June, during which she said the Arab blockade of Qatar presented a “good chance to tell Qatar to quit funding Hamas, quit doing these things in Gaza that they are doing. Let them know that they have been funding groups that are going toward that terrorist activity.”
More recently, however, she backtracked, responding in writing to further questions from Congress. She reportedly now claims that Qatar “does not fund Hamas” after all, and that it actually is acceptable for Qatar to have a political relationship with senior Hamas terrorists as a moderating force for the region.
That’s quite a shift given the president’s strong words about rooting out terrorism, and his special Middle East negotiator’s description of Hamas as having “only brought ruin and misery to Palestinians.”
The executive branch can’t be trusted to do the right thing, but Congress – particularly the Democrats – can take action to ensure the administration never forgets Qatar’s role in terrorism. It can block the most recent arms package, announced November 1, which gives Congress 30 days to stop it.
Any member can introduce a joint resolution of disapproval and push for a vote.
Getting enough Democrats and Republicans aboard shouldn’t be difficult.
Members of the House and Senate can keep talking about sources of funding for terrorism, reminding the administration and the public that curbing terrorism means stopping the flow of money to terrorists. Tiny Qatar, with the world’s highest per capita income, is flush with cash and freely gives it to terrorists.
Legislators also can press the administration on this funding. Haley’s turnaround was a stunner. Whenever senior administration officials testify before Congress, members can ask for hard proof that Qatar is not supporting terrorism and no longer aligns with Iran.
And lawmakers can back legislation to expand the rights of American victims of Hamas terrorism to sue the state sponsor of Hamas, Qatar. Qatar can be held accountable for its funding of terrorism.The writer is the president and a founder of Bluelight Strategies, a Washington DC public affairs firm.