Archive for the ‘Trump and Qatar’ category

Qatar’s Comeuppance

June 15, 2017

Qatar’s Comeuppance, Gatestone InstituteRuthie Blum, June 15, 2017

Ironically, pressure from this new anti-Iran Muslim bloc in the Middle East has done more to call the world’s attention to Qatar’s key role in the spread of Islamist terrorism than years of cajoling on the part of previous administrations in Washington to get Doha to live up to its signed commitments.

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Putting Doha on the Well-Deserved Defensive

Qatar’s extensive ties to terrorism and abetting of financiers to bolster it are well-documented.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain issued a statement designating 59 individuals and 12 organizations as having terror ties to Qatar. According to the statement, Doha “announces fighting terrorism on one hand and finances and supports and hosts different terrorist organizations on the other hand,” and harbors “terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to destabilize the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh [ISIS] and Al Qaeda.”

Ironically, pressure from this new anti-Iran Muslim bloc in the Middle East has done more to call the world’s attention to Qatar’s key role in the spread of Islamist terrorism than years of cajoling on the part of previous administrations in Washington to get Doha to live up to its signed commitments.

A mere two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first major foreign policy speech in Riyadh to delegates from dozens Muslim/Arab countries, Bahrain announced on June 5 that it was halting all flights to Qatar for being a sponsor of radical Islamist terrorists. Immediately, Saudi Arabia joined the boycott, as did the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Yemen, all of which also shut off access to Al Jazeera, the anti-American, anti-Semitic Qatari television network established in 1996 and operating since then to foment unrest across the Middle East and bolster the terrorist organization the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, Hamas.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and other officials in Doha fiercely denied the charge that their government has been backing terrorism, blaming a “fake news” report on the website of the state-controlled Qatar News Agency for the eruption of the Gulf crisis.

The report, which the FBI and other U.S. security agencies believe was the result of a Russian hacking attack, quoted Al Thani calling Iran an “Islamic power,” referring to Hamas as “the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and saying Qatar’s relations with Israel were “good.”

Although the report did turn out to be a hoax, Qatar’s extensive ties to terrorism and abetting of financiers to bolster it are well-documented. A Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) study, titled “Qatar and Terror Finance: Private Funders of al-Qaeda in Syria,” shows that while Doha has pretended for more than a decade to be partnering with the United States to defeat Al Qaeda, the monarchy, in fact, has taken no action whatsoever against the Qatari financiers of the terrorist organization’s Syrian branch, the Nusra Front, which continues to plot attacks against the West. One of the reasons that this group eluded U.S. strikes operating in Syria was that it, like America, has been fighting ISIS. Another was that it changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS or the Front for the Conquest of Syria), in an effort to distance itself from Al Qaeda. This effort was led by Qatar.

According to the FDD study, the second of a three-part document written by David Andrew Weinberg:

“…[I]ntelligence officials from Qatar and other Gulf states met several times with Nusra’s leader [in 2015] to suggest that his group could receive money, arms, and supplies after stepping away from al-Qaeda.”

While the first part of the study, released in 2014, revealed “Doha’s dismal record” during the reign of Emir Hamad Al Thani (the current monarch’s father), this one

“evaluates the publicly available evidence on Qatar’s record since then, focusing primarily on individuals sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2014 and 2015. All of these sanctions were imposed after Qatar agreed in September 2014, as part of a U.S.-led initiative called the Jeddah Communiqué, to bring terror financiers to justice.”

Weinberg concluded that Qatar has done little or nothing to comply. On the contrary, he wrote, “The funders of certain terrorist groups still enjoy legal impunity there. Nusra/JFS appears to be foremost among them.”

It is just as unlikely that a single news item was responsible for the banding together of several Arab states to impose a blockade on Qatar as it is implausible that these states, particularly Saudi Arabia — which itself has backed and spread radical Islamist ideology — are holding Qatar accountable for its ties to global jihad. Equally simplistic is the view, expressed by Trump on Twitter, that the embargo indicated the seriousness with which the above states took his call to “drive out the terrorists and extremists” from their midst.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!” Trump tweeted on June 7.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

This prompted pundits on both sides of the political spectrum to question whether Trump was simply being reckless in his response, or actually announcing a shift in decades of U.S. policy regarding Qatar, home of the Al Udeid Air Base southwest of Doha. Al Udeid is not only America’s largest military base in the Middle East — with some 10,000 troops, but since 2003, it has served as forward headquarters for CENTCOM (the U.S. Central Command), and has been crucial in America’s operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The following day, Trump was accused of backtracking, when he phoned Al Thani and offered to “help the parties resolve their differences, including through a meeting at the White House if necessary.”

Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick pointed out that this was not a case of Trump reversing his position, but rather of proposing the most reasonable course of action available:

“With the Pentagon dependent on the Qatari base, and with no clear path for unseating the emir through war or coup without risking a much larger and more dangerous conflict, the only clear option is a negotiated resolution.

“Under the circumstances, the best option for the US to openly work towards is to diminish Qatar’s regional profile and financial support for Iran and its terrorist allies and proxies.”

Nevertheless, mixed messages appeared to be emerging from the Trump administration. On June 9, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the blockade was hindering U.S. operations against ISIS. On the same day, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis asserted that the isolation of Qatar so far has had no negative impact on U.S. operations in and out of Al Udeid. “All of our supplies are getting in just fine,” he told reporters. “The Defense Logistics Agency is certainly always looking at contingency plans if they’re needed, but for right now they’re OK.”

On the day that these conflicting claims began to circulate, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain issued a statement designating 59 individuals and 12 organizations as having terror ties to Qatar. According to the statement, Doha “announces fighting terrorism on one hand and finances and supports and hosts different terrorist organizations on the other hand,” and harbors “terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to destabilize the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh [ISIS] and Al Qaeda.”

Bygone days of unity. The leaders of the Gulf states pose with British PM Theresa May at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, on December 7, 2016 in Manama, Bahrain. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

On June 7 — the day of Trump’s phone call and two days before the release of the Saudi statement — Qatar hired of the law firm of John Ashcroft, former attorney general under President George W. Bush, to help counter terror accusations. This clearly was a calculated move, as Ashcroft had been instrumental in pushing through the post-9/11 “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001,” more commonly known as the Patriot Act.

According to the “Scope of Engagement” of the Ashcroft retainer, its “broad purpose,” for a “flat fee” of $250,000, is to:

“provid[e] the Client with comprehensive strategic advice, legal counsel, support, and representation related to confirming, educating, assessing and reporting the Client’s efforts to combat global terrorism and its support of and compliance with international financial regulations, including compliance with United States Treasury rules and regulations.

“The firm understands the urgency of this matter and need to communicate accurate information to both a broad constituency and certain domestic agencies and leaders…will advance, advocate, represent, and protect the Client’s interests as necessary, including but not limited to the development of comprehensive legal and government affairs strategy, coordination as necessary and in the interest of the Client, assessment of the pending news and certain nations’ claims that adversely impact the Client’s reputation and pose serious risk and consequences.”

Hiring Ashcroft is not the only indication that Qatar is running scared. Another is its leaders’ simultaneous attempt to assuage fears among its populace – reported to have begun “panic-shopping” at supermarkets — and threaten fellow Gulf Cooperation Council countries that they will suffer severe financial consequences as a result of their boycott.

“If we’re going to lose a dollar, they will lose a dollar also,” warned Qatari Finance minister Ali Shareef Al Emadi. Emadi added, “Our reserves and investment funds are more than 250 percent of gross domestic product, so I don’t think there is any reason that people need to be concerned about what’s happening or any speculation on the Qatari riyal.”

In spite of Emadi’s posturing and Doha’s assertion that it is not in cahoots with Iran, Tehran announced that it has begun sending hundreds of tons of food products to Qatar. Oman, too, is transferring goods to Doha. Turkey went a step further, authorizing the dispatch of 3,000-5,000 troops to its military base in Qatar, to assist Al Thani’s regime, should it be jeopardized by the Saudi-led initiative and internal power struggles.

This unfolding of events is creating what Middle East expert Jonathan Speyer called a “clear drawing” of the “lines of confrontation between the two central power blocs in the region…”

As Speyer wrote on June 10:

“The shunting aside of little Qatar… is ultimately only a detail in the larger picture. What is more significant is the re-emergence of an overt alliance of Sunni Arab states under US leadership, following the development of military capabilities in relevant areas, and with the stated intention of challenging the Iranian regional advance and Sunni political Islam.”

Ironically, pressure from this new anti-Iran Muslim bloc in the Middle East has done more to call the world’s attention to Qatar’s key role in the spread of Islamist terrorism than years of cajoling on the part of previous administrations in Washington to get Doha to live up to its signed commitments.

Ruthie Blum is a journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama and the ‘Arab Spring.'”

