Qatar cozies up to Israel, again

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Israeli general Herzi Halevi visited Qatar earlier this month to meet with top government officials, Israeli publication Walla reported.

Mossad is Israel’s notorious spying and assassination agency.

The Israeli pair met with Mohammed bin Ahmed al-Masnad, the national security adviser to Qatar’s emir, and Qatar’s envoy to Gaza Muhammad al-Emadi, to urge them to continue transferring funds to the Gaza Strip.

Al-Masnad is a “very central figure in Israeli-Qatari relations,” an unnamed Israeli official told Walla.

Former Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman revealed the secret visit to Israeli media in an apparent attempt to embarrass Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he opposes.

Lieberman said the Israeli officials were sent by Netanyahu to “beg the Qataris to keep funneling money into Hamas,” Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported.

“Both the Egyptians and the Qataris are angry with Hamas, and they were going to cut all ties with them,” Lieberman claimed.

“All of a sudden Netanyahu shows up as a Hamas advocate, pressuring Egypt and the Qataris to continue.”

Cohen and Halevi departed from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, stopped briefly in Amman, and then went on to Doha, where they spent less than 24 hours.

Aircraft leaving Israel en route to Arab states with which there are no formal diplomatic relations often stop at Amman’s Queen Alia airport to whitewash the flight’s record.

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and al-Emadi met after the Israelis’ visit to Doha.

Qatar’s foreign ministry pledged a $15 million increase in its aid package to Gaza on Friday.

Some 120,000 Palestinian families in Gaza will each receive $100 by the end of February as a result.

Keeping Gaza on a drip-feed while Israel makes no meaningful change in its blockade of the territory may ease Palestinian suffering in the very short-term. But it also relieves Israel of its responsibility as the occupying power, and aids Netanyahu, who will want to avoid a renewed escalation of violence in the run-up to upcoming Israeli elections on 2 March – the third vote in a year.

Israelis in Doha

This was not the only display of Qatari-Israeli cooperation this month.

Two Israelis participated in the ISPCAN International Congress on children’s rights in Doha this month.

Vered Windman, executive director of Israel’s National Council for the Child, and Chico Jacques Menashe, news director at Israel’s public broadcaster KAN, gave a lecture at the conference on 17 February.

Israel’s Arabic-language propaganda Twitter account celebrated Windman’s visit to Qatar, as it regularly does when Israelis travel to Arab states with which there are no formal relations.

The sponsors of the conference included the Qatari government and Sidra Medicine, a health organization chaired by Sheikha Moza, the mother of Qatar’s ruler Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Sidra Medicine is housed at the Qatar Foundation, founded by the emirate’s royal family.

The Qatar Foundation previously hosted prominent pro-Israel propagandist Alan Dershowitz in Doha in 2018.

Students and activists protested Dershowitz’s visit, which came amidst a wave of invitations by the Qatari government to rightwing Americans and key leaders of Israel’s Washington lobby.

Among those junketed to Doha was Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America.

Qatar even funded some of the most extreme pro-Israel organizations in the United States as part of its outreach.

Notably, Al Jazeera canceled the broadcast of an explosive undercover documentary exposing clandestine Israel lobby activities in the US, after the broadcaster’s funder, Qatar, came under intense pressure from that same lobby.

The suppressed documentary was leaked and published by The Electronic Intifada in 2018.

Qatar’s effort to cozy up to the Israel lobby was part of a campaign to curry favor with the Trump administration, as Qatar tried to escape regional isolation and a blockade led by regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The guise of interreligious tolerance

Meanwhile, Saudi King Salman bin Saud hosted a rabbi from Israel at a meeting with the board of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue last week in Riyadh.

Israel’s Arabic-language propaganda Twitter account celebrated Rabbi David Rosen’s participation:

Rosen, the Jerusalem-based director of “interreligious affairs” for the American Jewish Committee, is a member of the Saudi organization’s board.

The British-born Rosen has served in the Israeli army and represented the Israeli government in diplomatic negotiations with the Vatican. He was also the director of a Jewish center in Jerusalem’s Old City, which Israel occupied in 1967.

The American Jewish Committee is a major Israel lobby group. While it portrays itself as promoting interreligious harmony, its main activity has been defending Israel at all costs while attacking and smearing supporters of Palestinian rights.

Israeli athletes in Dubai

Meanwhile, Israel is participating in the UAE Tour cycling race, which kicked off in Dubai on Sunday.

The seven-member team, called “Israel Start-up Nation,” has one Israeli athlete on board, Omer Goldstein.

As usual, Israel’s Arabic propaganda account promoted the Israeli team’s participation as a first:

Canadian-Israeli real estate tycoon and “self-appointed ambassador-at-large for IsraelSylvan Adams was instrumental in lobbying for the Israeli team’s participation.

He bought the team in 2017.

