Al Monitor’s insidery Congress Pulse on Tuesday conveyed details from the day’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Hamas’ benefactors” noting that lawmakers emerged from the panel echoing witnesses who blasted Qatar and Turkey for supporting the Palestinian terror group:
Congress delivered its staunchest warning to date on Sept. 9 that Turkey and Qatar could face financial and other penalties if they continue to support Hamas and other US-designated terrorist organizations.
Frustration that had been mounting for months if not years boiled over as lawmakers returned from an August recess marked by the conflict in Gaza. During a hearing on “Hamas’ benefactors,” members of both parties agreed with witnesses who described the two countries as US “frenemies” and endorsed calls for a much tougher line.
The outlet quoted committee chairman Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) emphasizing that Washington “must make our message clear” to Ankara and Doha, that if they “help finance Hamas, there will be significant consequences and they will be unpleasant.” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), used his testimony to among other things call for the Treasury Department to designate and sanction individuals from the two countries, which he has categorized as at best “frenemies” of the United States, distinguishing them from both allies and enemies:
The United States drew closer to Qatar during the Arab Spring, thinking the Gulf country’s warm relations with Islamists across the Middle East could guide other countries in the region to a soft landing. But the idea that autocratic Qatar, a pint-size peninsula with just over 2 million people, could help ensure the spread of democracy was laughable, as even President Obama seemed to realize. In a hot-mic gaffe at a 2011 fundraiser in Chicago, he noted that the Qatari emir was “not reforming significantly. There’s no big move towards democracy.”
That was an understatement. Qatar is an absolute monarchy—emphasis on the absolute. The royal family has generated friendly media buzz for showcase projects like a campus of Western universities clustered in the desert and Qatar’s improbable status as the world’s No. 1 contemporary art buyer. As for its slave-like treatment of migrant workers and a dismal human rights record? Not so much.
Qatar also supports the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. While the United States seeks to weaken the group, responsible for countless terror attacks and undermining Middle East peace, Qatar remains a key Hamas patron, hosting its leader, Khaled Meshal, and furnishing huge sums of aid.
Both Qatar and Turkey have since the beginning of the year found themselves engulfed by scandals linked to their consolidation – along with Sunni extremist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Al Qaeda, and ISIS – into one of three regional blocs. Turkish outlets were describing Turkey and Qatar as allies early in the year, and they were in turn linked to ISIS once the Islamist terror organization burst into world consciousness.
News subsequently emerged that Istanbul’s former police chief had accused the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of facilitating the movement of a Saudi businessman who has been widely accused of being a terror financier. Meanwhile Qatar spent the summer – per just one of many headlines that appeared in Arabic media outlets and beyond – “hit[ting] back at claims it backs extremists.” Qatar’s pushbacks fell short of total success. Earlier this week The New York Times published a wide-ranging expose on Doha’s links to terror and extremist groups.
Meanwhile the U.S.’s traditional Arab and Israeli allies have found themselves in a de facto second regional camp, opposite both the Turkish-Qatari extremist axis and an expansionist Shiite bloc anchored by Iran. Simon Henderson – a Washington Institute fellow and the director of the think tank’s Gulf and Energy Policy Program – suggested last week that a recent Saudi delegation to Doha upbraided the Qataris over their foreign policy in a manner that involved “straight talk at the least and possibly even outright threats.”
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