Why Israel Lets Qatar Give Millions To Hamas
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Next, we have a story of the complexity of the Middle East. Israel does not necessarily get along with Qatar, a wealthy Persian Gulf nation. Last year, Israel accused Qatar of pumping money into Gaza, financing weapons for the anti-Israel group Hamas. Yet, Israel has also allowed a Qatari official to visit Gaza and spend tens of millions of dollars. NPR's Emily Harris reports on why.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: A glass door in a fancy Gaza hotel is painted with the Qatari national seal. Through it is the agency charged with spending close to half a billion dollars building homes, roads and a hospital in Gaza.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
HARRIS: Office workers are busy because the boss is here from Qatar. And he is busy too. Mohammad al-Emadi says both here in Gaza and on his travels here through Israel, he's been too tied up to even see his wife, who came along.
MOHAMMAD AL-EMADI: I told her in Jerusalem, take the driver and take the car, and go wherever you like, OK? But don't ask for me because I have meeting - a lot of meeting; I don't have time.
HARRIS: In Israel, Emadi met with business people and with the Israeli brigadier general in charge of permitting goods or people in or out of Gaza. Emadi had actually just left that meeting when a rocket fired from Gaza landed elsewhere in Israel. Emadi says he immediately called contacts in Gaza to see if Hamas had launched it.
EMADI: I called these people. I told them they are crazy. They said, no, no, that's not us. And they control the situation. They catch the guy - I don't know him - when I ask about it.
HARRIS: Emadi says Qatar is spending money in Gaza to help the people here, not Hamas. But if you want to help Gaza, he says, Hamas is your best contact.
EMADI: You have to support them. You don't like them, don't like them. But they control the country, you know?
HARRIS: Israel has long accused Qatar of giving money to Hamas to build rockets and tunnels used for attacks. But Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research for Israel's military intelligence, says there's one good reason Israel is helping Qatar - help Gaza.
YOSSI KUPERWASSER: Nobody else is ready to help but Qatar.
HARRIS: Kuperwasser says because Hamas is not only a militia but also the de facto government, improving life in Gaza could deter Hamas from war.
KUPERWASSER: We believe that better conditions in Gaza would lessen the incentive of Hamas, and of the population, to go again to a war. So in a way, this is helping the deterrence. But the purpose is to improve the conditions of the people of Gaza and to enable them to live respectable life.
HARRIS: A Hamas spokesman said Israel is facilitating Qatar mainly to deflect criticism over the war destruction and the continued restrictions on materials going into Gaza. One Israeli who knows Qatar well says aiding Qatar's work in Gaza is a new Israeli policy.
ELI AVIDAR: I'm very surprised because I don't believe that this should be the way.
HARRIS: Eli Avidar used to run an Israeli trade office in Qatar, which operated for over a decade, although Israel never had a embassy there. He says after last summer's war, international pressure on Qatar grew to stop financing Hamas's armed wing. Israel's approach now undermines that, he says.
AVIDAR: Providing the Qataris with the ability to do something like this enables the Qataris to maintain their policy that on one hand, supporting terrorism and on the other hand, appearing in the international community as a positive factor in the region.
HARRIS: But Ayub Carra, Israel's deputy minister for regional cooperation, takes a broader view. He says Qatar, along with Saudi Arabia and others, share Israeli fears about Iran.
AYUB CARRA: That's (unintelligible) and Qatar, Bahrain, Dubai, most of these countries are afraid from the future with Iran. So we have a chance now to make the older relationship better.
HARRIS: Israel has talked about an alliance with Sunni Muslim nations for years. Working with Qatar, even if it benefits Hamas, is not that unusual, says Kuperwasser, the man once with Israeli military intelligence.
KUPERWASSER: Life is full of contradictions and strange things.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And that was a report by Emily Harris on NPR News.
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