This article was first published in the Israeli newspaper Maariv on November 21, 2023.
In the struggle to obtain the release of the hostages held by Hamas, there is a vitally important path to rescuing them – and it is a path that the Israeli media and the government of Israel are refraining from presenting to the public and to the families of the hostages.
This situation is so absurd that it is difficult to comprehend. Yet it is a harsh reality.
I have personally been dealing with the deafening silence about this path – the path of using massive unprecedented pressure on Qatar rather than begging and pleading for its support for the release of the hostages – in the weeks since the war broke out. During these weeks, various people, including the families who fear that embarking on such a path could harm the negotiations and the emerging limited hostage release deal, and out of fear for the fate of their loved ones, have said that they do not want it, and are not daring to suggest it lest it cause harm to the hostages.
Meanwhile, weeks have passed with no deal, not even one that frees a handful of hostages.
This article is aimed at clarifying this other path, and at persuading the families of the hostages that their fears are groundless and that the inaction about pressuring Qatar is being fed to them by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his people who have personal and political reasons for ensuring that this path is not taken. These reasons will also be clarified in this article, so that the families understand why the government is not moving in this direction – and why it must.
Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani (Source: qudspress.com)
Qatar is a state that sponsors Islamic terrorism worldwide: Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, Hizbullah, and also Hamas. The case of Al-Qaeda is particularly important: Qatar sheltered the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM). When the FBI came to arrest him, alerting only the Qatari emir, KSM disappeared within hours. Richard Clarke, who served as National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism under U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, wrote about this in the New York Daily News: "Had the Qataris handed [KSM] over to us as requested in 1996, the world might have been a very different place."
Recent studies show that Qatar has invested billions of dollars in American institutions of higher education – and much more in Islamist educational, social, religious, and media bodies and organizations throughout the West. This is in addition to its investment in the Western economy – investments that have facilitated its reach into other areas. It is doing all this in order to stop Muslim society from developing towards a modern Western Islam and to bring it back to the primeval Islam of the seventh century.
Most of the Arab countries are at odds with Qatar on this issue. But they often need its money, so they cooperate with it, at least to some extent. To paraphrase Winston Churchill's acclaim for the RAF pilots: Never before have so many owed their catastrophe to so few – to the 300,000 Qatar residents and the Aal-Thani crime family that rules over them.
As far as Hamas is concerned, Qatar built it up from a small, weak Gaza group into a global organization with tremendous capabilities. With its massive funding, Qatar made it possible for Hamas to grab control of the Gaza Strip from the PLO and to transform it into a Islamic extremism-based society. Qatar also, with the approval of Prime Minister Netanyahu, enabled Hamas to build its military force into a significant power 30,000-40,000 strong, with missiles, drones and multicopters, vehicles including a fleet of ambulances for transporting its operatives from place to place, motorcycles for combat purposes, and any other combat equipment it might require. It also enabled the construction of the Gaza underground – hundreds of kilometers of fortified tunnels, according to Hamas. Thus, Qatar is Hamas, and Hamas is Qatar.
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This alone is sufficient for Israel to declare war on Qatar, in response to Qatar's declaration of war on Israel. It was on the Qatari Al-Jazeera TV that Hamas military commander Muhammad Deif declared war on the morning of Saturday, October 7. Since then, the channel has been placed completely at Hamas's disposal, serving as Hamas's megaphone 24/7 for the past six weeks. Al-Jazeera airs all of Hamas commanders' military announcements; it conveys to Hamas information of military value; it broadcasts lies aimed at thwarting the IDF's instructions to the civilian population of Gaza to move southward so that it can operate freely without harming civilians; it invents, and perpetuates, fabrications such as the alleged IDF bombing of Al-Ahali hospital; and it engages in massive incitement, day and night, against Israel and the IDF forces.
Again, all this would be enough for Israel to respond with war against Qatar, on every possible level. But Prime Minister Netanyahu is preventing any action against Qatar – and even against Al-Jazeera. While Israel's security and media elements, and its attorney general, have all agreed to shut the channel down in the country, Netanyahu prevents its closure, even though its broadcasts are causing losses of IDF soldiers.
Netanyahu approved the closure of the Hizbullah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen channel's broadcasts from Israel; there is no difference between it and Al-Jazeera except that the latter is much worse than the former. What is the logic of shutting down Al-Mayadeen but not Al-Jazeera? The only logic here is that Netanyahu fears that shutting down Al-Jazeera will reveal the fact that Qatar is an enemy, and raise questions about why, then, he allowed Qatar to fund Hamas to the tune of $1.5 billion.
