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Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani
Photo: Reuters
Alex Fishman
Trump effect rocking the Middle East
Analysis: Even before the US president set foot in Saudi Arabia, different countries in the region were required to pay ‘earnest money’ to be able to join the Sunni bloc against Iran and ISIS. One of the demands was that all Sunni Arab states—particularly Qatar—would wash their hands off Hamas.
Six senior members of Hamas’ military wing, who operated and funded dozens of terror cells in the West Bank, were expelled from the Qatari capital of Doha several weeks ago. We were all kept in the dark about this affair because none of the parties involved—the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Qataris, the Americans and the Israelis—were interested in creating noises, on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s arrival in the Middle East, that would overcloud the harmony of the Islamic heads of state gathering in Saudi Arabia.

 

 

The Hamas leaders kept a low profile too. They knew that in addition to the American demand to banish these senior members, the American administration had also demanded that Qatar would stop transferring funds to Hamas’ military wing. It turns out that Qatar managed two coffers vis-à-vis the strip: From the first coffer, some $900 million have been funneled since the end of Operation Protective Edge—in coordination with Israel—for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip; from the other coffer, money has been flowing without any supervision and in violation of the agreements.

 

Trump with Arab leaders in Riyadh. In addition to the demand to banish Hamas members, the US administration also ordered Qatar to stop transferring funds to the organization’s military wing (Photo: Reuters) (Photo: Reuters)
Trump with Arab leaders in Riyadh. In addition to the demand to banish Hamas members, the US administration also ordered Qatar to stop transferring funds to the organization’s military wing (Photo: Reuters)

 

When its people were kicked out of Doha following American orders, Hamas had yet to understand the intensity of the change created by Trump in the Middle East. Even before the US president set foot in Saudi Arabia, different countries in the region had already received “missions” from him. They were required to pay “earnest money” to be able to join the Sunni bloc against Iran and the Islamic State. When, in Saudi Arabia, Trump spoke about Hamas being a terror organization like Hezbollah, ISIS and al-Qaeda, he meant that all the countries in the Sunni Arab domain that support Hamas—particularly Qatar—should wash their hands off it.

 

The Saudis and the Egyptians claim that the Qataris are playing a dirty game, and they are right. Qatar’s leader, who sits on a mountain of money, is conducting a policy which is a combination of a survival war and megalomania. The Qataris want to have it all ways in the region, including nurturing the Muslim Brotherhood and funding terror organizations. It is a small emirate with 300,000 citizens, a million and a half foreign workers, half of its territory is an American military base, and it is led by a ruler whose ambition is to be the leading element in the Middle East.

 

It has been reported that Qatar served as an efficient communication mechanism between Israel and Hamas at times of crises. That didn’t stop the country, at the same time, from funding Hamas’ military wing and sabotaging ceasefire attempts during Operation Protective Edge. The Qatari’s multi-faced policy—which includes hugging Israel, hugging the Iranians, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and abusing the Egyptian government through the Al-Jazeera channel and undermining its position—has come to an end. The Saudis and the Egyptians have informed the Qataris: You must take a side and stop undermining us. Saudi Arabia, which received the mandate from the US—together with Egypt—to lead a Sunni bloc against the Shiite-Iranian-ISIS threat, has decided to tame the Qataris.

 

Hamas is watching the events impatiently. It is seeing its only political support in the Arab Sunni world being pulled from under its feet. Under pressure, the Qataris will be willing to sell the Palestinian organization.

 

This strategic crisis has caught Hamas in the middle of a deep civil crisis which the Gaza Strip has never experienced before: An electricity and water shortage, collapsing health systems, extreme poverty. These two major crises could push Hamas—against its ideology—into the hands of Hezbollah and Iran. If Tehran wishes to seize the opportunity, the countdown will begin towards another military operation in Gaza.

 

In the meantime, the Hamas leaders are trying to find a sympathetic ear in Cairo which will make it possible to open the Rafah Crossing and supply electricity to the strip. Egypt, however, has strict conditions: Hamas must cut its ties with ISIS in Sinai and turn in the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS members who have found shelter in Gaza.

 

The Trump effect is rocking the Middle East. One thing is clear: An old-new creature is being built in the form of an Arab Sunni bloc that is willing to incorporate Israel into it. The ball is in our court. Let’s just hope we don’t score an own goal.

 

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