One of the most vocal disputes in the Middle East may be coming to an end in a way that could have implications for the broader region.
Qatar, which had been supporting the deposed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has recently sent signals it wants to achieve a rapprochement with the regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
Any re-emergence of ties with Egypt would also mean an end to funding the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip and forcing Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal to leave Qatar. Hamas insisted this weekend Qatar has not cut off its funding and says the oil-rich country continues to support it.
Referring to Mr. Meshaal, who moved to Qatar after wearing out his welcome in Damascus, Theodore Karasik, an expert at the Institute for Near East Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said, “The big question is what will happen to the Hamas leadership that has been based in Doha. Meshaal was supposed to go to Turkey, but now it looks like he may end up in Tehran.”
Mr. Karasik says Qatar came under pressure from the other Persian Gulf countries to change its stance toward Egypt, one of the region’s prominent Sunni states, in the face of the growing strength of the Islamic State of Iraq & Al-Sham, which now controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
At the most recent meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), members agreed to unify their policy, which includes support of Mr. Sisi’s government. Qatar, which also underwrites the Al-Jazeera network, has been pressed by Saudi Arabia and other GCC states to change its policy toward Hamas — which it supports — and improve ties with Egypt.
The change could also affect Israel, which has long criticized Qatar for its support of Hamas.
“Qatar was caught red-handed sponsoring terror and it dealt a blow to their image,” said a senior Israeli official.
“They were quite happy dancing to all of the different fiddles in the region, but now they are at a moment when they need to make choices.”
Israel maintains a close security relationship with Egypt, with which it has had a peace treaty since 1979.
Meanwhile, Iran has increased its support for Hamas and is likely to up funding as well if Qatar reduces its sponsorship.
For Israel, having Qatar closely allied with Egypt would be good news.
“It would strengthen the moderates and might end some sponsoring of terror organizations,” the Israeli official said. “When you look at developments in the region, the emergence of a solid moderate is good not only for Israel, but for the U.S. and Europe as well.”
The Media Line