Israel lacks a clear, consistent and established strategy for its relations with Qatar, despite profound Qatari influence in the region. Since the 1990s, Israeli decision-makers have faced the dilemma of balancing between Qatar’s regional and global importance and its close ties with enemies of Israel.
Qatar’s dominance has increased since the October 7 attack, as it has become an effective mediator on which Hamas and Israel have no choice but to depend. At the same time, its negative impact has also grown clearer, generated public debate in Israel. The question is: how do we proceed?
This policy paper examines the policy options available to Israel on Qatar, both during the war and in the long run. We provide a systemic review of Israel’s constraints and opportunities regarding Qatar’s role in the region, taking into account various approaches to its involvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations and the geopolitical reality.
Our basic assumption is that eliminating Qatari influence on the Palestinian issue altogether would be costly, complicated and likely to fail. Given its geopolitical and economic power, coupled with its foreign policy, Qatar will remain an active player on the Palestinian issue regardless of Israel’s preferences. Adopting a confrontational approach could do more harm than good. Israel is better off diverting Qatar’s influence in directions that serve its interests – i.e., weakening Hamas, responding to war challenges and helping restoring Gaza. At the same time, Israel should work to ensure Qatar is not the only regional power holding sway over Gaza and the West Bank.
We propose several strategies for managing Israel’s relations with Qatar. One is to maintain constant tension between incentives and pressure points. Qatar’s major weak points are security threats (such as targeted assassinations in its territory or removing security cooperation) and damage to its diplomatic relations with global powers, especially the United States. Israel must therefore involve its international partners in shaping its policy toward Qatar. Another method is appointing a broad state-security framework (preferably the National Security Council) to manage the relationship with Qatar, bringing in external experts to add knowledge and fresh perspectives. Mossad, which currently handles the relationship, cannot formulate policy. Therefore, it should remain the operative arm and manage covert channels.
To serve Israel’s immediate interests during the war, we recommend leveraging all of Qatar’s influence on Hamas in Gaza, despite the urge to cut ties over its support of terrorism. Qatar can be crucial to achieving Israel’s two war goals: freeing the captives and toppling the Hamas regime. Israel must continue to use Qatar as a mediator in captive release negotiations, given its unique position. As the war progresses, Hamas’ reliance on Qatar can be used as a lever. Israel should push Qatar to cut practical ties with Hamas, in a gradual manner only while the negotiations are underway, in order to directly weaken Hamas.
As motivation, Israel can propose an alternative that retains Qatar’s influence over Palestinian politics, while ensuring conditions that are better for Israel. We believe that without such motivation, Qatar will cling to its hold over Hamas. Israel should also use Qatar’s abilities to assist in other war needs, such as communication, administrative coordination and aid to civilians, using existing Qatari infrastructure in Gaza. At the same time, Israel should draw clear red lines regarding Qatar’s support for terrorism and publicly hold it responsible for strengthening Hamas. This call for accountability may actually help diplomatic efforts vis-à-vis Qatar.
In the long run, we submit that a policy of diversifying external influences in the Palestinian sphere will reduce Israel’s binding dependence on Qatar. When the postwar arrangements of governance in Gaza and the West Bank are clearer, Israel should actively work to bring moderate Arab states into the emerging order. Multi-state systems tend to be more moderate, enabling different channels of communication and maneuvering between the various actors. When the reconstruction of Gaza begins, economic projects should only be considered if they are based on broad partnerships. The UAE will play a particularly important role, having demonstrated its economic and diplomatic contribution to the Palestinians, as well as to the normalization with Israel. In the long run, we believe that cutting all ties with Qatar may hurt Israel. Qatar can play a constructive role in shaping the post-war political order in Gaza, as long as its influence is balanced by other regional partners.
Our analysis includes input from 11 in-depth interviews with Israeli position-holders currently or previously involved in ties with Qatar, including high-ranking officials in the security establishment and in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, academics and policy researchers. The first section examines the public debate in Israel over Qatar, emphasizing the need to build up a knowledge base to assess Israel’s policy options. The second section outlines Qatar’s global assets, focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian context. This section analyzes Qatar’s regional influence and whether it can be changed. The third section recommends a wartime policy on Qatar covering five issues: releasing captives, toppling Hamas, administrative coordination, Al Jazeera’s influence, and holding Qatar accountable for supporting terrorism. The fourth section lays out three long-term policy options: conditional acceptance, diversification and cutting ties. The options represent different public opinions and offer creative solutions to avoid repeating past failures. For everyone, we detail steps for implementation, potential implications, opportunities and possible difficulties. Finally, we present the necessary strategy, including the incentives and pressure points available to Israel vis- à-vis Qatar.