Sitting in the Oval Office earlier this month, Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani assured US President Donald Trump: "We do not tolerate people who support or fund terrorism". Freshly leaked communications between Qatari officials and hostage negotiators for the Iran-backed militias who kidnapped 26 Qataris on a hunting trip in 2015 suggest otherwise. The documents, which include text messages and exchanges at the very highest level, paint a bleak picture of the murky dealings which could have resulted in at least $275 million – and possibly up to $1 billion – lining the pockets of extremists intent on destabilising the region. Some of that money has almost certainly funded weapons causing mass destruction and bloodshed in Yemen, paid for missiles for Houthi rebels to target Saudi Arabia and allowed militias to ransack Iraq and Syria.
The intercepted communications, leaked to the Washington Post, spell out the level of Qatar's financing of terror and collusion with those who seek to sow instability across the region. The Qatari excursion to southern Iraq in December 2015, which included nine members of the royal family, came at a time when ISIS was leaving a trail of devastation throughout the country. It was foolhardy at best and at worst, endangered the lives of scores of people, not to mention those indirectly threatened by rescue money which might have ended up in the hands of militias. In the 16 months it took to secure the release of the Qataris, hundreds of millions were dispatched to paramilitary leaders, including $50 million to Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and $25 million to Iraqi Shiite militants Kataib Hezbollah. An additional $150 million was said to have funded hostage negotiators and intermediaries. While it is not clear how much of the money ended up in nefarious hands, the extent of Qatar's flawed dealings and dubious alliances is becoming increasingly clear.
Its actions have enabled murderous outfits, which have sought to spread terror and chaos throughout the region and ruined the lives of ordinary people. Yet rather than showing any remorse for its actions, Qatar has edged closer to Tehran and increased the security threat to its neighbours in the Arab world. The divisions in the region today have been deepened by its irresponsible actions, yet still its officials insist they have the region's best interests at heart – all while threatening ordinary citizens by flying fighter jets dangerously close to civilian planes and claiming to weed out terrorism while simultaneously being photographed cosying up to its chief financial backers at a wedding – the same celebration that hosted Hamas former head Khaled Mashaal. Qatar's recklessness has cost lives but it is unrepentant for the suffering it has needlessly inflicted by backing those who seek to harm and disrupt Middle Eastern stability. Its dangerous behaviour will only strengthen the resolve of the quartet in protecting its citizens and standing strong together in the face of extremism and its backers.