Since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, the Gulf state of Qatar has been criticized by Israeli officials, American politicians and the media for sending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Gaza, which is ruled by the Palestinian militant group.
But it all happened with Israel’s blessing.
In a series of interviews With key Israeli players Conducted in cooperation with the Israeli Investigative Journalism Organization ShomimPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to flow cash to Hamas, despite concerns raised from within his own government, CNN has learned.
Qatar pledged not to stop these payments. Qatari Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Monday that his government will continue to pay money to Gaza to support the Strip, as it has been doing for years.
“We will not change our mandate. Our mission is our continued assistance and support to our brothers and sisters in Palestine. We will continue to do this systematically as we did before,” Al-Khulaifi said.
Israeli sources responded by noting that successive governments had facilitated the transfer of funds to Gaza on humanitarian grounds, and that Netanyahu acted decisively against Hamas after the October 7 attacks.
Here’s what we know about those payments and Israel’s role in facilitating them.
In 2018, Qatar began making monthly payments to the Gaza Strip. About $15 million was sent to Gaza in bags full of cash – delivered by the Qataris through Israeli territory after months of negotiations with Israel.
The payments began after the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian government in the occupied West Bank and a rival to Hamas, decided to cut the salaries of government employees in Gaza in 2017, an Israeli government source familiar with the matter told CNN. on time.
The Palestinian Authority opposed Qatari funding at the time, which Hamas said was intended to pay public salaries as well as for medical purposes.
Israel approved the deal at a security cabinet meeting in August 2018, when Netanyahu was serving his previous term as prime minister.
Even then, Netanyahu was criticized by his coalition partners for the deal and for being too lenient with Hamas.
The Prime Minister defended the initiative at the time, saying that the agreement was made “in coordination with security experts to restore calm to the (Israeli) villages in the south, but also to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe (in Gaza).”
Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank, accused the United States of organizing the payment.
Israeli and international media reported that Netanyahu’s plan to continue allowing aid to reach Gaza via Qatar was in the hope that it would make Hamas an effective counterweight to the Palestinian Authority. Prevent creation For the Palestinian state.
Palestinian Authority officials said at the time that the cash transfers encouraged division between Palestinian factions.
Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, a former senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told CNN that the plan was supported by the prime minister, but not by the Israeli intelligence community. He said there was also a belief that this would “weaken Palestinian sovereignty.” He added that there is also an illusion that “if you feed them (Hamas) with money, they will be tamed.”
Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, a former senior official in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, speaks to CNN in Tel Aviv on December 5.
Shlomo Brom, former Deputy National Security Advisor of Israel He told the New York Times He said strong Hamas helped Netanyahu avoid negotiating a Palestinian state, saying the division of the Palestinians helped him prove that he had no partner for peace in the Palestinians, thus avoiding pressure for peace talks that could lead to the creation of an independent state. Palestinian state.
Naftali Bennett, the former Israeli prime minister, told CNN on Sunday that, after years of reporting his concerns to Netanyahu’s government when he was education minister, he halted cash transfers when he became prime minister in 2021.
“I stopped the money bags because I think it would be a huge mistake to allow Hamas to have all these bags full of cash, which would directly lead to it realigning itself against the Israelis. Why do we feed them money to kill us?” Bennett asked.
Cash payments stopped, but money transfers to Gaza continued under Bennett’s leadership, according to the New York Times.
An Israeli official told CNN that any suggestion that Netanyahu wants to preserve a “somewhat weakened” Hamas is “completely false” and that he has acted to weaken Hamas “significantly.”
“He led three powerful military operations against Hamas that resulted in the deaths of thousands of terrorists and senior Hamas leaders,” the official said. “Successive Israeli governments before, during and after the Netanyahu governments have enabled funds to go to Gaza. Not to strengthen Hamas but to prevent a humanitarian crisis by supporting critical infrastructure, including water and sanitation systems to prevent the spread of disease and enable daily life.”
Netanyahu has come under increasing criticism as the depth of his government’s involvement in the move, as well as its motives, have emerged once again.
The financing deal is one reason why many Israelis today place part of the blame for the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Netanyahu personally. Several people told CNN they believe allowing the payments made Hamas stronger and, ultimately, made the brutal attacks worse.
“The prime minister’s policy of dealing with the terrorist movement as a partner, at the expense of (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas and the Palestinian state, has led to wounds that will take Israel years to heal,” Tal Schneider wrote in an opinion article in the newspaper. The Times of Israel on October 8, the day after the devastating Hamas attack.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett poses for a photo during an interview with CNN in Tel Aviv on November 10.
Gilad, the former Israeli defense official, said he was among those who opposed allowing money to reach Hamas, saying the cash flow allowed over the years was a “dramatic and tragic mistake.”
With this money, “they were able to take care of the residents.” “They can pay attention to military reinforcement and building their capabilities,” Gilad said last week.
Criticism of Netanyahu escalated among Israelis after the attack, with many blaming the prime minister for failing to prevent it.
Qatar maintains close relations with both Hamas and Western countries, including the United States. It has been heavily criticized for allowing the Iran-backed group to establish a political office in Doha, which has operated since 2012.
But it also proved useful to Israel, having played Leadership role In the release of hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 in Gaza.
But some Israeli officials have pointed to Qatar as among those responsible for the attack, saying the Gulf Arab state supports Hamas.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen accused Qatar of financing Hamas and harboring its leaders in October.
“Qatar, which funds and harbors Hamas leaders, can influence and enable the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by terrorists. You members of the international community should demand that Qatar do so,” Cohen said at a high-level UN meeting.
Qatar refused The accusations were made by Israeli officials, warning that “these provocative statements” could undermine mediation efforts and even “endanger lives.”
Gilad also blamed Qatar, saying the Gulf state “gave Hamas a billion shekels a year ($30 million a month)…and they used it to strengthen their grip on Gaza.” For them (Hamas), it was a relief. “It was like oxygen,” he told CNN.
Qatar denies that these funds are allocated to the Hamas movement, saying that they are intended as aid to pay the salaries of workers in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The Gulf state, which hosts a major US air base, has also come under pressure in Congress. A bipartisan group of 113 US lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden on October 16 asking him to put pressure on countries that support Hamas, including Qatar.
Al-Khulaifi, the Qatari minister who leads his country’s mediation in the war between Israel and Hamas, said that his country “will continue to work with regional and international partners to ensure that these funds can reach the most vulnerable groups and important people.” and critical infrastructure.”
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