Qatar’s behind the scenes role in the Israel Hamas war – #podcast



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The war between Israel and Hamas is now in its sixth [Applause] week international calls for a ceasefire are getting louder on Monday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he’s open to quote tactical fighting pauses but not to a ceasefire well there’ll be no uh ceasefire General ceasefire in Gaza with without the

Release of our hostages as far as tactical little Israel is currently focused on Gaza City’s alifa Hospital which it says sits on top of an underground Hamas headquarters Hamas denies this inside the hospital the situation is dire Hamas says 650 patients are trapped on the grounds along with 5 to 7,000

Other civilians 40 patients have died including three premature babies the hospital in Gaza Hospital in Gaza have you expressed any specific concerns to Israel on that sir on Monday US President Joe Biden was asked about the situation we’re in contact and we with with the Israelis also there is an

Effort to uh uh take this pause to deal with release of prisoners and that’s being negotiated as well with the cutteries are engaged and uh so I remain somewhat hopeful but the hospital it might be hard to hear but In that clip Biden mentions Qatar which is part of

Ongoing behind the scenes negotiations between Hamas and Israel the tiny Gulf nation is playing an outsized role in this war So today we’re speaking with Christian coats Olen he’s the fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston Texas his research focuses is on

Persian Gulf States and their changing position in the global order he’s also the author of multiple books including Qatar and the gulf crisis Christian will explain qatar’s powerful role in the Israel Hamas war and whether they can help negotiate a resolution I’m Mana caraman Wilms and

This is the deciel from the Globe and Mail Christian thank you so much for being here today yeah thanks for having me so Qatar is a small country in size right it’s it’s not much bigger than Pei uh it’s situated between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East uh and that’s a ways away from the Israel Hamas

War uh and yet katar is playing a really big role in the war so Christian can you describe their position yes Qatar is not a fine state it never has been it’s never been in a state of war with Israel it’s not part of the current conf conflict between

Israel and Hamas in Gaza however the qataris have long played a mediating role in Regional disputes and conflicts across the Middle East they have relationships with State and non-state parties that they try to leverage to serve as an intermed between parties that cannot or will not engage directly

And in the current context this involves a pragmatic working relationship with Israel where Qatar has been providing humanitarian and Financial support to Gaza since 2018 and also a functional relationship with the political leadership of Hamas who have been based in Doha since 2012 so we see Qatar

Involved in the mediation to at least try and secure the release of hostages precisely because they have uh those relationships on both sides which uh means they can try to act as the the man in the middle to to try to at least exchange messages serve as a back

Channel for communication and dialogue and especially in this case to nego secure negotiation of Hostage release so how exactly are these negotiations working are are they in like a room talking to each other or or how how are these actually happening well they’re very very very discreet and so they

Haven’t been made public in terms of the actual manner in which they take place but uh the Bill Bones the head of the CIA and the head of mad were in in Qatar last week for example and so I imagine what is probably happening is that the

US and Israeli side a meeting with the qataris and then the qataris will have a separate meeting most likely in a completely separate location with Hamas officials in in Doha and exchange messages pass Communications over from one side to the other and then finding trying to find where the potential

Points of overlap are either areas of compromise and do we know what issues are on the table here I mean the hostage situation is obviously the most pressing and Urgent and that is the one that the teres have been engaged on since pretty much day one I suspect that a lot of

Negotiation is taking place around the conditions under which uh there might be a a release and so that involve humanitarian Poes however how long under what conditions what would Hamas be expected to deliver in response how many hostages you know is it just a way of

Shinging this out for as long as they can or is there a way of linking the hostage reliefs to try to diffuse the wider conflict the other issue I think is probably how many hostages are still alive after a month of bombardment of Gaza and I think part of the issue there

Is H Hamas needs to provide a full accounting of who they’re holding and what condition they are and so these might be all issues that are on the table in these meetings so this is interesting let’s actually continue talking about that the qatar’s role as as mediator and and qatar’s relationship

With these different different sides here so you talked a little bit about their relationship with Hamas that that there’s leadership based in the capital DOA why why is hamas’s political leadership based in qatar’s capital right instead of somewhere in Gaza or somewhere else why why why there the

Political wing of Hamas was initially based in Jordan in the 1990s in 1999 they were expelled from Jordan they ended up in Syria and in 2012 partly because Hamas did not unconditionally back the Assad regime as Assad tried to crush the uprising in Syria they they relocated again and US officials at the

Time in 2012 felt that it was better to have Hamas in a state like Qatar which is a US partner where they could be reached if necessary indirectly to to deescalate in the same way that around the same time the US encouraged the qataris to host a Taliban negotiation

Team as well so again it was felt it would be better to have Hamas in Qatar than say in Iran where they wouldn’t be able to reach them so in 204 there was a previous round of fighting in Gaza and that Qatar played a key role in trying

To bring that to an end so us officials trust the qataris Hamas political figures trust the qataris and so they’re able to leverage those relationships to at least position themselves as a relatively in independent in sort third party that they can try to work through

