Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Qatar this past July to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Qatari government, pledging greater cooperation in the fight against illicit financing of terrorist groups throughout the Middle East. Tillerson claimed the agreement “will do more to keep the region and our homeland safe.”
These words sound positive, but given the country’s track record on the issue, we remain skeptical at best. You may have never heard of Qatar, a tiny country on the Arabian Peninsula, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in wealth, influence and terror financing.
Qatar is the master of playing all sides. The same country that served as the U.S. Central Command headquarters during the invasion of Iraq and still hosts a critical American air base today also sponsors Hamas’s anti-Israel agenda, gives sanctuary to terrorist leaders and spreads its wealth to terrorist and extremist groups throughout the Middle East.
Since 2012, Qatar has hosted senior leaders of Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization, including terror masterminds responsible for the murder of Americans. Much of the tunnel infrastructure and missile technology that Hamas used to start three wars with Israel in the past decade were funded and built with the help of this country.
In March 2014, a senior U.S. Treasury Department official called Qatar a “permissive jurisdiction” for illicit financing of terrorist groups in Syria, including ISIS and al-Nusra. These days it’s hard to identify a prominent terror group that isn’t being financed and aided by Qatari actors.
But unlike designated state sponsors of terrorism like Iran and Syria, Qatar uses an innovative approach to avoid the animosity of the West: pursue good relations with the United States, make false promises about combating terror, lavishly fund western universities and business projects – all while quietly financing and promoting terror, allying with Iran, and leveraging an American air base as an insurance policy against punishment for promoting terror.
In the coming weeks, Congress will consider new legislation that requires the president to impose sanctions on individuals and state-sponsored agencies that finance terrorist groups like Hamas. Undoubtedly, the administration will come under tremendous pressure from the Qatari government to keep any of their own agencies off that list.
That’s why we will be offering two key amendments to the bill when it comes before the House Foreign Affairs Committee next month. The first will require regular reporting by the U.S. administration on whether Qatar is living up to its commitments under the memorandum of understanding. The second will mandate reporting on the presence of Hamas financiers residing in Qatar and any transfer of funds or material support either directly or indirectly between Qatar and Hamas.
We cannot just take Qatar at its word when it comes to financing terrorist groups around the Middle East. President Ronald Reagan famously coined the term “trust, but verify.” When it comes to terror financing, we prefer “never trust and always verify.”
Turning off the Qatari spigot of terror financing represents a high priority for America’s national security. It’s up to Congress to keep up the pressure until we know for certain the spigot is finally closed.