White House: Middle East Crisis Sparked By Trump’s Demand to End Support for Extremists Groups

June 13, 2017

White House: Middle East Crisis Sparked By Trump’s Demand to End Support for Extremists Groups, Washington Free Beacon, , June 13, 2017

(Please see also, Military crisis in Qatar may spark Gaza outbreak — DM)

US President Donald Trump (R) and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A percolating crisis in the Middle East over a top U.S. military ally’s support for extremist terror groups was ignited by President Donald Trump’s demand that U.S. allies in the Arab world end their support for Islamic extremism, according to senior U.S. officials familiar with the situation.

Trump is seeking a more active role in mediating a growing dispute between leading Arab nations and Qatar, a U.S. counterterrorism ally that has long provided financial support to the very terror groups it has vowed to fight.

Trump’s recent trip to the Middle East—where he publicly and privately urged top Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia to crackdown on Islamic extremism—is said to have sparked a regional dispute with Qatar, thrusting the country’s issues with terrorism financing into the spotlight, sources told the Washington Free Beacon.

U.S. officials, both inside and outside the White House, have long avoided the thorny issue of Qatar’s support for terrorism in an effort to preserve military relations with the country, which hosts a major U.S. air base that is a central front in the war against terror.

Trump’s focus on Qatar is said to be part of a larger regional strategy that focuses on strangling financial support for terror organizations that long benefited from Arab governments turning a blind eye to the issue.

Trump’s push to crackdown on this type of behavior—not just in Qatar—is said to have fueled the diplomatic break with Qatar earlier this month, which saw several leading Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia ceasing all diplomatic ties with the energy-rich nation.

U.S. officials and administration insiders who spoke with the Free Beacon about the situation said that Trump is seeking to play an active role in helping to mediate the crisis and shutdown Qatar’s financing of terror groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.

“Look, last month President Trump visited Riyadh and gave a historic speech challenging America’s Arab friends and partners to do more to combat the violent radicalization that is growing within Islam,” one senior administration official told the Free Beacon.

“And the fact of the matter is that even though Qatar has been an important partner in some areas, they’ve also been a significant source of terrorist financing,” said the official, who would only speak on background when discussing the sensitive diplomatic issue. “What you’re seeing now is a regional response to the president’s challenge, and Qatar is going to have to respond as well.”

Trump’s stance against Islamic extremism and willingness to call out state backers of the movement has forced U.S. officials, particularly those in the Department of Defense, to address an issue that has been downplayed in pursuit of preserving diplomatic relations with Qatar and other Arab nations, sources said.

The hope is this will result in concrete change, which has been elusive in recent years as nations such as Qatar play both sides of the terror issue.

“American policy in the Gulf has been a bipartisan failure for over a decade. For different reasons, both parties found reasons to ignore terror financing coming out of the Gulf,” said one veteran foreign policy official who has been briefed by White House officials on Trump’s Gulf region strategy.

“Even when Obama officials did talk about terror financing, they used it as an excuse to pressure the Saudis and others to cut off legitimate anti-Assad forces,” the source said. “President Trump has been clear to our allies and adversaries that the incoherence has to end. He called on the Arab world to clean house, and what you’re seeing is the beginning of that.”

Trump discussed the issue in Monday remarks at a White House cabinet meeting, where he emphasized that terror-financing issues have became a central focus for the United States.

“One of the big things we did, and your seeing it now with Qatar and all of the things that are actually going on in a very positive fashion, we are stopping the funding of terrorism,” Trump said. “They’re going to stop the funding of terrorism. And it’s not an easy fight, but it’s a fight we’re going to win. You have to starve the beast, and we’re going to starve the beast.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has walked a more diplomatic line of the issue, in a move sources characterized as a “good-cop-bad-cop” ploy.

State Department officials would not comment on Trump’s latest remarks about Qatar, referring a reporter to Tillerson’s public remarks last week.

“Qatar has a history of supporting groups that have spanned the spectrum of political expression, from activism to violence,” Tillerson said. “The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly.”

Qatar, Trump and Double Games

June 9, 2017

Qatar, Trump and Double Games, Front Page MagazineCaroline Glick, June 9, 2017

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

Ahead of the 2016 US elections, WikiLeaks published documents which disclosed that the emir of Qatar presented Bill Clinton with a $1 million check for the Clinton Foundation as a gift for his 65th birthday. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, Qatar reportedly contributed some $6m. to the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton, for her part, was deeply supportive of the regime and of Al Jazeera. For instance, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2011, Clinton praised Al Jazeera for its leading role in fomenting and expanding the protests in Egypt that brought down Mubarak.

