US congressmen, military figures criticise Qatar’s support for Iran, ties to terrorism

Qatar remains a pariah to many in the United States, including members of Congress, former military leaders and some Jewish groups.
Sunday 17/02/2019
One of the sessions of the “Qatar: Ally or Strategic Threat” conference in Washington. (Middle East Forum)
Raising questions. One of the sessions of the “Qatar: Ally or Strategic Threat” conference in Washington. (Middle East Forum)

WASHINGTON - Members of the US Congress and other American officials sharply denounced Qatar recently, citing Doha’s alignment with Iran and alleged support of terrorist groups.

At a conference focusing on Qatar’s relationship with the United States, lawmakers warned that US officials should consider scaling back the US presence in Qatar, where 11,000 US troops are based at the US military’s Middle East command centre.

“For those that continue to aid bad actors, a realignment of military support may be long overdue,” US Representative Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, said in reference to Qatar. “Its blind eye to terrorism funding in its own borders continues to undermine American security and calls into question the long-term partnership of the US-operated base within the country.”

Representative Warren Davidson, a Republican from Ohio and a former US Army officer, assailed Qatar for “allowing senior leaders of Hamas to operate in Doha” and for enabling funding of “terrorists and violent extremist groups, particularly regional al-Qaeda affiliates such as al-Nusra Front.”

The conference, organised by the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, took place four weeks after top US and Qatari officials met in Doha and agreed to cooperate on military and diplomatic issues. The US Defence Department signed an agreement with Qatar’s Ministry of Defence about US activities at the Al Udeid Airbase, site of the largest US military base in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, to discuss cooperation in the Middle East.

US relations with Qatar have fluctuated since June 2017 when Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries imposed an economic boycott on Qatar over its alleged support to extremism, its fomenting of regional unrest and allowing funds to flow to terrorist groups. US President Donald Trump initially denounced Qatar but seemed to back off his criticism and in April 2018 welcomed Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to the White House.

Qatar remains a pariah to many in the United States, including members of Congress, former military leaders and some Jewish groups.

Charles Wald, a retired US Air Force general who was deputy commander of US military operations in Europe, said at the forum that Qatar made a mistake in aligning with Iran.

“I think Qatar has to choose. They have to decide if they’re going to be aligned with traditionally GCC Western countries or if they want to align themselves with Iran,” Wald said referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council. “You can’t have it both ways because Iran does not allow both-way playing. That’s the problem. You’re dancing with the devil when you start working with Iran.”

Wald said he understood why the Qataris would be drawn to Iran, which is directly across the Arabian Gulf, “but if they either want to become isolated or aligned with Iran, that would be a big mistake.”

One of the sharpest rebukes came from Shmuel Boteach, a Jewish Orthodox rabbi and popular public speaker and author who received the “Preacher of the Year” Award from the Times of London in 1999.

In 2008, Boteach was named ninth on Newsweek’s list of the “Top 50 Rabbis in America.”

Boteach has publicly clashed with Qatar over its support of extremist activities of Hamas and assailed Doha for trying to whitewash its image.

“If Qatar wants a better image in the United States then buying up vast liquefied oil fields in Texas is not the way. Stopping to kill people, including innocent Palestinian people, that’s the way,” Boteach said.

Boteach criticised fellow American Jews such as lawyer and commentator Alan Dershowitz for accepting a Qatar-funded trip to meet the country’s leaders and then praising the country. “That whitewash will live in infamy in the annals of the American-Jewish community,” Boteach said.

Doha has invited many influential US Jewish figures to visit Qatar as part of a public relations drive. The invitations have proven controversial within the American Jewish community and the US public.

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