NIGHTWATCH: Qatar Enters Gaza – Arabs versus Iran?

04 Inter-State Conflict

Qatar-Gaza: The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, on Tuesday became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas won control of it through elections in June 2007. He crossed into Gaza from Egypt.

The Emir pledged $400 million to build two housing complexes, rehabilitate three main roads and create a prosthetic center, among other projects. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the visit by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has helped lift the Israeli blockade.

Comment: One commentary accurately judged that this is the latest step in an ambitious campaign by Sheikh al-Thani to assert a larger leadership role in Arab affairs, challenging Saudi Arabia. This explains Qatar’s prominent role in financing arms and other aid to Syrian opposition fighting groups and its role last year in sending fighter aircraft and hundreds of ground troops to support the Libyan opposition against Qadhafi.

The house of al-Thani has a much more progressive and tolerant vision for the future of the Arab states than does the house of al-Saud. Al Thani also is more willing to honor his promises of aid than are the Saudis.

In going to Gaza, al-Thani has stolen a leadership march on the Saudis, but also has worked in support of the larger Saudi policy of divesting Iran of all its Arab allies. Hamas is an Iranian proxy, but Qatari aid and the Emir’s visit might help entice Hamas back into the Sunni Arab fold. The big problem is that most Arab promises of aid are never fulfilled. This time could be different

The terms of the Qatari aid have not been made public. Qatar has not been overtly hostile to Israel, but unconditional aid might strengthen Hamas’ dedication to the destruction of Israel, even at the expense of the welfare of the Palestinians in Gaza.

The poor showing of Fatah in Palestinian municipal elections last week, despite a Hamas election boycott, might have been the catalyst for the Arab monarchies to intervene directly in Palestinian affairs. The implication of the local elections is that Hamas might win a national election in the West Bank as well as Gaza. That would potentially place pro-Iranian and hostile Arab political entities on three Israeli borders, not counting Egypt.

The Saudis and al-Thanis recognize the threat and appear to be trying to avoid or at least influence that development by giving Hamas an Arab alternative to the Persians.

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