Clinton wasn’t the only one that Qatar singled out for generosity. Since the 1990s, Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in US universities. Six major US universities have campuses in Doha.

Then there is the Brookings Institution. The premier US think tank had a revolving door relationship with the Obama and Clinton administrations.

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US President Donald Trump has been attacked by his ubiquitous critics for his apparent about-face on the crisis surrounding Qatar.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Trump sided firmly with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the other Sunni states that cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and instituted an air and land blockade of the sheikhdom on Monday.

On Wednesday, Trump said that he hopes to mediate the dispute, more or less parroting the lines adopted by the State Department and the Pentagon which his Twitter posts disputed the day before.

To understand the apparent turnaround and why it is both understandable and probably not an about-face, it is important to understand the forces at play and the stakes involved in the Sunni Arab world’s showdown with Doha.

Arguably, Qatar’s role in undermining the stability of the Islamic world has been second only to Iran’s.

Beginning in the 1995, after the Pars gas field was discovered and quickly rendered Qatar the wealthiest state in the world, the Qatari regime set about undermining the Sunni regimes of the Arab world by among other things, waging a propaganda war against them and against their US ally and by massively funding terrorism.

The Qatari regime established Al Jazeera in 1996.

Despite its frequent denials, the regime has kept tight control on Al Jazeera’s messaging. That messaging has been unchanging since the network’s founding. The pan-Arab satellite station which reaches hundreds of millions of households in the region and worldwide, opposes the US’s allies in the Sunni Arab world. It supports the Muslim Brotherhood and every terrorist group spawned by it. It supports Iran and Hezbollah.

Al Jazeera is viciously anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.

It serves as a propaganda arm not only of al-Qaida and Hezbollah but of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and any other group that attacks the US, Israel, Europe and other Western targets.

Al Jazeera’s reporters have accompanied Hamas and Taliban forces in their wars against Israel and the US. After Israel released Hezbollah arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar from prison in exchange for the bodies of two IDF reservists, Al Jazeera’s Beirut bureau hosted an on-air party in his honor.

Al Jazeera was at the forefront of the propaganda campaign inciting against then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2012. Its operations were widely credited with inciting their overthrow and installing in their places regimes controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist groups.

As for the regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a State Department cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats referred to Qatar as the largest funder of terrorism in the world.

According to the Financial Times, the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Saudis and their allies was their discovery that in April, Qatar paid Iran, its Iraqi militias and al-Qaida forces in Syria up to a billion dollars to free members of the royal family held captive in southern Iraq and 50 terrorists held captive in Syria.

Given Qatar’s destabilizing and pernicious role in the region and worldwide in everything related to terrorism funding and incitement, Trump’s statement on Tuesday in support of the Sunnis against Qatar was entirely reasonable. What can the US do other than stand by its allies as they seek to coerce Qatar to end its destabilizing and dangerous practices? The case for supporting the Saudis, Egyptians, the UAE and the others against Qatar becomes all the more overwhelming given their demands.

The Sunnis are demanding that Qatar ditch its strategic alliance with Iran. They demand that Qatar end its financial support for terrorist groups and they demand that Qatar expel terrorists from its territory.

If Qatar is forced to abide by these demands, its abandonment of Iran in particular will constitute the single largest blow the regime in Tehran has absorbed in recent memory. Among other things, Qatar serves as Iran’s banker and diplomatic proxy.

If the story began and ended here, then Trump’s anti-Qatari stance would have been the obvious and only move. Beyond being the right thing to do, if Qatar’s regime is overthrown or emasculated, the development would mark the most significant achievement to date against the Iranian axis of jihad.

Unfortunately, the situation is not at all simple.

First there is the problem of Doha’s relations with key Americans and American institutions.

Ahead of the 2016 US elections, WikiLeaks published documents which disclosed that the emir of Qatar presented Bill Clinton with a $1 million check for the Clinton Foundation as a gift for his 65th birthday. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, Qatar reportedly contributed some $6m. to the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton, for her part, was deeply supportive of the regime and of Al Jazeera. For instance, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2011, Clinton praised Al Jazeera for its leading role in fomenting and expanding the protests in Egypt that brought down Mubarak.

Clinton wasn’t the only one that Qatar singled out for generosity. Since the 1990s, Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in US universities. Six major US universities have campuses in Doha.