The main argument of Netanyahu and his henchmen is that inaction against Qatar is necessary because it helps the negotiations for saving the hostages, and that Netanyahu is doing everything in his power to save them. Both of these claims are outright lies. Qatar is not assisting in the negotiations – it is hindering them, representing Hamas's demands. It has no interest in helping Israel – only in helping Hamas.
Netanyahu's depiction of Qatar as helping Israel is aimed at saving his skin from his heavy culpability in allowing Qatar to build up Hamas's military force and bring the October 7 catastrophe upon Israel. The blood is on his hands – and if he stands up against Qatar in any way, he will incriminate himself as having allowed it to build up Hamas's military force.
It is also unclear why Qatar is even involved in the negotiations, and who brought it in. Why isn't Egypt enough? Egypt was astonished that Israel and the U.S. are talking with the Qatari enemy and involving it in the negotiations, instead of dealing only with Egypt. Indeed, Qatar has nothing to offer that Egypt cannot offer – and, unlike Qatar, Egypt doesn't care about the interests of Hamas, as it is in conflict with both Hamas and with Hamas's parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and has itself imprisoned Al-Jazeera journalists.
Who, then, brought Qatar into the negotiation process, and why? This clearly serves Netanyahu – i.e. presenting Qatar as a positive and helpful element, even though the reality is just the opposite. The U.S. might want Qatar's participation for its own reasons – but Israel is under no obligation to accept this, because it is at war with a Qatar-established terrorist organization that is holding Israeli hostages (let alone the fact that Hamas murdered 32 American nationals and is holding 12 among the hostages). While it isn't easy to stand up to the U.S. under such difficult circumstances, the U.S. must be told that any cooperation with Qatar is against Israeli existential interests. Netanyahu is, as noted, doing the opposite in order to save his own skin.
Is there another way for Qatar to help?
The answer is yes – not by begging and pleading, but by applying massive pressure that will undermine its existence as a state. Only if it feels threatened will Qatar truly help – if its existence is in question and chances are that it will cease to exist. Only then will it mobilize to help the U.S. and Israel. Right now, it is cheating them both while trying with all its might to help Hamas.
Qatar will not, however, commit suicide for Hamas, and when it sees that it must choose between Hamas and ceasing to exist, it will choose existence, and Hamas will comply with its demands because Qatar is its lifeline without which Hamas will not exist – especially during and after a war.
Thus, there is no way but to start down this other path – the path of massively pressuring Qatar.
How can Qatar be persuaded to use its power and influence over Hamas to free the hostages?
This can be done by implementing the following:
1. Political pressure – declaring Qatar a state sponsor of terrorism, which it is, and implementing the accompanying legal sanctions.
2. Legal pressure – filing international lawsuits over Qatari assistance to terrorist organizations, not just Hamas but also Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, and Hizbullah. Instead of accepting Qatar's sheltering of the Hamas commanders, their extradition must be demanded.
3. Economic pressure – by directly impacting, by various means, Qatari economic institutions that attract foreign investment.
4. Security pressure – by striking Hamas commanders who have sheltered in Doha for years.
By failing to take these measures to pressure Qatar, Prime Minister Netanyahu is sacrificing the hostages and soldiers. He is continuing to protect Qatar's image in order to protect himself from questions about why he allowed Qatari funds to build Hamas's military power.
In light of the growing danger to the hostages, and the fact that over the past six weeks no deal has been reached – and even if there is one it will be a limited deal serving the interests of Hamas and Qatar – the time has come to try the other path, the path of massive pressure.
With regard to the hostages, it is also important to note that in addition to pressuring Qatar on all levels noted above, Israel should add to the mix its willingness to accept a comprehensive deal for all the hostages in exchange for all the terrorists in Israeli prisons. I proposed this on the very first day of the war. This is a moral imperative. We owe this to the families of the hostages. This situation is an historic exception, involving babies and children whose parents were slaughtered. No past criteria for releasing prisoners apply here.
If Hamas rejects this proposal, we can look to the families and say we have offered it all that we possibly can. If Hamas accepts it, and tries to depict it as a victory, let it do so, while half of the Gaza Strip is already destroyed, and the longer the war continues, the more will be destroyed. A great victory indeed.
* Yigal Carmon is Founder and President of MEMRI.