Congress passing a new Hamas law will put Qatar in a tight spot. But a whistle-blower’s shelved documentary about Israel could do even more damage
How long can Qatar’s luck hold out? The news that Trump’s most senior diplomat – and one who was friendly towards the tiny GCC country – was to be replaced by a staunch anti Iran hawk must have come as a blow. Rex Tillerson’s departure is not good news for Qatar, which, until the end of June was basking in some glory in Washington after an effective lobbying campaign had stopped Trump mulling over Qatar’s relations with Iran and terrorist organizations, not to mention its two-faced relations it has with its Gulf Arab partners which particularly irks Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.
The Saudis and Emirates believe that in eight months, the Qataris had almost succeeded in playing the ultimate bluff and managed to pull the wool over the eyes of Trump who in January telephoned the Emir Tamim of Qatar to assure him of America’s support.
But for how much longer? Despite the Emir meeting Trump in April and the President now considering the Qataris as allies once more, there’s still the awakward situation of Congress anxious to deny the country military support if it copntinues to support Hamas.
The fairground smoke-and-mirror détente with Washington – of keeping effective relations with the GCC but also with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas – can’t last forever. In recent months, Qatar even went to exceptional lengths to improve its dealings with the two bogey men of the region – Turkey and Iran – which was seen as salt in the wound for its Arab neighbours.
But it’s not Tillerson’s departure and Mike Pompeo’s arrival which will bring this particular house of cards tumbling down, although the new secretary of state will not be so kind to the Qataris in their unique relations with Iran.
It’s Qatar’s deceitful lobbying tactics in Washington via its own broadcaster – and the sheer level of hypocrisy that it wields in its relations with Israel – which might push Congress to tarnish Al Jazeera as a ‘foreign agent’ and its journalists as ‘spies’.
Just recently, the extraordinary story of an Al Jazeera under cover investigation into Israel’s lobbying practices being blocked from being aired – by the Emir of Qatar himself – was revealed by a whistleblower in the network, who has since been mysteriously sent on sabbatical leave.
Clayton Swisher, a somewhat well meaning but naïve American journalist and author of two books on the Israeli Arab conflict, is quite angry about his documentary – which aims to expose the jewish lobby in DC as underhand and prone to using dirty tricks like a spy agency – being spiked.
The American journalist seems to be suggesting in an article on a fringe website that the documentary might have been given the green light so as to be used as leverage against Israel and its allies in DC, to bully the Israelis into defending Qatar, after eight months of a Saudi-imposed siege on the tiny Gulf state which started in June of last year.
But the dirty tricks which the documentary aimed to unveil have gloriously backfired and have left those doing the expose with egg on their own faces. The debacle over the documentary has also exposed Qatar’s own somewhat under-the-table dealings with Israel and its louche activities in Washington.
Swisher claims that the US version of the film (which originally was based on a UK version and lifted the lid on Israeli’s tawdry and manipulative practices in London) didn’t see the light of day due to Israeli agents in DC using their power to strike a deal with the Emir of Qatar. The startling accusation almost mirrors a similar escapade of CNN journalist Amber Lyon, who in 2011 made an expose of Bahrain’s human rights record, only to find that the government there managed to negotiate a deal with Atlanta to not broadcast it on its international network.
We are left to assume that in the case of Al Jazeera, the Israelis probably convinced its Emir that if he blocked the film, that Israel would help Qatar in DC to defend itself from a campaign to reign it in.
Swisher, who believes that Qatar is victimized by its limited PR gusto, says that the Emir was influenced by a former aide to US Senator Ted Cruz named Nick Muzin, to “see if he could use his ties with the Qataris to stop the airing.”
“In February, Muzin told Haaretz that ‘he was discussing the issue with the Qataris and didn’t think the film would broadcast in the near future.’ One anonymous source even boasted to Haaretz that ‘the Qatari emir himself helped make the decision’ to spike the film”, Swisher writes.
But the film fiasco has already done more damage to Qatar than it could possibly imagine as, being spiked, has stirred a wrath from Jewish friendly congressmen who now are poised to chastise Al Jazeera with punitive measures which would brand it as a foreign intelligence agency and its journalists as spies.
Naively, Swisher believes that if the “under cover” film is aired, then the momentum gained by these “zealots” would wither and the campaign to get the Department of Justice to begin a witch hunt against the Qataris and Al Jazeera would end. He also erroneously believes that Al Jazeera is a victim of “short term political expediency”, without seeing Qatar’s own unsavoury double game in the region and in Washington, which presumably Mike Pompeo might seek to flush out in due course. Curiously, Swishers’ zealous journalistic work to expose the murky and deceitful world of Israel’s dirty operations in Washington does not extend to holding his own employer to account though. Perhaps his naivety was why he was chosen in the first place to head up the investigations unit made up of international journalists who he touchingly believes will all leave once the cat is out of the bag. Some might consider the American editor to be more of a writer than an investigative journalist, as is often the practice in the Middle East for huge news agencies to target such foreigners in preference to old school hacks. Either way, this story is certainly a good yarn worthy of a book as Qatar’s hypocrisy and double dealing is the real story, worthy of an airport novel. The Middle East is changing and Gulf Arab countries are improving their relations with Israel. But the recent wile of Qatar’s broadcaster to act as an intelligence agency in Washington – for its own capital – paints neither the station nor the tiny GCC state in a favourable light. It’s high time Qatar came out of the shadows for once and revealed its hand. Or can it really be friend and foe of all who make up the kaleidoscope of Middle East politics?