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Case Analysis 14 January, 2015

Why is Israel leading an anti-Qatar propaganda campaign?

Policy Analysis Unit

The Policy Analysis Unit is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Policy Analysis Unit draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Assessment Report, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


Following a brief interlude during the 1990s when Qatari-Israeli relations were normalized—in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords and in the midst of intra-Arab discord, and based on Qatar’s desire to improve relations with the United States—relations between Qatar and Israel have deteriorated greatly over the past decade. The most recent and precipitous downfall in Qatari-Israeli relations has its roots in Qatar’s stance on a variety of developments across the Arab region over recent months, and relates particularly to Qatar’s denunciations of Israeli aggression towards the Palestinian people, and its support for the resistance in Palestine. This paper will make use of specific instances of Israel’s anti-Qatari campaign to examine in closer detail the reasons behind the fierce campaign to demonize and isolate the small Arab state by Israeli generals, government officials, media institutions and research centers.

Reasons for anti-Qatari incitement by Israel

Over the past decade, Qatar has adopted a number of Arab-wide policies which Israel has deemed to be aggressive and contrary to its interests. They were policies which differed significantly from those adopted by Arab countries deemed by Israel to be “moderate”, and resulted in increasingly hostile posturing by Israel, culminating in now-open Israeli incitement and propaganda aimed against Qatar. Some of the most prominent measures adopted by Qatar and which have raised Israeli ire include:

  1. Qatar’s opposition to the Israel’s 2006 assault on Lebanon, which Israel interpreted as political, diplomatic and media support for Hezbollah. While other Arab countries branded by Israel as “moderate” took a neutral, or even tacitly supportive, positions towards the Israeli attacks against Hezbollah, Qatar’s financial support for the reconstruction of Lebanon was seen by Tel Aviv as an act opposed to its own policies in the region.
  2. Qatar’s support for the struggle for Palestinian resistance and its support for the Palestinian people against occupation, including the provision of media and diplomatic cover for the Palestinian resistance, in addition to its provision of financial aid to the Gaza Strip—instead of limiting its aid to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority—were other factors behind this latest Israeli campaign.
  3. The remarkable role played by Qatar’s Al Jazeera in uncovering the crimes of Israeli aggression against Lebanon and against the Palestinian people, in addition to its supportive coverage of the Palestinian resistance.
  4. One particular aspect of this Qatari support which stoked Israeli anger was stark Qatari opposition to repeated Israeli attacks against the Gaza Strip between 2008 (“Operation Cast Lead”) and 2014 (“Operation Protective Edge”), and including the 2012 assault (“Operation Pillar of Defense”). As a protest against the 2008 attack, Qatar closed an Israeli business interest office in Doha and dismissed the Israelis working there.

Israeli hostility towards Qatar has escalated since the Gulf state adopted these policies, reaching an unprecedented fever pitch during the latest (2014) attack on Gaza. This newfound Israeli enmity was expressed through an orchestrated vilification campaign against Qatar, in which Israeli political and military elites, media institutions and think tanks took part.

Meet the Choir: a Star-Studded Cast of Anti-Qatari Israeli Crooners

A number of prominent Israelis have participated in the campaign to demonize Qatar, including former President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Security Minister Moshe Yaalon. Speaking in 2012, Peres accused Qatar of financing “terrorist movements”, specifically of providing Hamas with an annual sum of US$ 200 million[1]. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman used Israeli media channels to accuse Qatar of being “the backbone of the world’s most extreme terrorist organizations, which destabilize the world and the Middle East in particular”[2]. Lieberman further accused Qatar of being the most important source of funding for Hamas in its confrontation with Israel. The Israeli Foreign Minister then went on to claim that the Doha-based Al Jazeera Network was a “pivotal node in Hamas’ media network”, and, threatening to take decisive action against the media body, accused the television station of “fanning the flames of hatred against Israel”. In a further statement, Lieberman stated that “in order to tighten the noose around Hamas, we must send a clear message to Qatar for supporting that group. Hamas’ money comes from Qatar, while Khaled Meshaal and Azmi Bishara reside there”. Lieberman also made a reference to dealing with the Chief of the Congressional Foreign Relations Committee, and expressed the hope that the US Congress and American Jewish lobbying organizations would act against Qatar[3].

