GAZA Ha­mas’sbiggest­backer? It has the en­tire West inthep­al­mofit­s­hand

ANAL­Y­SIS

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ALEX BRUM­MER

FOR A small Gulf statelet, Qatar punches way above its weight in the com­plex pol­i­tics of the Mid­dle East. The coun­try’s con­trol of an es­ti­mated 14 per cent of the world’s known re­serves of nat­u­ral gas has al­lowed it to buy it­self a seat at the top ta­bles of global diplomacy.

The way in which Qatar al­legedly bribed and ca­joled its way into host­ing the Fifa World Cup in 2018 is well doc­u­mented but so far has done lit­tle to force a change of heart at the high­est level of foot­ball.

Sim­i­larly, the coun­try’s quixotic for­eign pol­icy has so far failed to dis­lodge its spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with the West.

Qatar’s young ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad Al Thani (who dis­placed his fa­ther a year ago), has thrust him­self into the vor­tex of Is­rael’s strug­gle against Ha­mas. Qatar man­ages the re­mark­able feat of be­ing a diplomatic and mil­i­tary ally of the United States while be­ing the only Gulf state to be an open sup­porter of Ha­mas.

In the Syr­ian civil war, Qatar was an early sup­porter of some of the ji­hadi groups fight­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s regime. Those out­fits trans­formed them­selves into the Is­lamic found their wages cut off af­ter the June 2014 unity agree­ment be­tween Fatah and Ha­mas.

Qatar’s other pet diplomatic projects have in­cluded seed money for a fund to pro­tect the Arab na­ture of East Jerusalem. It of­fered $250m as the down pay­ment on a $1bn fund.

Qatar’s sup­port for the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and Ha­mas has led to a ma­jor rift with other Gulf states. In March 2014, the am­bas­sadors from Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain and the UAE were re­called from Qatar be­cause of its recog­ni­tion of the Broth­er­hood — re­garded as a ter­ror­ist move­ment else­where in the Gulf.

De­spite Qatar’s cu­ri­ous en­chant­ment with rad­i­cal pol­i­tics and its open sup­port for Ha­mas, there has been no short­age of Bri­tish busi­nesses will­ing to ac­cept Qatari cash. The best known sym­bol of its power and in­flu­ence in Lon­don is the Har­rods de­part­ment store, bought from the Egyp­tian AlFayad fam­ily in May 2010 for £1.5 bn.

That is just the tip of an ice­berg of Qatari funds flow­ing into Lon­don.

The Lon­don Stock Ex­change is 15 per cent owned by the Qatari In­vest­ment Au­thor­ity. Qatar Hold­ings is a 26 per cent share­holder in the £6 bil­lion J Sains­bury group and is seen as a po­ten­tial fu­ture owner.

Qatari in­vestors have been hugely ac­tive in Bri­tish prop­erty. At the height of the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, Qatar stepped in to bail out the Shard in Lon­don. It part­nered De­lancy es­tates in re­de­vel­op­ing the Olympic Park and fi­nanced the Candy Broth­ers in de­vel­op­ing One Hyde Park. Qatari in­vestors own the Chelsea Bar­racks site in West Lon­don and a huge devel­op­ment off Ox­ford Street in con­junc­tion with Land Se­cu­ri­ties.

Their prop­erty spec­u­la­tions have aroused some hack­les. The at­tempts to win con­trol of three pres­ti­gious Lon­don ho­tels — Clar­idges, the Con­naught and the Berke­ley — have brought them head to head against the own­ers of the Daily Tele­graph group, the Bar­clay Broth­ers. They have ex­pressed pri­vate con­cerns that Qatar, a state so closely in­volved with ter­ror­ism, should be al­lowed to own Lon­don hostel­ries.

Qatar caused a stir in France when it bought Paris Saint-Ger­main foot­ball club in 2011 and pro­ceeded to turn it into a con­tender for the Cham­pi­ons League, buy­ing up top play­ers from around the world.

So far, Qatar ap­pears to have bought it­self Western pro­tec­tion. But how it can con­tinue to sup­port ter­ror and the coun­tries that ab­hor it, is one of the great strate­gic puzzles of our time.

Alex Brum­mer is City Edi­tor of the Daily Mail

Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic joined PSG in a £15.7m deal af­ter Qatar bought the Paris club

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