Qatar long played double game with Israel and Gulf states, says former Israeli envoy to Doha

Former head of Israeli trade office in Qatar says Doha regards Iran as friend

Eli Avidar, Managing Director of the Israel Diamond Institute. Aon China Building, Central. 06 July 2007 (Photo by Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)
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Qatar’s public criticism of the Abraham Accord has been called out by an Israeli politician who worked in Doha to establish ties he said the Gulf state was keen to make, without concessions to improve the lives of the Palestinians.

On Sky News Arabia on Saturday, Yisrael Beiteinu party member Eli Avidar, 54, who ran an Israeli trade mission in Qatar between 1999 and 2001, accused Qatar of double standards and hypocrisy in dealing with Israel and Arab states.

The Egypt-born former diplomat said that at the time, Israel agreed with Qatar to open up relations between the two nations, but the plight of the Palestinian people was never raised.

Doha was only interested in strengthening Qatari-Israeli relations for personal benefit, Mr Avidar said.

He said everyone in the Qatari government denied or were not aware of the existence of the trade office he ran in Doha, but then prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim flaunted Qatar-Israeli relations abroad.

Mr Avidar said Qatar had asked him to stay at home and not speak publicly during the Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit in Doha in November 2000.

“Qatar lied to all Islamic countries and said that it closed the Israeli office,” he said.

“The funny thing was that when he would meet with ministers abroad and they would call me and say, ‘We met Hamad bin Jassim. He’s a real friend of Israel,’ and would thank him and describe him as a ‘respectable and well-loved man'," Mr Avidar said.

"That was Hamad. He would fool you with his honeyed words. But when I returned to Jerusalem, I would report that Hamad was a problem and not part of the solution.”

While Mr Avidar said Sheikh Hamad was keen to show off his ties with Israel, he criticised the news of the Abraham Accord, establishing ties between the UAE and Israel.

Sheikh Hamad then posted a series of tweets boasting of Qatar's “clandestine” relations with Israel, which long preceded the Abraham Accord.

"Thus, I want to recall recent times when we opened the Israeli trade office and established our relationship with Israel publicly after the Madrid Peace Conference,” he wrote.

Mr Avidar said the agreement between Mauritania and Israel to establish ties in 1999 was heavily criticised in the Qatari press.

“The Qatari media asked, ‘Why are they normalising with the Zionist enemy?’" he said.

"To which I said, ‘My brother, we are normalising with you and we remain in your country with your blessing'."

Mr Avidar said the only time Qatar had any interest in discussing the Palestinians was when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came up with a solution to appease Hamas.

The Palestinian militants and rulers of the Gaza Strip receive millions in funding from Doha, after Hamas launched 500 rockets at Israel.

Mr Netanyahu's solution involved asking Qatar to pay for Hamas’ silence.

Mr Avidar said that Qatar then paid a monthly stipend of $15 million under the guise of aid for the Palestinian people, which was to cover the salaries of Hamas members.

“My party will not support normalising relations with Qatar," he said.

"Qatar is part of the problem, it is not part of the solution, and if they continue with the same policy, they will not rest or find peace in their lives."

The former diplomat turned politician said Qatar had close ties with Iran and regarded other Gulf states as the enemy.

“In order to succeed in their mission, any diplomat must ask two questions and have the two answers in hand: who is the enemy of the state and who is the friend of the state?" Mr Avidar said.

"I searched for the answers to those two questions before I got to Doha.

“I sat for two months following the Qatari media, Al Jazeera, the Qatari newspapers, and it became clear to me that their friend is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"There was no negative word against Iran, not on Al Jazeera or in any place.

"Qatari policy has shown that their friend is Iran and that the enemy is Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.”

In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar over its meddling in the internal affairs of its neighbours and supporting terror groups.

“I was in Doha from 1999 to 2001. The same problems then are still the same problems now," Mr Avidar said.

"Al Jazeera in the Arab [uprisings] was responsible for the eruption of events in the Arab world; for what happened in Bahrain as well.

“The existing problem for the Gulf, all of the Middle East, is Iran. It is not reasonable that Iran remains a friend to Qatar as it is setting fire to other countries in the Gulf.”