The tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar – one of the wealthiest countries in the world on a per capita basis, thanks to enormous oil and natural gas reserves – has become one of the most harmful influences in the Middle East and a key supporter of terrorist groups.
No one expects Qatar to launch a military attack of its own on any country. Located on a peninsula jutting out of Saudi Arabia, it is slightly smaller than Connecticut and has a population of only about 2.3 million.
But Qatar is endangering America’s Arab allies and our ally Israel by bankrolling terrorists, inciting violence and hatred through its state-funded Al Jazeera TV network, and collaborating with the far more powerful and virulently anti-American Islamic Republic of Iran.
Because Qatar poses such a danger to the region, Saudi Araba and its Persian Gulf allies have blockaded the country since June. They have closed Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia and prevented many planes and cargo ships from landing and docking in Qatar.
Bizarrely, the United States maintains a military base in Qatar so we can fight against Muslim extremists. But at the same time, the Qataris are providing support to Muslim extremists fighting against America’s allies in the region.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration, like the Obama administration, prefers to look the other way at Qatar’s dangerous behavior. This is because the U.S. Central Command operates the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The base houses some 10,000 U.S., British and other allied troops. It plays a key role in American air operations in war-torn Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Rather than using the base as an excuse for inaction against Qatar, we should be using it to leverage changes in Qatari behavior. The Trump administration needs to make clear to Qatar that its current conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the United States.
In addition to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar is the principal financier of Hamas, which wants to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel and replace it with an Arab state of Palestine.
President Trump previously expressed support for the Saudi position that Qatar end its support for terrorists, shut down Al Jazeera and sever ties with Iran. To protect our interests and the security of our allies, he should now threaten to move our military base if the Qataris do not do these things.
Moving our base would be costly, but we did it before when the Saudis asked us to leave. Now that we’re on better terms with the Saudis, they might even welcome us back. Better still, the Qataris could accede to our demands and benefit from ending their isolation and allying with those opposing terrorism and the Iranian menace.
Qatar wants to present itself as moderate and helpful to the U.S. Yet the government and individual Qataris have given financial and political support to two terrorist groups – the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas.
Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood stems from its need to demonstrate its commitment to Islam to avoid becoming a target of extremists, especially given its Western orientation and willingness to host the U.S. military. But in siding with the Brotherhood, Qatar is at odds with other countries – particularly Egypt – that see the group as a threat to their regimes.
In addition to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar is the principal financier of Hamas, which wants to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel and replace it with an Arab state of Palestine. Qatar claims it only supports economic projects in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. But even if that were true, the money Qatar funnels to Hamas frees up money that the terrorist group can use to build rockets and terrorist tunnels to threaten Israel.
Moreover, individual Qataris may be providing direct assistance to Hamas. Qatar also has served as a haven for Hamas terrorists such as Khaled Mashaal.
On top of this, Qatar has made no secret of its hostile feelings toward Israel. Its leaders have called on the world to shun Israel, condemned Israel for destroying terrorist tunnels, and accused Israel during its military operations in Gaza of “war crimes.”
Al Jazeera is the propaganda arm of the Qatari government and regularly broadcasts reports critical of Qatar’s neighbors and Israel. The TV network is also used to demonstrate Qatar’s loyalty to radical Islamists.
In addition, Qatar promotes terrorism through its broadcasts of sermons by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He has a history of defending suicide bombings in Israel, condoning violence against U.S. troops and agitating against other Arab states. Al-Qaradawi was recently sentenced in absentia to life in prison in Egypt after being convicted of incitement to murder and other charges. He lives in exile in Qatar.
Al Jazeera has also targeted American Jews by sending a spy to infiltrate pro-Israel organizations to try to gather dirt on them. The goal of Al Jazeera is to present viewers with anti-Semitic propaganda falsely claiming there is evidence of an all-powerful Jewish cabal controlling U.S. policy.
Finally, at a time when the Trump administration seeks to isolate Iran, Qatar has strengthened its ties with the Islamic Republic. Qatar claims it has no choice but to deal with Iran given the blockade, but one of the main reasons the Saudis imposed the blockade was Qatar’s refusal to sever ties with Iran.
Iran’s anti-American policies, support for terrorists, fighting on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and repeated pledges to wipe Israel off the map have not deterred Qatar from drawing closer to its dangerous neighbor.
Yet despite its strong support of Israel’s enemies, Qatar has mounted a charm offensive by inviting American Jewish leaders and others to the capital of Doha s and pledging counterterrorism cooperation.
The emir who rules Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has even asked American Jewish leaders to lobby U.S. government officials on Qatar’s behalf. Presumably, he believes they can influence President Trump and Congress to pressure Qatar’s Gulf rivals to end their blockade.
But even as it woos Americans, Qatar has continued its harmful and hostile activities.
Qatar, like other Arab nations, has long enjoyed a “democracy exception” from American administrations – an understanding that, unlike other countries around the world, we will not pressure them to democratize – as long as we have access to their oil and they support our regional interests.
In Qatar’s case, we silently tolerate an autocratic ruler whose family has been in power for more than 100 years, bans organized political parties, restricts civil liberties – including freedoms of speech, press, and assembly – and permits human trafficking. Nevertheless, no U.S. administration has been sufficiently disturbed by Qatar’s domestic policy to exert any pressure for change.
President Trump has often said he is a skilled dealmaker and criticized agreements made by past U.S. administrations. In the case of Qatar, America is tolerating too much and paying too high a price to keep the Al Udeid Air Base in a nation that is undermining our interests and the interests of our allies. If Qatar refuses to change its behavior, we should pull our air base out of the country to send a clear message that Qatar’s actions are intolerable.