Vilifying Qatar on the world stage: a plan of action

Israel’s state-controlled National Media Authority, part of the Prime Minister’s office, brought together a number of non-governmental media and communications bodies for a meeting in September of 2014, where the planning of a campaign to demonize Qatar and Turkey in Western media was discussed. The aim of these efforts would be to harm the relations of these two Middle Eastern countries with Western powers, particularly with the United States. Following the meeting, the Israeli National Media Authority issued a directive where it guided the media bodies concerned on the methods to be used to attack Qatar and Turkey, and the specific issues which they could focus on during the campaign[4].   

This campaign was translated into action by a number of Israeli media channels and think tanks, who planted hundreds of fabricated anti-Qatari reports in the media. Given the impossibility of providing an exhaustive list of these in a short article, the following will limit itself to a select few samples of the production of Israeli think tanks, focusing on samples which are indicative of the rest of the campaign.

Writing for a journal published by Tel Aviv University’s Institute of National Security Studies, Yoel Guzansky and Kobi Michael[5] pointed out how “In modern history, it is difficult to find a similar instance of a country so small and young that has carried out so ambitious a foreign policy. The emirate, home to only some 250,000 citizens (as well as close to two million foreign workers) has in recent years played in the big leagues, but its reach may now be exceeding its grasp.” The rest of Michael and Guzansky’s article goes on to list a number of fictitious and far-fetched, unsubstantiated claims before concluding that Qatar represents a risk to regional security. Feigning concern for the security of Arab states, the two Israeli authors further alleged Qatari support for “radical” and “terrorist” organizations operating in other Arab countries, a behavior which, they said, threatened the interests and stability of “pivotal” Arab partners, of the West and, in particular, of the United States. Michael and Guzansky further lambasted Al Jazeera for its support for democracy across the Arab region and opposition to tyranny. The authors of the report went on to lament the lack of action to limit Qatar’s role by those countries whose vital interests were threatened by the Gulf state’s actions.

Michael and Guzansky proposed a number of measures, including both clandestine and open, to pressure Qatar into ending its “negative policies”. One such policy was an open campaign aimed at revoking Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022, specifically citing the possibility of recruiting global human rights organizations to highlight the “exploitation of foreign workers in Qatar”. In a forthright admission, Michael and Guzansky said that “Qatar should be sued in every eligible court and be forced to defend itself legally, which would cost it a great deal of money, though the real objective would be to erode its international image.”

In terms of clandestine action, Michael and Guzansky then went on to suggest “creative actions that would make it clear to Qatar that its support for destabilizing elements in the region is liable to disrupt its financial stability and cost it enough” to bring about a change in Qatari regional policy. The paper openly called for an alliance of “moderate states” that would “foil Qatar’s dangerous influence. This will help undermine the self-confidence of the Qatari royal family and prompt it to rethink the cost-benefit ratio of support for radical elements, and perhaps also modify the emirate's policies, in order to reduce the country’s negative effect on the region’s security and stability.[6]” 

Similarly, once the Israeli military was shown to be incapable of preventing Hamas rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, cyber security expert and Advisor to the Israeli Ministry of Security, Aviad Dadon, went as far as to claim that Qatar provided Hamas with the technical and financial capabilities to help the Palestinian resistance group to thwart Israeli assaults during Operation Protective Edge—without providing a single shred of documentary evidence to back his claims[7]. Dadon claimed that Hamas rockets were not being fired manually by the group’s fighters, but were instead being controlled by the Palestinian resistance group’s computerized networks. The cyber security expert went on to allege that Qatar had invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” in cyber warfare capabilities, even claiming that “70%” of cyber attacks on Israeli government websites originated in Qatar. While such claims are completely baseless, they serve the purpose of creating a rumor that then takes a life of its own[8].  

