Fundamentally Freund: Congress should impose sanctions on Qatar

Qatar’s support for Hamas is hardly new. It was just four years ago that John Kerry lambasted the Qataris for funding the terrorists of Hamas.

Kerry in Qatar 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kerry in Qatar 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is a tiny speck of a country, smaller than Connecticut, and home to fewer people than Chicago. But despite its diminutive size, the Gulf Arab state of Qatar is punching far above its weight and causing bloodshed and instability throughout the Middle East.
It is time that it be called to account for its deadly actions.
Though it bills itself as “a close ally of the United States” on the website of its Washington embassy, Qatar has been playing a double game for years, often working to undermine American and Western interests in the region.
In recent weeks, Qatar’s backing for Hamas has garnered renewed attention as the terrorist organization has been waging a rocket war against Israel, firing more than 2,450 missiles against the Jewish state in less than three weeks.
Shortly before leaving his post, outgoing president Shimon Peres issued unusually harsh criticism of the Qataris, calling them “the world’s largest funder of terror.” Speaking with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Peres said, “Qatar does not have the right to send money for rockets and tunnels which are fired at innocent civilians. Their funding of terror must stop.”
This view was seconded by former Israeli national security adviser Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya’akov Amidror, who pointed out that the Gulf Arab emirate is practically keeping Hamas alive. “The one supporting this organization financially, almost alone, is Qatar,” he said.
As has been widely reported, the emir of Qatar pledged in October 2012 to give $400 million in assistance to Hamas, a veritable windfall for the terrorist group. And through its government-funded television channel, Al Jazeera, the Qatari regime has been cheerleading for Hamas and blackening Israel’s name, so much so that Communications Minister Gilad Erdan has even raised the possibility of barring the propaganda mouthpiece from broadcasting in the Jewish state.
But Qatar’s support for Hamas is hardly new. It was just four years ago that a Senator by the name of John Kerry lambasted the Qataris for funding the terrorists of Hamas. In remarks delivered on April 2, 2009, Kerry bluntly stated that “Qatar... can’t continue to be an American ally on Monday that sends money to Hamas on Tuesday.”
And yet, that is exactly what they continue to do. Just last year, the Obama administration renewed a Defense Cooperation Agreement with Qatar, which continues to host the US Combat Air Operations Center for the Middle East as well as US Central Command (CENTCOM).
And, of course, they continue to fund Hamas with impunity.
In addition to financing a group that attacks the Jewish state and calls for its destruction, the Qataris also persist in enforcing the illegal Arab trade boycott against Israel. According to a December 19, 2013, Congressional Research Service report entitled “Arab League Boycott of Israel,” Qatar is one of several Arab states that do so.
QATARI MISCHIEF-MAKING has also extended to the bloody civil war in Syria, where the Qataris are reportedly sponsoring and assisting radical Islamic jihadi terrorist groups fighting against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, thereby causing a split in the ranks of the rebels.
Qatar was said to have been instrumental last November in helping to create Ahrar al-Sham, a radical Salafist group in Syria which joined the Islamic Front that is battling the Assad government. This has helped to undermine the effectiveness of the American-backed Supreme Military Council, weakening the rebels opposed to Assad and harming US interests.
And on March 20, Reuters reported that the Qataris are even providing “help to groups that have coordinated tactically on the ground with al-Qaida affiliates and which share their ambition to create a strict Islamic state” in Syria, which is hardly a goal of American foreign policy.
This is not surprising, given the fact that a prominent member of the Qatari ruling family was linked with al-Qaida prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Indeed, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani, a member of Qatar’s royal family who served as the country’s interior minister, provided support to prominent al-Qaida figures. These included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is believed to have masterminded the September 11 attacks.
Despite this, Sheikh al-Thani continued to serve in his post and was only replaced last year.
In light of the above, you might be wondering why on earth Washington continues to do business with Qatar. After all, it is an autocratic monarchy which bans political parties, restricts individual freedoms and works directly against US interests in a variety of theaters. The answer, of course, is really very simple: Qatar is the largest exporter in the world of liquefied natural gas and sits on top of the third-largest proven natural gas reserves.
And when it comes to international diplomacy, money always seems to outweigh morality.
But it needn’t be this way, and it is time for the US to stop turning a blind eye to Qatar’s dubious deeds.
Since the Obama administration has done nothing to tame the Qataris or call them to order, Congress should step in and threaten to impose a range of diplomatic and economic sanctions if the emir in Doha does not mend his ways.
On August 2 of last year, a bipartisan group of 24 Congressmen led by Republican Peter Roskam of Illinois and Democrat John Barrow of Georgia sent a letter to the Qatari ambassador to the US calling for an end to Qatar’s support of Hamas.
“Qatar’s support of Hamas,” Barrow said at the time, “jeopardizes the relationships between our governments, and it’s critical that we have answers.”
Nearly a year has passed, yet the Qataris continue to do as they please, fomenting violence, supporting terrorist groups, violating human rights and undermining American interests throughout the region.This cannot be allowed to continue. It makes a mockery of Washington’s stance, signaling to others that they can literally get away with murder in a dangerous part of the world.
If the carrot has failed to work with Qatar, then it is about time the US began reaching for the stick.