The Two Faces of Qatar, a Dubious Mideast Ally
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited several of America’s Middle Eastern partners last week—including a dubious one. Qatar hosts an important air base but also undermines American security by sponsoring Islamic radicalism.
Nearly all coalition airstrikes against Islamic State are commanded from America’s nerve center at Qatar’s al-Udeid Air Base, which also supports missions in Afghanistan. The U.S. Air Force stations many of its larger aircraft there—refueling tankers, advanced surveillance and early-warning aircraft, and heavy bombers. Al-Udeid also houses the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, which commands all coalition air operations in the region. With all these key assets in one place, the Pentagon expects to stay through 2024.
But the host nation supports some of the groups the base is used to bomb. According to the State Department, “entities and individuals within Qatar continue to serve as a source of financial support for terrorist and violent extremist groups,” including al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Qatar has also supplied advanced weaponry to militants in Syria and Libya.
Doha poured billions into the radical Muslim Brotherhood government of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who urged supporters “to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews.” The Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, has called jihad against Israel and America “a commandment of Allah that cannot be disregarded.”
After Mr. Morsi’s government fell in 2013, Qatar offered safe harbor to many Brotherhood leaders. Pressure from neighbors eventually forced Doha to eject them, but Qatar still hosts Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Brotherhood-affiliated preacher who once declared, “Those killed fighting the American forces are martyrs.” Qatar is also a key financier of Hamas, a Palestinian spinoff of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has repeatedly attacked Israel with rockets.
Qatar wields tremendous soft power on behalf of radical Islam through its state-funded Al Jazeera news channel. Mr. Qaradawi has a weekly show, and the network became notorious in America for broadcasting Osama bin Laden’s videos, repeatedly and uncut, far exceeding their news value.
Given President Trump’s forthright opposition to radical Islamic terrorism, it makes sense to ask whether the U.S. should continue leasing crucial military assets from a government that supports such ideology. If Qatar won’t change its behavior, the U.S. should consider relocating assets from the base. The United Arab Emirates would be a logical destination. It is an active partner in American efforts to combat ISIS, pacify Afghanistan and counter Iran. U.S. officials consider the U.A.E. one of their strongest Arab partners. Mr. Mattis has called it “Little Sparta.”
Emirati air bases could accommodate U.S.-led operations currently run from al-Udeid, without putting U.S. aircraft farther from their targets. The Combined Air and Space Operations Center would need to be replaced, but the cost would be easily outweighed by the security benefits. The U.A.E. is a far more responsible actor than Qatar, and it already works with the U.S. military to train pilots from our other Gulf allies and coordinate coalition air operations.
If the Trump White House hopes to end the free-riding of American allies, it can start by sending a clear message to Doha: The benefits of al-Udeid do not outweigh Qatar’s support for extremism.
Originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal on April 24, 2017