Israel intends to relay the findings of a full military investigation into the death of reporter Shireen Abu Akleh at the Jenin refugee camp to Qatar, which owns the Al Jazeera media outlet for which the journalist worked.
Qatar received on Wednesday the initial findings of the investigation, including the Israeli assessment that Abu Akleh was not hit by Israeli army fire but by Palestinian militants. Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Wednesday that Israel will also send the findings to the Palestinian Authority and the United States, as Abu Akleh was a U.S. citizen.
Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani blamed Israel for Abu Akleh’s death, saying that “Such horrific crimes by the occupation against unarmed Palestinian people should not pass without those responsible being held accountable and should not be subject to double standards.”
Earlier, Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs blasted Israel for “assassinating” the journalist, committing "a heinous crime and a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and a blatant infringement on freedom of media and expression and the right of peoples to access information." The statement also stressed "the need to hold the occupation accountable for this horrific crime and bring those responsible to international justice."
Al Jazeera, watched by some 150 million people around the world, is considered a significant Qatari asset in shaping the country’s foreign policy. The network, which broadcasts in Arabic and English, takes a critical and often hostile stance vis-à-vis Israel. As Haaretz reported, over the past several weeks Israeli officials asked Qatar to soften the network’s reporting about the Temple Mount clashes, which were perceived by Israel as an incitement campaign.
Yet under the radar, Israel has maintained strong ties with Qatar: Israeli officials from the Foreign Ministry, the Mossad and the Defense Ministry have held dialogues with their Qatari counterparts, and economic ties have also been fostered. Senior Israeli officials have often visited Qatar, mostly covertly, and the leaders of the two countries have clandestinely communicated without intermediaries. This direct dialogue has allowed Qatar to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to support residents of the Gaza Strip and to bolster Palestinian Authority projects in the West Bank.
Israel sees Qatar’s growing involvement in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as part of an overall shift. The country which supported the Muslim Brotherhood, harbored for years its spiritual leader Youssef al-Qaradawi and was blamed for aiding Hamas’ growth has recently worked to strengthen its ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
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“In the current incarnation, the Qataris want to have good relations with everyone,” a senior Israeli official recently told Haaretz. “Their perception is that they want to help everyone, because a conflict doesn’t help anyone.” The official added that “investing in the Muslim Brotherhood has helped Qatar position itself in the region. [The country] believes that it didn’t invest money in extremist groups in order to support terrorism, but to hold a dialogue with them and to tempter them.”
Relations between Qatar and the United States have also recently improved. Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East which, according to reports, houses some 10 thousand soldiers and serves as a base for regional air strikes. Qatar also played an important role in the American withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer – as a country which has maintained ties with the Taliban, Qatar mediated between the hardline militants and U.S. groups.
Qatar helped facilitate a relatively quick and peaceful exit of the American forces, as well as the evacuation of thousands of U.S. citizens and citizens of allied countries who were in danger.
Last January, as Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visited Washington, President Joe Biden declared that Qatar would be elevated to the status of a “major non-NATO ally of U.S.” This status grants strategic partners of the United States military and economic benefits, even without a mutual defense pact.