Qatar Must Stop Funding Hamas

In his speech of September 10, 2014, President Barack Obama finally followed the wisdom of the State of Israel in calling for and preparing “targeted action” to stop the advances of an Islamic terrorist organization and political structure.  This is the right course for dealing with the Islamic State (IS), as it is regarding policy toward Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

It is regrettable and rather puzzling that Obama erred in some of his remarks.  He refused to acknowledge that ISIL, as he terms it, is an “Islamic group.”  He also referred to ISIL as a “terrorist organization, pure and simple.”  The world has been horrified by the sight of ISIL or ISIS glorifying in its beheadings of innocent people and mass executions.  But the terrorist group has transformed itself into a self-proclaimed Islamic State that, like Hamas, controls a great deal of the daily life and the work of public institutions in the areas under its purview.

One of the major ways to counter the threat of the Islamist organizations is to cut off their funding.  Obama is aware of this in relation to IS, though with its present assets, oil, and money, IS has no urgent need for foreign financing.  The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Terrorism in its hearing on September 10, 2014 was aware of the urgent need to control funding of Hamas, which does need outside resources.  It pointed out that the main culprits presently are Qatar and Turkey.

The conflict between Hamas and Israel in July and August unexpectedly showed the enormous amount of resources Hamas had spent – not only on buying rockets and missiles, but on building over 30 tunnels from which to attack Israel.  Revenue has been obtained by Hamas from domestic resources, from taxes on gas, smuggling of cement, gravel, and steel, and extortion.

But most of Hamas's resources have come from Iran, Sudan, Qatar, and Turkey, as well as from Syria.  For a number of years, Iran, which has also supported Hezb'allah, was the largest single donor to Hamas, giving it up to $300 million a year.  However, a break came in 2011 as a result of the refusal of Hamas, a Sunni group, to support the Alawite regime of President Assad in Syria that Iran supported.  Iran then stopped its funding and slowed the delivery of arms to Hamas.  But after the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in July 2014 to defend itself against attacks, Iran has restarted its relationship with Hamas and called for arms to be sent to it.

The Assad Syrian regime provided political and material assistance and some financial support for Hamas.  It housed the headquarters of Hamas in Damascus, where Khalid Mershaal, the Hamas political leader, lived until he left for Qatar in 2012.  His departure, and that of other Hamas people in Syria, resulted from Hamas’s refusal to support Assad in the civil war that started in 2011.

Turkey has been a strong financial supporter of Hamas, to whose members it refers as "freedom fighters.”  In her statement to the House subcommittee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke of Turkey as providing financial, material, and political support for Hamas for years without any repercussions.  It has said to have given at least $300 million to Hamas.  It has helped in construction of schools and hospitals in Gaza.  It sheltered the founder of the terrorist Fatah group, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

The entrance of Qatar as a power player in international politics and its attempts at regional domination have been dramatic.  The economic business ventures in Europe as well as the contribution to the funding of Hamas by the small country – with a population of 280,000 citizens, who have the highest per capita income in the world, and 1.5 million foreign workers – has been extraordinary.

Benefiting from owning about one seventh of the proven gas supplies in the world, Qatar controls enormous financial resources – some say $ 200 billion in financial reserves – and spectacular investments, including fashionable hotels, art-buying, chain stores, car manufactures, and football clubs in a number of European countries.  The nation even gave $14.8 million to the Brookings Institute.

Qatar can be called the world’s largest funder of terror, giving money to the various affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood.  In a strong speech delivered on March 4, 2014 on the subject of the dynamics of terrorist financing, David Cohen, U.S. Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, stated that Hamas, a longtime U.S. ally, has for many years financed Hamas.  

Qatar’s most dramatic gesture was that of the former ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took power, who pledged in October 2012 to give Hamas $400 million, supposedly for a reconstruction project that allowed it to import cement via Egypt.  That cement went to the building of the tunnels.  Qatar had wanted to transfer millions to the Arab Bank to pay 44,000 Hamas civil servants, but the transfer was never processed because of U.S. pressure.

In the conflict in July and August 2014, Qatar took a strong position.  As well as supplying funds to Hamas, it used the state-backed news channel Al Jazeera to broadcast severe attacks against Israeli activities.  It has housed Mershaal, who delivered a talk in the Grand Mosque in Qatar calling for Jerusalem to be liberated, as well as living in luxury in the country.

The US should take a strong stand on the funding activities of Qatar and Turkey.  Obviously this is not easy, since both countries are nominally U.S. allies, and Turkey is a member of NATO.  The U.S. is involved in large arms deals – about 800 million – with Turkey.  The administration also is involved in a  $11-billion arms sale with Qatar.  The U.S. Combined Air Operations Center is in the large al-Udeid air base, which is the largest U.S. base in the Middle East, in Qatar.

That base may symbolize the links between the two countries, but Qatar also has links with Iran, even preparing for joint naval operations in the near future.  The Obama administration hopes, perhaps in vain, that Turkey and Qatar will be part of the coalition intended against the Islamic State.

David Cohen in his March 4, 2014 speech hoped that Qatar would be a constructive partner in countering terrorism.  But the general hope that the new emir, Tamin Hamad al-Thani, would be more cooperative than his father has not yet been realized.  U.S. relations with Turkey and Qatar may be complicated, but the Obama administration must still have and carry out an effective policy to control funding of terrorist groups in general.  There is no complicated U.S. relationship with Hamas, and it should not be difficult for the U.S. and its associates prevent funding of that terrorist organization.  Indeed, this is essential.