The horrific acts of terrorism that emerged from Gaza on October 7 are without recent precedent. The atrocities are being described by Israelis as the worst since the Holocaust. Such acts of savagery call for reevaluating our existing alliances and relationships and reorienting our diplomacy.
The sad truth of the matter is that two formal U.S. allies, Turkey and Qatar, are, apart from Iran, the most important state sponsors of Hamas in the world. Neither hides the fact that they work directly with, provide shelter for, fund, and otherwise ensure Hamas's flourishing. The U.S. must force our "frenemies" to make a choice: Change direction on Hamas and its terrorist friends and associates, or face a seriously ruptured relationship with the U.S., including existing military, financial, intelligence, and other cooperative ventures.
Ismail Haniyeh, who is reported to have ordered the October 7 attack on Israel, lives a lavish life in a fancy hotel in Doha, Qatar, and is reportedly worth millions of dollars. The past week has not changed his station, and he remains a prominent spokesman for Hamas even as the conflict is ongoing. Just this past Saturday, Haniyeh gave a televised address in which he not only forbade Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip but even refused their displacement within Gaza, despite Israel's pending invasion of north Gaza.
Saying Haniyeh is causing his own civilians to be used as human shields is inaccurate. That implies he wants them to be used to stop or minimize an attack. Israel has clearly indicated it will not be cowed by such war crimes. It will not, and should not, stop Israel from dismantling Hamas. It is more accurate, thus, to say that Haniyeh intends to use his civilians as cannon fodder, to drive up the body count to win a propaganda war against Israel at all costs.
Haniyeh is not alone in Qatari backing. Several other senior Hamas leaders publicly reside in Qatar. Yet the Qataris have not even shut Hamas offices, and they refused to expel Haniyeh or other senior Hamas leaders.
Qatar also serves as possibly the biggest purveyor of pro-Hamas propaganda in the world. One need only to check the social-media accounts of Al Jazeera, Qatar's international media channel, to see the countless tweets and stories that might lead one to believe that Israel suddenly decided to bomb Gaza for no good reason. But that's just its recent sins. It is the favored channel of radical theologians and terrorist sympathizers such as the late Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi. In one Al Jazeera program, Qaradawi appeared with former Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashal, whom he thanked for his "support of martyrdom operations," as Qaradawi had provided religious justifications for suicide operations. Given that Al Jazeera was a wholly owned subsidiary of the emir of Qatar before the offloading of the shares to a shell company owned by a relative, Congress has long called for forcing Al Jazeera to register as a foreign agent. However, even as it was ordered to do so by the Trump administration, it simply defied the law, and so far, the Biden administration has not enforced it. This should stop.
But, as previously alluded to, serving as a refuge for terrorist leaders and serving as a propaganda arm is not the only thing that Qatar does to aid Hamas. Qatar openly supports Hamas with $30 million a month. The aid ostensibly goes to ordinary Gazans, not Hamas. But Didier Billion, the deputy director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, says the so-called aid really amounts to direct payments to Hamas. "These payments are justified to pay civil servants in Gaza, and we know perfectly well that the latter are members of Hamas. Doha's money is therefore the equivalent of direct support for this organization which has held the Palestinian enclave with an iron fist for many years." It is true that the Israelis had allowed this to happen because they believed in years past that it would "lessen the incentive of Hamas and the population to go again to a war," but this assumption has proved fatally flawed. Now the whole world can see that it's not true. Even a temporary cessation of Qatari funds this summer caused a crisis for Hamas. It is difficult to see how Hamas could continue to have control without Qatar financially bankrolling the organization.
While it is misleadingly claimed that Qatar has agreed to freeze $6 billion in funds for Iran on behalf of the U.S., National Review's Andy McCarthy persuasively argues that this is not really the case. Worse, Qatar remains defiant on the fate of senior Hamas officials, whom it has refused to expel. Qatar stands ready to help America make a mistake by capitulating to Islamist foes such as Iran or the Taliban, but it will take more work to get it to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, Qatar is not the only close ally of the U.S. that openly supports Hamas. Turkey, a NATO ally on paper, is in some ways an even bigger problem due to its historic relationship with the U.S.
Turkey's support of Hamas is perhaps not as spectacular, but it's no less important. In spite of leading a NATO ally that was the first Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused to condemn Hamas's catastrophic attack on Israel, insisting it was "our responsibility to stand with the oppressed."
This should not be surprising. Turkey does far more than simply "stand with" Hamas. Hamas's offices in Istanbul not only serve as a base of operations, but they also enable Hamas to spy on Israel, engage in cyberwarfare, and pass information to Iran. Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas's West Bank chief, has been granted Turkish passports and residency in spite of a $5 million bounty on his head. Ismail Haniyeh's son, Hazem Haniyeh, and his whole family also resided in Turkey until his demise in Gaza at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces earlier this week.
Turkey has intentionally made diplomatic trouble on Hamas's behalf, and sought to reinforce its rule in Gaza, for over a decade. Back in 2010, a Turkish charity linked to Turkish intelligence, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, was the force behind the "flotilla" incident whereby an ostensible charitable organization with long-standing ties to terrorism, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, tried to violate the international blockade on Gaza. This created an international incident, and similar events have happened repeatedly. Indeed, Turkey threatened a similar incident even after the attack. It has also recently been revealed that Turkey is housing important leaders of Iran's Hezbollah.
This is nothing but a sampling of Qatar's and Turkey's support for Hamas, and they are not isolated from each other. The Qatar–Turkey relationship is growing and often involves both non-state actors such as the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a part) and outright foe states such as Iran. Other former state sponsors of Hamas, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have ceased this kind of support on any scale, showing that support for Hamas by Middle Eastern countries is far from inevitable.
And while it is true that other countries such as Iran, Lebanon, and Syria support Hamas openly, none has the kind of close relationship with the U.S. that Turkey and Qatar do. This is uniquely problematic for the U.S. in terms of public perceptions and policy, but it also provides the U.S. with an opportunity. Appropriate leverage can be applied to change the situation. Some members of Congress are already calling for measures to do this.
The Biden administration, Congress, and other U.S. governmental actors need to apply pressure on Turkey and Qatar to change course on Hamas. They have the leverage to do it.
Qatar's "Major Non-NATO Ally" status is a new, and unfortunate, decision of the Biden administration that need not be permanent. I'm certain that other countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and even Greece or Israel, could serve much the same function as Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. And Qatar cannot operate as it is without access to U.S. financial markets.
Turkey has similar pressure points. While Turkey has tried to move closer to Russia to meet its military needs, leading to its getting kicked out of the F-35 program, it still relies on the U.S. for substantial military needs, demonstrated most clearly by Turkey's so-far unsuccessful attempt to gain modern F-16s and upgrade kits for its existing F-16s. This can be used for pressure, as can Turkey's significant financial downturn after Erdoğan's highly problematic reelection. It is also worth noting that the Turkish and Qatari airlines would be devastated without access to U.S. airspace, and both are state-owned.
Alliances between nations are based primarily on shared values and shared interests. Qatar has never shared our values, and Turkey increasingly does not either. But what is even worse is that they increasingly don't share our interests. Yet we are carrying on as if nothing has happened, and, of course, Turkey and Qatar are encouraging this.
Particularly considering recent events, this is unsustainable. U.S. diplomats, military officials, Congress, and the White House should reorient our policies accordingly and use U.S. leverage to cause our "frenemies" to change course.
Clifford Smith (@CliffSmithZBRDZ) is director of the Middle East Forum's Washington Project.