Trump, allies must pressure Qatar to stop funding radicals
June 21, 2017
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U.S. President Donald Trump launched a blistering attack against Qatar recently when he accused the Gulf emirate of sponsoring terrorism. "The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level," the president told reporters at the White House.
His comments echoed allegations of the Saudi-led group of Arab countries that last week cut diplomatic ties to Qatar over the emirate’s links to extremist groups. Qatar has long bankrolled with billions of dollars radical Sunni Islamist organizations and forged close ties with the Shiite Republic of Iran and its terror proxy Hezbollah.
This refreshing honesty from Washington and states in the region is an important step in the right direction to bring an end to Qatar’s malign influence. For that to happen, it is just as important that his statement of condemnation translates into real action. Two concrete steps that could be taken immediately would be for the United States and other allies to call for the sanctioning of the Muslim Brotherhood and the disarmament of Hamas in Gaza — primary beneficiaries of Qatar’s terror network.
Regional dynamics explain why these measures would significantly strengthen the stability of the Middle East. The diplomatic rift between Qatar and the Saudi-led group is not taking place in a vacuum. It is the product of deep fault lines created by a power struggle between forces of extremism and forces of stability.
The camp of extremism includes the Islamic Republic of Iran, trans-national jihadist organizations like al-Qaida and Islamic State, as well as radical Islamist-nationalist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Their vision of the Middle East violently clashes with that of the camp of stability, a group of countries ranging from most Gulf states to Egypt, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia.
In this battle for hearts and minds that is affecting security far beyond the borders of the Middle East, the United States must come down on the right side of history. And the Trump administration has already set the stage when, during his visit to Saudi Arabia, the president endorsed Riyadh’s campaign to challenge Iranian influence with $110 billion in arms sales to the kingdom.
The Trump administration has also indicated its intention to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a “foreign terrorist organization.” At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson grouped al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood as “agents of radical Islam.”
The Muslim Brotherhood is a global Islamist organization with tentacles of influence everywhere, both in the Islamic world and the West, where it works toward a Shariah-based caliphate. The Qatari government has bankrolled this organization with billions of dollars across the Middle East.
The Brotherhood is often misrepresented as an acceptable branch of political Islam, a fatal miscalculation best demonstrated by the group’s credo: “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”
With Qatar now under serious pressure to stop the funding and the United States in a unique position to sanction the organization, there is a real opportunity to significantly disrupt the group’s operations and that of its affiliates, including Hamas.
Since Israel pulled out of Gaza and Hamas took control, it has been evident that the only way to achieve meaningful and enduring peace is to disarm Hamas and dismantle its military and financial infrastructure. The group’s hundreds of thousands of rockets, bombs and rifles, with which it oppresses its own population and murders Israeli civilians, must be surrendered.
Critical to that is ending the support of Qatar’s ruling family. The al-Thanis pour millions of dollars every year into the Gaza Strip to cement Hamas's grip on power. Last year alone, Doha transferred $31 million to the group, and the country is expected to pledge an additional $100 million to Hamas in the coming years.
Isolating Qatar and its terror network is not unprecedented. A similar diplomatic rift took place in 2014, when several Gulf states temporarily withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. And it worked. Qatar backed down and made concessions.
With the full backing and support of the United States, pressure on Qatar to end its funding of radical Islamist organizations could be multiplied. By coordinating with our regional allies and striking on all fronts — expose Qatar, sanction the Muslim Brotherhood, and disarm Hamas — a significant blow could be struck against the forces of extremism.
Joshua S. Block is president and CEO of The Israel Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization that provides factual information about Israel and the Middle East to the press, policymakers and the public.