Another Israeli academic who engaged in open attacks on Qatar is Joshua Teitelbaum, who authored a Perspective Paper for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank operated by Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. Teitelbaum used “Playing with Terror: How to Stop Qatar’s Support for Hamas”[9] to make a series of claims against Qatar, focusing most clearly on the Gulf country’s support for protest movements that, he claimed, were de-stabilizing the Middle East. Some of the specific Qatari policies which Teitelbaum took issue with were the country’s financial and political support for Hamas; its hosting of Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal; its mediation between Hamas and Fatah, that led to an intra-Palestinian reconciliation; and the visit of Qatar’s former Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, to the Gaza Strip during 2013 and his donation of over US$400 million to help the reconstruction of the Palestinian territory.

Teitelbaum further alleged that Qatar funded Hamas’ tunnel network, and that the country aided in the creation of a computerized system to fire rockets at Israel. The author attacked Qatar’s role in the resolution of regional conflicts, and the Al Jazeera network’s support for protest movements across the Arab region. Decrying Qatar’s regional mediation efforts, what he described as the mistreatment of foreign workers in the country, and its hosting of the World Cup in 2022, Teitelbaum demanded that Qatar’s wings be clipped. Some of the prospective actions that Teitelbaum touted included a boycott of the FIFA World Cup, if efforts to cancel Qatar’s hosting of 2022 failed, and litigation through the US courts for the country’s support of Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the US State Department[10]

Conclusion

The Israeli media campaign against Qatar, which has subsided over the past two months, had previously been focused on diplomatic and political efforts against Qatar and took shape in the United States and other vital Western powers. In addition, the Israelis have worked with a number of Arab and regional powers to pressure Qatar to change its policies, not only with regards to the changes sweeping through the Arab region, but also with respect to Qatar’s opposition to Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people living in the Occupied Territories and the country’s support for Palestinian resistance to the occupation.

The selected examples presented here demonstrate how the Israeli campaign to smear Qatar has sought to present it as an irresponsible actor in the best possible scenario or, in the worst possible case, as a state sponsor of terrorism. The examples cited here demonstrate how Israeli think tanks are willing not only to report factually inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims, but also to make their reports subservient to an anti-Qatari agenda. It does not take a lot of effort to uncover the commonalities included in many of these Israeli reports and articles that can be found in Western newspapers, or even in parts of the Arab press.

 

This Assessment Report was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English editing team. To read the original Arabic version, which appeared online on January 12, 2015, please click here.

[1] Attila Somfalvi, “Peres: Iran the most corrupt country on earth,” ynetnews.com, January 28, 2012, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4181887,00.html.

[2] Barak Ravid, “Lieberman: Israel seeks to ban Al Jazeera,” Haaretz, July 21, 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.606508.

[3] Ariel Kahana, “Lieberman: a ceasefire with Hamas is a mistake,” Maariv, July 4, 2014,  http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/592/821.html.

[4] Ariel Kahana, “A decision was made in Israel to attack Turkey directly,” Maariv, September 8, 2014, http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/619/623.html.

[5] Kobi Michael and Yoel Guzansky, “Countering Qatar’s Negative Regional Impact,” The Institute for National Security Studies, August 17, 2014, http://www.inss.org.il/index.aspx?id=4538&articleid=7520.

[6] Ibid.

[7] David Shamah, “Qatari tech helps Hamas in tunnels, rockets: Expert,” The Times of Israel, July 31, 2014, http://www.timesofisrael.com/qatari-tech-helps-hamas-in-tunnels-rockets-expert/.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Joshua Teitelbaum, “Playing with Terror: How to Stop Qatar’s Support for Hamas,” BESA Centre, Perspective paper NO.266, 25/8/2014, http://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/playing-terror-stop-qatars-support-hamas/.

[10] Ibid.