Upon arrival in the Emirates, Adams did not hide his political motivations.

“It’s a historic occasion that an Israeli team will be racing in an Arab country. The first time ever,” Adams said in a video posted on the team’s Twitter account.

“We hope to make a diplomatic statement that Israel is a normal country, and normalize our image.”

Adams said normalized relations between Israelis and Arabs is to prepare “when the politicians get ready to sign our grand peace deal.”

Adams previously played a big role in bringing the 2018 Giro d’Italia cycling race to Jerusalem, which took place despite calls from Palestinian civil society to boycott the event.

Last May, he paid Madonna’s $1 million fee for the pop star to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, also widely protested.

Two Israeli ministers publicly visited the United Arab Emirates, as have Israeli sports teams in the past.

Businessmen from both countries have also encouraged collaboration.

Ahmed Bin Sulayem, CEO of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, a government organization that promotes trade, visited Israel earlier this month.

Bin Sulayem participated in Tel Aviv’s International Diamond Week 2020, where he was welcomed by Yoram Dvash, head of the Israel Diamond Exchange.

Ibrahim Ajami, head of ventures at Mubadala Investment Company, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund directed by the de facto ruler of the UAE, said the company welcomes Israeli investments.

“We need to welcome investors, Avi,” Ajami said at a panel discussion in Abu Dhabi while gesturing to Israeli businessman Avi Eyal.

“Even investors that are very active in Israel, and Israeli investors, that would ultimately come and see opportunity in the region. I don’t see why we should not do that,” Ajami added.

“What you’re seeing is about 10 percent”

The past two months have witnessed further warming of relations between Israel and Arab states.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s transitional government, met with Netanyahu in Uganda earlier this month.

However, this meeting represents more continuity than a radical break with the past.

It is only a more open manifestation of what was happening behind the scenes throughout the 20th century, as Columbia University professor Joseph Massad recently wrote.

“It was hardly the first such meeting between Sudanese officials and Israel,” Massad wrote.

“Secret overtures had taken place as early as the 1950s.”

Netanyahu is not trying to hide this reality, either.

This month, he suggested that most of Israel’s relations to Arab states are shielded from public view.

“What you’re seeing is about 10 percent,” he claimed.

Netanyahu has been pushing for private meetings and public displays with any willing Arab leader, especially ahead of the upcoming elections.

The newspaper Israel Hayom reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is trying to arrange for a meeting between Netanyahu and a senior Arab official at a possible summit in the Egyptian capital.

It could happen “as early as the coming weeks, even before the election in Israel, which aside from the host, Egypt, will be attended by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and also the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Bahrain and Oman,” the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed Arab diplomat.

The leading candidate for this “historic meeting” is none other than Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been orchestrating covert, and more recently overt, relations between certain Gulf states and Israel based on mutual enmity towards Iran.

Bahrain was also considered as a host. Its capital, Manama, hosted the conference to promote the US economic “peace” plan last June.

While the US, Israel – and likely Saudi Arabia – would love to pull off such a meeting, the timing may be inopportune. In the wake of overwhelming global and Palestinian rejection of Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century, the Saudis may not be ready to give Israel such a public prize.

Meanwhile, Israeli, Emirati and American officials convened at the White House on 17 December to discuss anti-Iran coordination, according to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid who cited unnamed Israeli and US officials.

The meeting took place some two weeks before US President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad.

Among those present were UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba, Israel’s National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat, US senior policy adviser Brian Hook and US national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien.

At the meeting, officials discussed the signing of “non-belligerence pacts” with Israel, a kind of interim on the way to full diplomacy.

Sources told Ravid that the meeting explained a tweet sent out four days later by UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, sharing an article on growing ties between Israel and certain Arab states.

Netanyahu noted bin Zayed’s tweet at the next day’s cabinet meeting.

“The UAE Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, spoke about a new alliance in the Middle East: An Israeli-Arab alliance,” he stated.

“This is the direct result of our policy, which has turned Israel into a rising power in the region and the world.”

Netanyahu’s efforts to strengthen diplomatic ties with neighboring Arab states achieved what Ravid called a “breakthrough” during a conference hosted by Pompeo in Warsaw in February 2019.

Gulf officials showcased their untamed hostility towards Iran and their affection for Israel during a closed-door meeting at the conference.

Hook has arranged several meetings between US, UAE and Israeli officials over the past year.

Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed Hook last month, in which he vowed that whoever succeeds Soleimani “will meet the same fate.”

Hook is the director of the Iran Action Group, a special unit established by Pompeo to spearhead the Trump administration’s “rising political and economic pressure” on Tehran.

The effort comes “under heavy influence from pro-Israel oligarchs like Sheldon Adelson and the think tanks he’s funded,” journalist Max Blumenthal writes in his latest book, The Management of Savagery.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.