Arabs turn on Qatar over Hamas

By John R Bradley, July 31, 2014
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Khaled Mashaal

Khaled Mashaal

As diplomacy intensifies over Gaza, one little-reported meeting last week - between senior Saudi officials and Qatar's ruler Sheikh Al-Thani - could turn out to be the game-changer.

Sheikh Al-Thani has given sanctuary to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, and funds the Al-Jazeera network. He bankrolls the Muslim Brotherhood, too, and is best buddies with its unhinged "spiritual guide", Yousef Al-Qaradawi.

Mr Al-Thani made the trip to the Saudi commercial capital Jeddah following reports that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - a military and economic powerhouse comprised of the six major Arab oil skeikhdoms - was about to expel his country.

For historic reasons, the Saudi and Qatari dynasties loath each other, and King Abdullah refused to meet Sheikh Al-Thani.

Just a week earlier, King Abdullah had travelled to Cairo to endorse the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. It was surely Qatar's continued support for Hamas, and its refusal to pressure Mr Mashaal into accepting Egypt's ceasefire terms, that led to the Saudi royal snub and the threat to have Qatar kicked out of the GCC.

That King Abdullah's security adviser, Prince Bandar, and Prince Miteb (who heads the National Guard), were present at the meeting, points to the broader context.

Prince Bandar was initially the contact guy between the House of Saud and radical jihadist groups fighting in Syria; while Prince Miteb's National Guard is responsible for quelling dissent inside the Wahhabi kingdom.

With the Saudis having lost control of the jihadis, the new caliphate ruled by the Islamic State is turning its attention to Jordan and the Arab monarchies.

Saudi Arabia has now banned its nationals from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

However, the Islamic State has considerable support throughout the Arabian Peninsula, where Al-Jazeera's sensationalist coverage of Palestinian civilian deaths is provoking universal outrage.

As the Islamic State continues its string of military victories, the oil monarchies fear a perfect jihadist storm may be on the horizon. The last thing the Arab states want is for anger over Israel's war to boil over, amid calls for jihad in the local mosques.

Meanwhile, Iran and Hizbollah have predictably offered the Palestinians moral support. But given that Hamas supports the Sunni jihadis slaughtering Shia in Syria and Iraq, and that Qatar-based Al-Qaradawi recently called for genocide against the Shia, their words will not translate into action.

Anyway, both countries are so bogged down fighting the Islamic State that opening up another military front against Israel is out of the question.

Hamas's only other remaining ally, Turkey, also has its hands tied militarily, being a member of Nato.

All of which signals a potentially catastrophic long-term decline for Hamas, however the current war ends.

John R Bradley is the author of four books on the Middle East

Last updated: 2:32pm, August 4 2014