Shady US Ally? A Few Things to Know about Qatar
WASHINGTON -- Eleven billion dollars in advanced American weaponry: Apache helicopters, patriot missile batteries, anti-tank missiles -- all for a tiny Muslim nation in the Persian Gulf that you can barely find on a map.
Qatar may not be a household name for most Americans -- but as this summer's huge arms deal shows, the Qataris are among the Obama administration's closest allies in the Middle East.
Yet Qatar has come under heavy criticism from neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- they and Egypt have cut relations with the tiny kingdom because it supports the Muslim Brotherhood.
One Israeli official even called Qatar "the world's largest funder of terror," thanks to its close alliance with Hamas.
"Qatar supports Hamas in three ways," Lori Plotkin-Boghardt, a fellow at the Washington Institute, explained. "One is financially, Qatar provides Hamas with hundreds of millions of dollars."
"Number two is politically," she continued. "The ruler of Qatar was the first one from an Arab state to visit Hamas-ruled Gaza in 2012."
"And the third way it supports Hamas, we can say, is physically -- Qatar is host and home to Hamas's political leadership," she said.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Qatar's emir called on world governments to shun Israeli officials, accusing the Jewish state of "war crimes" during its recent operation against Hamas in Gaza.
"Qatar has pledged, over the last decade or so, over a half a billion dollars to Hamas governments, to Hamas infrastructure projects, and Hamas loyalists in the Gaza Strip," David Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said.
Weinberg told CBN News that American officials have noticed Qatar's cozy relationship with Hamas.
"We've seen some public statements recently from Mike Rogers, the Intel Committee chairman in the House, as well as from the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Ed Royce -- both raising concerns about Qatar's record in this regard," Weinberg said.
Some Explaining to Do
In July, Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., sent a letter to Obama administration officials urging them to end their close alliance with Qatar.
"It's an indisputable fact that Qatar has become the chief sponsor of Hamas -- an internationally recognized terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel," Roskam wrote. "The Obama administration must explain its working partnership with a country that so brazenly funds terrorism right before our eyes."
During Israel's recent war with Hamas, Secretary of State John Kerry drew heavy criticism for promoting Qatar as an honest broker that could help negotiate a ceasefire between the two sides -- despite Qatar's open support for Hamas.
"Here was Qatar's chance to shine on the international stage while the world was watching these negotiations," Plotkin-Boghardt told CBN News. "And Qatar showed itself as Hamas's supporter rather than an effective mediator."
The Obama administration had used Qatar as a mediator before -- most recently to secure the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban earlier this year.
The Taliban even has an office in the Qatari capital of Doha.
So does Al Jazeera. The controversial network, which has been accused of being anti-American and a mouthpiece for radical Islamists, is based in Qatar.
"The relationship is extraordinarily close," Weinberg said. "For many years the Qatari government was subsidizing Al Jazeera."
The most explosive charge against Qatar is that it has helped fund jihadists in Syria, including ISIS and the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra front -- two groups targeted by U.S. airstrikes.
The Qatari government strongly denies it.
But a top Treasury Department official said last March that wealthy private donors who live in Qatar have sent funds to the jihadists.
The official called Qatar a "permissive" environment for terrorist fundraising.
But with the Qataris on board in the fight against ISIS and Qatar hosting a major U.S. air base, don't expect a change in relations anytime soon.
"This strategic relationship seems to trump almost everything else that is difficult in the relationship," Plotkin-Boghardt said.