And I think so far what we’ve seen since October the 7th is that within probably within the first day we saw both the US and Israel looking to the qataris to to try and figure out what has happened and how they could begin to uh at least have bad shs going

Forward and I just want to I guess clarify one one part here Christian when we’re talking about Hamas we were speaking about the political Wing that is in Qatar in Doha right but there’s also the the militant Wing but these are are are somewhat separate then yes I

Mean there’s a lot of reporting which suggests that the political wing of Hamas in Doha was not necessarily aware of what was being planned in Gaza and that you you may have had a much more Hardline faction in Gaza which obviously led the the planning of this uh this

Attack on Israel the Massac of more than a thousand people in the same way for example that we saw after 2021 in Afghanistan the the Taliban figure who were in Doha were not SE to be the ones who actually were able to wield power back in in Afghanistan once the Taliban

Took power they were they were outmaneuvered by much more hard-lined factions who had been at home the entire time that’s some interesting context for this as well let’s expand this now what about qatar’s relationship with with Israel how is it that Israel is trusting Qatar to be a mediator here when hamas’s

Political leaders are actually based in qar in in the capital yes so Israel has normalized relations with several Arab states obviously Egypt in 1979 Jordan 1994 and then the Abraham records in 2020 with uh the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain Qatar hasn’t normalized with Israel there’s no formal diplomatic or political

Relationship but since the 1990s there have been kind of informal working pragmatic relationships on specific issues as and when they need to work together Israel actually opened a trade office in Doha in the 1990s it closed in the 2000s after the Palestinian inter and since 2018 the CES have been

Providing humanitarian and financial support to Gaza coordinated every step of the way with the Israeli authorities and the Israelis have on numerous occasions actually uh requested the Cates continue the uh the support partly I think because it was a way of trying to at least prevent the complete

Humanitarian collapse in in in Gaza can can you help me understand this Christian why would Israel want to go through Qatar to send Aid to to Gaza why not just do it directly why go through this third party well I think the Israeli point of view was that they had

Withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 and since 2007 with Hamas in control they didn’t necessarily want to provide that support themselves but there was a recognition that some basic levels of humanitarian and financial support had to be given to prevent a complete implosion and So eventually in 2018 decision was made I

Think that Qatar was the the right interlocutor for that in part because I suspect the relationship of trust had been established and of course Qatar had proven itself in previous rounds of Hamas Israel tension as an effective intermediary that could actually deliver and so I think that was probably the

Genesis of the expansion of that Aid in 2018 into a more formalized institutional arrangement okay I do want to ask you about the US now because we know the United States is very much involved in the geopolitics of this war um so what about kar’s relationship with

The US uh what is the state of that and how does that relationship fit into what’s going on now with negotiations well Qatar has a very close relationship with the US they host alud Airbase which is the Ford Headquarters of senom the US Central Command it’s

Been in based in Doha or just outside Doha since 2003 this is a US military base in K the biggest US military base in the Middle East so that relationship is very strong there a very strong energy component to the relationship in 2022 Qatar was awarded major non-nato

Ally status by the Biden Administration and that came right after the kataris were extremely supportive to the US during the withdrawal from Afghanistan it was very chaotic if you remember and the the qaris were able to again leverage the relationships they had built with with Taliban officials to get

Thousands of people out so we saw a very close relationship emerge and the kataris proved in the Taliban example they could deliver and so I suspect that’s why we’re seeing so much trust being placed the katar is now so yeah so Qatar is is an ally of the US and then

Has also you know had past success in this manner so in this way it sounds like the US is kind of speaking through Qatar in order to associate with Hamas in this current situation and also I think with Iran too again the US and Iran don’t have a diplomatic

Relationship haven’t had one since 1979 and so if you’re the us and you don’t deal with certain parties or countries it’s very useful to be able to talk to someone who does we’ll be back in a minute okay so Christian we’ve established that Qatar is functioning as a mediator because of its relationship

With Hamas and with the US and Israel um but help me understand why does Qatar want to be a mediator in the first place yeah they want to be a mediator because they’re a very small state in a volatile part of the world where we’ve seen multiple Interstate conflicts and Wars

Since the 1980s the Iran Iraq war from 880 to 88 the Gulf War 1991 US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and it has been felt that a small state can to use the phrase punch above its weight by offering services that overcome the constraints of being small

And one of those Services is by being able to talk to all parties and to have those relationships that for whatever reason parties in conflict with each other don’t have and so I think from a Qatari point of view I mean they share ownership with Iran of the biggest gas

Field in the world which is the engine for qatar’s economic growth they can’t afford to have a conflict in the Gulf with Iran involving either Iran in the US or Iran in Israel would be absolutely devastating and so there’s a very strong incentive to Leverage What relationships

They have to try to minimize the risk of conflict I mean it kind of makes me honestly think about Switzerland and Europe right this the smaller state that usually takes a more neutral position I I don’t know if that’s comparable or not to tiar in the Middle East yeah sometimes they’ve been actually

