Israel Needs Qatar to Prevent Gaza From Spiraling, and Hamas Knows How to Exploit It

Live updates: Israel strikes Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza after barrages of rockets hit the south

The volley of rockets launched by Islamic Jihad at southern Israel on Sunday didn’t take Israel's general election on March 2 into account. It considerably narrowed the gap between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to maintain quiet in Gaza – at least until the election – and the pressure and threats of Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who is seeking to demonstrate the combative difference between himself and his predecessor, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 64

Bernie, Bibi and the brutal occupation: Listen to Gideon LevyHaaretz Weekly Ep. 64

Netanyahu has until now succeeded in calming Hamas by extricating from his partner, Qatar, a promise to continue aiding the organization and Gaza residents even after March 2 – a promise that came with a $12 million grant to be given to needy Gaza families. But Islamic Jihad isn’t a party to that deal. It has a different account to settle, not just against Israel but against Hamas, which over the weekend praised Qatar’s generosity from which Islamic Jihad will not benefit.

Lieberman’s revelation on Saturday that a “procurement” delegation headed by Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen and Israeli military's chief of Southern Command Herzl Halevi met with senior officials in Qatar to "beg the Qataris to keep funneling money to Hamas," wasn’t just the exposure of classified information known “only” to the prime minister, his aides, Hamas, Qatar and Egypt.

It was aimed at embarrassing Netanyahu and portraying the “hero of the war against terror” as the ally of a terror organization and as the one who has humiliated Israel by begging Qatar, which only strengths Hamas’ position in the Strip. But at the same time, Lieberman's exposure clarifies the degree to which Hamas has become a tool in the intra-Arab diplomatic game, with the power to create alliances and influence processes beyond the local arena.

Israel has allowed Qatar, which it has labeled as a terror-supporting country in the past, to enter the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians in exchange for the millions of dollars it gives Hamas. Thus Qatar has achieved a similar, albeit not identical, status to that of its bitter rival Egypt, and has inserted itself deeply into the Palestinian issue.

The result is that Qatar and Egypt are informally sharing the diplomatic workload. While Egypt is responsible for conducting tactical negotiations with Hamas and is investing efforts to reach a long-term calm along the Gaza fence, Qatar provides the financial cushion that helps curb violence against Israel emanating from the enclave.