Israeli soccer fans traveling abroad like to wave the Israeli flag in the stadiums where they are spectators. That won’t be happening during the World Cup in Qatar because FIFA has banned the flags of national teams not participating in the tournament, while Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised Israelis traveling to Qatar to keep a low profile.
Ahead of the World Cup finals, Israel has opened a representative office in the Qatari capital Doha to help solve any problems for Israelis visiting the country for the tournament – from losing their passport to being arrested and other complications with the authorities. Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this week that the Israeli hope was that the opening of the consular representative’s office in Doha during the World Cup would continue afterwards. However, even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs realizes that the day after the World Cup ends, the representative office will close, and a genuine breakthrough is still far off.
The significance of the World Cup being held in Qatar is far reaching, including for Qatar-Israel relations. Qatar is a kind of ‘bad boy’ of the Gulf. The small country that has tried to challenge the dominance of Saudi Arabia in the region even at the price of a direct confrontation with Riyadh and a boycott that lasted several years until the reconciliation reached with Doha last year.
Qatar and its rulers use several weapons: one, Al Jazeera – the popular Arab media network, with ostensibly acceptable journalistic criteria. But in practice it is a propaganda arm of the Emir of Qatar, Tamim al-Thani. The second weapon is the huge capital of the oil and natural gas powerhouse, which is used both to purchase soccer teams in Europe and to finance campaigns such as the one that led to hosting the World Cup.
The money is also used for another much more problematic channel – support for Islamist terrorist organizations, especially those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. This is reflected, for example, in aid to Hamas – including housing its headquarters in Doha. At the same time, Qatar maintains a good relationship with Iran and its proxies.
The Oslo Agreement boosted relations with Israel
Israel-Qatar relations warmed up after the Oslo Accords, and in 1996 an official economic representation was opened. Shimon Peres visited Doha twice as prime minister, and in 2007 the chairman of the Qatar Olympic Committee, Sheikh Saud bin Abd al-Rahman, visited Israel – and laid the cornerstone for the renovation of Doha Stadium in Sakhnin with a donation from the Qatari government. Economic relations were officially severed in 2009, following Operation Cast Lead. In 2012, Emir Hamed al-Thani, the first Arab ruler to legitimize Hamas, visited the Gaza Strip.
Following the Abraham Accords between Israel and Qatar’s neighbors in the Gulf, Qatar also began to slowly warm up relations with Israel – even though it officially criticized the UAE and Bahrain harshly. In practice, as reported by “Globes”, the governments of Israel and Qatar signed a commercial agreement for diamonds a year ago, in which Doha was added to the list of countries entitled to trade diamonds in Israel. For its part, Qatar undertook to allow Israeli merchants to enter the country without problems and even to establish a representative office.
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The World Cup has also been used to establish direct contacts to resolve issues for Israeli football fans, and an agreement was reached between the countries, brokered by FIFA, which allows the entry of fans without the need for a special visa – and even allows direct flights from Tel Aviv to Doha.
Qatar is less important than other Gulf countries
“Qatar is ready for a quiet warming of relations, that is, in economic and commercial fields,” a senior Israeli official told “Globes.” “This warming-up should not be expected to mature into real relations in the near future. Qatar is far behind Saudi Arabia on official matters, and in practice, it is less important to Israel than other countries in the Gulf – such as Oman. In addition, the matter of its relationship with Hamas is most problematic.”
In Jerusalem the hope is that Israeli soccer fans will avoid unnecessary complications in Doha, which has strict local alcohol laws. Qatar, as a Muslim country, prohibits drinking alcohol in public, and only in certain places such as hotels where foreigners stay is alcohol available. One million tourists are expected, many of them from the liberal West – and that’s why Qatar decided to set up stands selling beer in closed areas, which are next to the eight tournament stadiums.
Doha officials to Hamas: Avoid contact with Israelis
In terms of of personal security, Qatar is doing everything in its power to provide a sense of security to tourists in general and football fans in particular, through an increased presence of security personnel, policemen and soldiers on every street corner. These will keep away hawkers and turn away drunks, but just as important – they will prevent demonstrations or political confrontations.
Will the presence of Hamas members in Doha impact Israelis? The answer is probably negative because the Hamas representatives in Qatar are from the political wing, but not only for this reason. “Globes” understands that the Qatar leadership has instructed Hamas to avoid any contact with Israelis.
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on November 20, 2022.
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