Described as the Switzerland in the Middle East so has Oman actually to some extent Kuwait too I mean we’ve seen the three smaller states in the Gulf three of these smaller States all engaging in the same way to try to avoid being drawn into disputes what’s qatar’s history in

Mediating conflicts I guess I’m specifically wondering how successful have they have they been in the past so the big breakthrough in a sense was in 2008 and in 2008 there was a two-year long political standoff in Lebanon over the election of a new president it looked as if Lebanon might be plunged

Back into Civil War and the Lebanese political leadership met in katar in Doha for several days and they agreed on the Doha agreement to actually agree on a new president and that was katar’s kind of breakout moment it showed they could deliver a an agreement that uh

Obviously worked in that sense and then the kataris tried to mediate in Yemen 2009 there was fighting between houi Rebels and the Y government the qataris were also engaged in mediating in darur and Sudan the Qatari mediation then took a bit of a knock during the Arab Spring

Because in 2011 2012 there was a perception across much of the region that Qatar was picking sides and even if that was a bit unfair it was certainly the case that the qataris were more willing to accept the will of the people where they were voting in transition

States I guess the the point of a mediator state is that you want to be seen as not taking a side right you want to be in the middle there so you’re saying in the situation of the Arab Spring though they were actually maybe not seen as neutral I think they were

Perceived as backing a lot of the popular movements against authoritarian leaderships which created a lot of backlash especially among other states in the Gulf like Saudi Arabia the UAE which then launched a lot of pressure on Qatar but we had a change of leadership in 2013 and what has happened since 2013

Is we’ve seen a much kind of reorientation to some extent and the qataris have also decided they have to work absolutely very closely with International Partners so they worked with the US every step of the way with the Taliban negotiations they’ve worked with Israel every step of the way with

The Hamas issue as well and so to trying to address the skepticism of 2011 2012 which was why is Qatar doing this or doing that are they doing their own thing are they sort of freelancing that was the perception and that was the accusation made against guar by many of

The regional critics you’re saying they really worked to kind of turn that around or to regain the trust that they they had before absolutely and by doing everything since in absolute close coordination with the relevant international origional party concerned the US in the case of Taliban and Israel in the case of

Hamas uh Christian I I guess I’m wondering about end goals here when we’re talking about the current conflict we know Hamas says that want a ceasefire before they released any more hostages Israel says they want hostages released before a ceasefire but but what about Qatar what what does Qatar want in all of

This well I think Qatar wants to be part of a solution in terms of trying to mediate an end to the conflict and to what happens next I think there’s a feeling that a military solution alone cannot work it will not be sustainable if anything it would make the problem a

Lot worse and the the next explosion could be even more horrific than the one we saw on October the 7th the challenge perhaps may be that the Hamas is now seen by Israel by the US is completely Beyond The Pale so the question is what happens next what happens to the Hamas

Leadership in Doha I think it’ be a mistake to drive them out I mean if they went to somewhere like Iran it would lose a lot of potential at least kind of ability to reach them should that be necessary so I suspect the end game is

To to try to bring this conflict to an end to sure there’s not just a focus on the military component that you have to link it to some sort of political solution partly because this has been ongoing process in 2006 where effectively Gaza was just left alone to

Pesto and to sort of EX the pressure to build up until it exploded and I think there’s a consensus that whatever happens next there cannot be any going back to the status quo which we saw before October the 7th and so the qataris I think will be working with their other

Partners in the Middle East to at least try to influence as best they can that sort of day after policy just before I let you go here Christian uh we don’t exactly know how this is all going to play out yet but I’m I’m curious to hear

What you’re looking for what will you be watching for as these negotiations progress well I think who will have to sort of make the concession first in terms of what happens first is a ceas fire or the release you know someone’s going to have to give and so I think I

Think looking at conditions under which any hostage release May take place and how many and obviously we still don’t know how many are still alive so I think looking at the the pace of release of hostages and the conditions under which they happen I think will be indicators

Of uh whether Qatar and other states in the Arab world can continue to engage productively Christian thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today yeah thanks for having me that’s it for today I’m Mana car ramman Wilms our producers are meline white Cheryl southernland and Rachel Levy mlin

David Crosby edits the show Adrien Chung is our senior producer and Angela Penza is our executive editor thanks so much for listening and I’ll talk to you tomorrow

The Israel-Hamas war is now in its sixth week and fighting is intensifying inside Gaza. On Tuesday, Palestinians trapped inside Gaza’s biggest hospital dug a mass grave to bury patients who died. Israel is encircling the hospital as they believe it sits atop an underground Hamas headquarters.

On Monday Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netenyahu said he’s open to “tactical” fighting pauses but not to a ceasefire until the more than 200 Israeli hostages held by Hamas are released. Behind the scenes, intense negotiations are taking place to facilitate the release of these hostages as well as help civilians trapped inside Gaza and a central figure in these talks is Qatar.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen is the Fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston Texas. He’s on the show to explain why this tiny Gulf nation is acting as mediator in the Israel-Hamas war.

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