A secret Mossad Qatar trip, Hamas outreach to Egypt and Iran’s threat

In Israel, the Mossad-Qatar-Hamas story was revealed by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman over the weekend and was reported locally.

Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh (R) and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani arrive at a cornerstone laying ceremony in the southern Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh (R) and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani arrive at a cornerstone laying ceremony in the southern Gaza Strip
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Saudi news channel Al Arabiya is very interested in what a previously unknown “Mossad trip to Qatar” means for the region. “Egypt and Qatar are angry with Hamas, and they intended to cut ties with it,” the network reported, while noting the significance of recent Israeli discussions with Doha about continuing to fund Gaza. Hamas also thinks this is noteworthy, bragging over the weekend that it met with Qatar’s envoy Mohammed al-Emadi, and that $15 million was distributed in Gaza.
In Israel, the Mossad-Qatar-Hamas story was revealed by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman over the weekend, and was reported locally. The story goes that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and IDF Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi met with top Qatari officials.
Halevi was in the news last month, when he commented on the killing of IRGC general Qasem Soleimani, saying that “we must look at the assassination as part of a fight between Iran and the US over Iraq’s character.” Halevi is known for his achievements in a three-year term running Military Intelligence. He has spoken about using deterrence in a way that does not escalate the situation, and of the importance of information supremacy over Israel’s enemies, according to an article at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in 2018. This is a key to Israel’s “campaign between the wars,” in which Israel must prepare for a future struggle with Iran and its allies.
Israel now has a dedicated headquarters for the “third circle” threat of Iran, in light of the IDF’s new Momentum Plan to enhance the IDF’s capabilities. It is worth grasping this larger picture to understand some of what Hamas is up to in Gaza. While Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad both are supported by Iran, PIJ is an Iranian proxy whereas Hamas is more an ally. Hamas, however, has been isolated over the years, and has failed to achieve results in confrontation with Israel. Some 2,600 rockets fired over the last two years achieved little, and its “Great March of Return,” launched in 2018, also failed. In March 2018, former Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah survived an assassination attempt in Gaza. Today Hamas is bragging about opposing the US “Deal of the Century.”
It is important to consider that calculus to see the larger picture of Qatar’s role in Gaza. Qatar has supported Gaza for more than a decade, and the Emir of Qatar even visited Gaza in 2012. In January 2019, the third $15m. payment via Israel to Gaza was made by Qatar, as part of a 2018 deal. Mohammed al-Emadi has been Doha’s point man throughout. He has visited Israel more than two dozen times, according to a Reuters interview in 2018. He also cited talks between Israel and Hamas in that year. Qatar has said its aid to Gaza helps prevent a conflict. Emadi, however, has sometimes ruffled feathers in Gaza due to his outspokenness.
All of the ruffled feathers were forgotten when Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, met Emadi at the end of last week to discuss a gas pipeline and financial aid. Twelve million was given to 120,000 families, $2m. for 500 Palestinians to get married, $1m. for tuition and another million for housing for the poor, according to a statement from Hamas.
Hamas has done well internationally in the past few months. A delegation led by senior Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh went to Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, and several other countries in December and January. Now Hamas says that its political bureau chief, Saleh al-Arouri, was in Egypt over the weekend of February 21 to discuss major issues. At the same time that Arouri was in Egypt, another Hamas delegation in Lebanon claimed to have met the head of Lebanese military intelligence for southern Lebanon. Hamas put out a press release naming their meetings with Lebanon’s Brig.-Gen. Fawzi Hamada, where they discussed the “Deal of the Century” and other issues.
It is also known that senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh may remain outside Gaza for some time. He was in Iran for the funeral of Soleimani in January. Arouri, the deputy leader of Hamas, had only returned to Gaza in 2018 after eight years abroad. Now he is shuttling back and forth for the organization, having previously been based in Qatar, Lebanon and Turkey. He left Turkey in 2015.
If we add all this up, what do we get? Hamas has struggled in Gaza since 2006, and has been isolated and broken down by numerous wars in 2009, 2012 and 2014. After tens of thousands of rockets built and fired, tunnels constructed and sea commandos trained, Hamas has little to show for it all, and wants a long-term deal.
In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority and its leaders in Fatah have been skeptical of what is going on in Qatar. Al Arabiya notes that the financial support, only $15m. in installments from Qatar every few months, seeks to divide the Palestinians further. Emadi is said to be working for a long-term deal or “calm,” and Hamas pays lip service to Palestinian unity, especially in the wake of the “Deal of the Century” announced in January, but it wants to use this “unity” to grow back its roots in the West Bank. Ramallah doesn’t want that.
Saudi media says that other Qatari figures met with the Mossad head, including Mohammed bin Ahmed al-Misnad, who Al Arabiya calls the head of Qatari intelligence, and an adviser to the Emir. His official title is adviser for National Security. “The Mossad chief’s visit to Doha is the second in six months,” according to Al Arabiya’s sources. The report also notes that Qatar wanted to end funding for Gaza on March 30.
The overall picture is that Israel has elections coming up, Qatar is still in the middle of a dispute with other Gulf states, Iran wants to try to pressure Israel and there is opposition to Trump’s deal from Turkey and the PA. These reports come after Hamas’s globe-trotting in December and January, and prior to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Saudi Arabia on February 20. In addition, the reports emerged after a spate of rumors in early February about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting Arab leaders in Cairo, which Saudi Arabia denied.
Overall, the meeting of key Israeli officials in Doha could be part of the growing relations between Israel and regional states. Turkey’s Anadolu news calls this the “Arab-Israeli normalization picking up pace in 2020.” It could just be a pragmatic way to keep funds flowing to Gaza, it could be linked to Iran’s pressure and Israel’s stated focus on Iran’s threats during the campaign between the wars and it is clearly linked to Hamas wanting more international attention. Israel has cautioned Hamas to stop attacks, after rocket fire and tensions in early February, warning of a “surprise.” It appears all around, regardless of the larger puzzle of Iran and the region, that it is in everyone’s interests to have some calm.