The oil-rich sheikdom Qatar is much like its neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula — undemocratic, ruled by a minority clan, both a U.S. ally and an active sponsor of extremists. Much the same can be said of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the other countries that last week severed relations with Qatar and imposed a blockade on the small country.
Among its neighbors, Qatar appears to be a maverick. In better days, it had an open relationship with Israel, allowing a business interests section on its soil. It has hosted Israel at its tennis tournaments and said that, should the Jewish state win a spot, Israel would be welcome in Qatar when it hosts the World Cup in 2022. The late Shimon Peres, when he was deputy prime minister, made a high-profile visit to Qatar in 2007. By contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently expressed the hope that someday the Saudis would allow him to visit Riyadh.
Qatar is home to a U.S. military base. But it also has relations with Iran, which riles Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel. And Qatar bankrolls Hamas in Gaza, which especially upsets Israel, but also the United States, Egypt and the Saudis.
While the long-term results of pressure on Qatar are unknown, it could lead to a weakening of support of Hamas. In the best case, that could force Gaza’s rulers to moderate their total rejection of Israel. Yet according to Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Israel has worked with Qatar since 2014 to keep Gaza from collapsing. If Hamas implodes, someone even worse could take control of the thousands of rockets lying on the other side of the border with Israel.
Israel has been drawing closer to the Gulf’s anti-Iran coalition for some time. And that has resulted in some subtle changes. For example, while Lebanon has banned “Wonder Woman” — the blockbuster retread starring Israeli Gal Gadot — and Jordan has considered doing the same, Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya television network has run interviews with Gadot.
Many of the ongoing crises in the region, among U.S. friends and enemies — including the continued fighting in Syria, Iraq and Yemen — help normalize Israel in another way, as none of those disputes has anything to do with Israel’s creation in 1948 or its presence since 1967 on land the Palestinians crave for a state of their own. Perhaps in this atmosphere, with attention and regional blame directed elsewhere, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement can be hammered out.
But while there is reason to feel good about Israel’s integration into the region, current events also offer a warning. If these states could cut off relations with and try to strangle little Qatar, a country and society so much like them, imagine what they would try to do to Israel if the tide changes.