Is Washington Doing Enough To Pressure Arab Allies Over Hamas?

Even as the president publicly berates Israel to offer more assistance to Gaza civilians, Washington is yet to exert its considerable leverage over Qatar for hastening the release of hostages that include more than a dozen Americans.

AP/Majdi Mohammed
An Israeli military convoy enters the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin, the West Bank, November 9, 2023. AP/Majdi Mohammed

As Hamas intensifies its cynical ploy of using the hostages it holds to further its war goals, diplomatic negotiations at Cairo and Doha are moving into high gear. Yet, is Washington doing enough to lean on Arab allies?

Early in his tenure, President Biden designated Qatar a “major non-NATO ally.” In 2003, America moved its main Air Force base in the region to Qatar’s al-Ubeid from Saudi Arabia. As a top Hamas benefactor, Doha seemingly could pressure the terrorist organization to release all the abductees.

Even as the president publicly berates Israel to offer more assistance to Gaza civilians, Washington is yet to exert its considerable leverage over Qatar for hastening the release of hostages that include more than a dozen Americans. Release efforts are conducted in secret negotiations, raising the anguish of family members.  

Indicating progress in negotiations, the White House announced on Thursday that Israel has agreed to pause fighting for four hours each day to facilitate humanitarian assistance. The Israel Defense Force is already opening four-hour windows daily to facilitate movement of civilians to a safe zone in the south from the northern Gaza battlefield.

Despite that, “the war continues and we are not stopping,” the IDF spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said, adding nevertheless: “We haven’t missed any opportunity to release the hostages.”    

The CIA chief, William Burns, and his Mossad counterpart, David Barnea, met with the Qatari prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, at Doha Thursday morning. The meeting was designed to “discuss the parameters of a deal for hostage releases and a pause” in the Gaza war, Reuters reports.   

“No one is better suited than Barnea for this kind of diplomacy,” a former Israeli national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, told public broadcaster Kan. “He knows all the players and can perhaps get things moving.”

Speaking of release efforts, General Amidror, a former research department chief in the IDF intelligence unit, added, “we don’t know where they are located” in Gaza. Once intelligence is gathered on location, he said, the IDF would then isolate the area, freeze the war efforts there, and concentrate on rescuing the hostages.

Until then, though, diplomatic efforts must continue, General Amidror said. Messrs. Burns and Barnea and Sheikh Mohammed discussed a deal for a three-day ceasefire in return for the release of 10 to 20 hostages, the Financial Times reports.

Israel has denied such a deal is in the works. An organization representing hostage families announced it opposes any war cessation until all abductees are released, even as the diplomacy accelerated Thursday.

In addition to the Doha meeting, a Hamas delegation headed by the terrorist organization’s chief, Ismail Haniyeh, and his predecessor, Khaled Meshaal, met at Cairo with the Egyptian intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel. The Qatari emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is expected to arrive at Cairo on Friday to further push for a deal.

Israel Channel 11 television cited unidentified Jerusalem officials who said that a deal, if any, would take at least a week to complete. Nevertheless, Hamas’s junior partner in Gaza, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, released a video clip depicting a 67-year-old Israeli woman, Hannah Katzir, and a 12-year-old boy, Yagil Yaakov, it had abducted, saying it is ready to release them. 

Such tactics are clearly designed to increase the anguish of already stressed Israelis who have loved ones held in Gaza. “I’m aware of talks about a deal on the hostages,” an Israeli war cabinet member, Benny Gantz, said during a visit to the northern border. “This talk is full of false propaganda that hurts and shakes the families of the abductees. I urge you not to fall for our enemies’ propaganda.”

A letup in the fighting for a few days would “help Hamas relocate the hostages and prevent a military operation to rescue them,” a veteran Israeli security analyst, Ron Ben Yishai, writes on the YNet website. “It would also help Hamas take in hostages held by smaller organizations, bolstering its bargaining position.”

Stopping the fight for more than a few hours would allow Hamas to regroup, renew its communication systems, and rejuvenate its tunnel maze, known as the “Gaza Metro.” The IDF is set to use novel methods to address the underground Hamas lair, the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said Thursday. He provided no further details. 

Israel always faces battlefield complications when fighting Hamas, including battling terrorists who use civilians as human shields and intense global scrutiny of its actions. Now, Hamas has an even more menacing tool to protect it from demise, as Israeli fighters need to worry about their own citizens held in Gaza. 

America can help by increasing its pressure on Hamas’s top benefactor. Instead of endlessly praising Qatar’s diplomatic efforts, Washington can tell Doha that unless all hostages are freed unconditionally, its ties with America are in significant jeopardy.

The New York Sun

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