Then there is the Brookings Institution. The premier US think tank had a revolving door relationship with the Obama and Clinton administrations.

In 2014, The New York Times reported that Brookings, which opened a branch in Doha in 2002, had received millions of dollars in contributions from Qatar. In 2013 alone, the Qatari regime contributed $14.8 million to Brookings.

Not surprisingly, Brookings’ scholars supported the overthrow of Mubarak, and supported the Muslim Brotherhood regime during its year in power. Brookings scholars urged the Obama administration to cut off military assistance to Egypt after the military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Brookings scholars have similarly written sympathetically of Qatar and its ally Turkey. As the Investigative Project on Terrorism revealed in a four-part series on Brookings’ relations with Qatar in 2014, Brookings’ scholars ignored human rights abuses by Qatar and praised Turkey’s Erdogan regime as behaving like the US in enabling religion to have a role in public life.

It is likely that given then-president Barack Obama’s strategic goal of reorienting US Middle East policy away from its traditional Sunni allies and Israel toward Iran and its allies in Qatar and Turkey, that Brookings, Clinton and other beneficiaries of Qatar’s generosity were simply knocking on an open door. Indeed, in 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, the Obama administration’s alliance with Qatar, Turkey and Iran against Sunnis and Israel came out of the shadows.

During the Hamas war with Israel, Obama sought to dislodge Egypt from its traditional role as mediator between Israel and Hamas and replace it with Qatar and Turkey. For their part, both regimes, which fund and support Hamas, accepted all of Hamas’s cease-fire demands against Israel and Egypt. As their partner, the Obama administration also supported Hamas’s demands.

Had Egypt and Israel bowed to those demands, Hamas would have achieved a strategic victory in its war against Israel and Egypt. To avoid buckling to US pressure, Egypt built a coalition with the same states that are now leading the charge against Qatar – Saudi Arabia and the UAE – and openly supported Israel.

In the end, the standoff between the two sides caused the war to end in a draw. Hamas was not dismantled, but it failed to secure Israeli or Egyptian acceptance of any of its demands for open borders and access to the international banking system.

Given that Trump is not aligned with Brookings, the Clinton Foundation or US academia, it could be argued that he is not beholden to Qatari money in any way.

But unfortunately, they are not the only beneficiaries of Qatari largesse.

There is also the Pentagon.

In the 1990s, Qatar spent more than $1b. constructing the Al Udeid Air Base outside of Doha.

It is the most sophisticated air force base in the region. In 2003, the base replaced Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan Air Base as headquarters for the US military’s Central Command. Since 2003, all US operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are controlled from the base.

Following Trump’s Twitter postings, the Pentagon was quick to say that operations at Al Udeid base had not been influenced by the crisis between Qatar and its neighbors. The Pentagon spokesman refused to say whether or not Qatar sponsors terrorism.

Instead, Capt. Chris Davis stated, “I consider them a host to our very important base at Al Udeid.” He commended Qatar for hosting US forces and for its “enduring commitment to regional security.”

Also on Tuesday, according to the Egyptian media, Iran deployed Revolutionary Guard Corps forces to Doha to protect the emir and his palace.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s parliament voted to empower Erdogan to deploy forces to Qatar to protect the regime.

The moves by Qatar’s allies Iran and Turkey significantly raise the stakes in the contest of wills now at play between Qatar and its Sunni neighbors and adversaries.

With Iranian forces guarding the palace and the emir, the possibility of a bloodless coup inside the Al Thani family has been significantly diminished.

Any move against the emir will raise the prospect of an open war with Iran.

So, too, if Egypt and Saudi Arabia invade or otherwise attack Qatar, with or without US support, the US risks seeing its Arab allies at war with its NATO ally Turkey.

Under the circumstances, Trump’s refusal to endorse Article 5 of the NATO treaty during his speech in Brussels appears wise and well-considered.

Article 5 states that an attack against one NATO ally represents an attack against all NATO allies.

With the Pentagon dependent on the Qatari base, and with no clear path for unseating the emir through war or coup without risking a much larger and more dangerous conflict, the only clear option is a negotiated resolution.

Under the circumstances, the best the US can probably work toward openly is a diminishment of Qatar’s regional profile and financial support for Iran and its terrorist allies and proxies. Hence, Trump’s announcement on Wednesday that he will mediate the conflict.

However, in the medium and long term, Trump’s statement on Twitter made clear his ultimate goal.