Qatar’s ambassador to Washington, Mohammed Bin Abdullah al-Rumaihi, just received a letter that will put his diplomatic skills to the test.
The letter drafted by Congressmen Peter Roskam (R-IL) and John Barrow (D-GA) and signed by 24 lawmakers from both parties, challenged the ultra wealthy Persian Gulf emirate over its financial ties to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
The letter, addressed directly to Rumaihi, acknowledges the "longstanding, strategic bilateral relations between the United States and Qatar, including a strong defense pact, are of critical importance to both countries."
"However," it continues, "we believe that Qatar’s relationship with Hamas empowers, legitimizes, and bolsters an organization committed to violence and hatred." The letter goes on by saying that, "In the interest of maintaining strong US-Qatari relations, we urge you to promptly address these serious allegations regarding your relationship with Hamas."
Qatar is a valuable ally for Washington. The sprawling al-Udeid Airbase near Doha is a crucial asset for U.S. Central Command, particularly in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, Qatar has played a key role in organizing, financing and arming the opposition to Bashar al- Assad’s regime in Syria.
However, Roskam, Barrow and a growing group of other legislators don’t believe that should absolve the Qataris of their support for a terrorist group best known for suicide bombings and firing rockets into civilian areas. Of particular concern is Qatar’s reported pledge of $400 million in financial aid to Hamas last year, and the fact that Hamas’s leader, Khaled Mashal, now hangs his hat in Doha.
Mashal recently delivered a sermon in Qatar’s Grand Mosque in which he affirmed Hamas’s commitment "to liberate Jerusalem," an often-used expression for the destruction of Israel.
The congressional letter also notes that Qatar’s recently-retired emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, made "the first visit by a foreign leader to Gaza since Hamas took power in 2007," and further expresses alarm that the emir chartered a private plane in April for Hamas militants to visit Doha.
The timing of this letter is critical, coinciding with the fall of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, one of Hamas’s most important patrons. One senior Israeli security official commented that he viewed Egypt as the “back office” for Hamas. More importantly, underground tunnels connecting Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip serve as a crucial lifeline for the smuggling of weapons, goods, and cash.
With Egypt’s Brotherhood down and out, the Egyptian army is now shutting down the Hamas tunnels. With few allies left in the region, Hamas is now clinging to Qatar for financial and political assistance.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst of the U.S. Department of Treasury, said, "This letter is putting pressure on Qatar at exactly the right time. If the U.S. could convince Qatar to cut off or drawdown its assistance, then this could deliver a harsh blow to Hamas' financial well being, and even bankrupt the movement."
Roskam and Barrow are apparently prepared to do battle, particularly if Secretary of State John Kerry weighs in. As they note in their letter, in 2009, then-Senator Kerry warned, "Qatar can’t continue to be an American ally on Monday and send money to Hamas on Tuesday."