On the heels of the emir of Qatar, a high-ranking Bahraini delegation was scheduled to land in Hamas-ruled Gaza City Thursday, Oct. 1.
It took a dry statement by Gaza government spokesman Taher al-Nunu to clear up the confusion caused by mixed communiqués over who would lead the Bahraini delegation. Two separate sources — one close to the Hamas government and the other from the UN Refugee Agency –said it would be headed by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, a son of the Bahraini king. But then, al-Nunu made it clear that the delegation leader was to be Mustafa al-Sayyed, Secretary General of the Bahraini Royal Charity Organization –RCO. This was finally confirmed by sources in Manama.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in the Gulf report: There was never any question of a Bahraini royal prince visiting the Gaza Strip. The confusion was caused by the insistence of Qatar's emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, that the Bahraini king Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa follow in his footsteps and personally make the trip to the Palestinian enclave. This would have injected a measure of Arab endorsement to the Qatari emir’s groundbreaking visit of Oct. 23.
But his effort was countered by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and members of the Bahraini royal family, who pulled in the opposite direction. The Obama administration also leaned hard on Manama to keep the Gaza visit low profile, but refrained from vetoing it. The question is why.
The Qatari emir played Washington false
The answer is that it sort of fell between the cracks.
According to our Washington sources, before the Qatari emir, Sheikh al-Thani, set out for Gaza, US officials asked Doha in a disapproving tone about the purpose of his trip. The palace replied that it was not any sort of move against Israel. Quite the contrary, said the emir’s advisers: It aimed at cutting Hamas away from Tehran. In particular, he hoped to persuade Hamas rulers to revoke the secret military accords they signed with Iran and Hizballah in the second week of September.
Success in this mission would further isolate the Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah axis, they said, and deprive them of the Gaza Strip as their jumping-off point for a second front against Israel from the south.
The Qatari ruler’s argument was greeted with some skepticism by most of President Obama's military and intelligence advisors. But they decided not to interfere when he promised to include in his entourage the former Hamas politburo head Khaled Meshaal who, since moving out of his Damascus headquarters to Qatar, has become the implacable enemy of his former host, Bashar Assad.
But in the event, Sheikh al-Thani arrived in Gaza with is wife Sheikha Mozah instead of Meshaal.
His pretext to Washington was the strong objections raised by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to Meshaal setting foot in his domain.
But he failed to explain why in his one-day visit, he had not followed through on any of his promises not to let his talks in Gaza be aimed against Israel.
Qatari military attaché for constructive liaison with Hamas military arm
Indeed, he secretly took the opposite tack. The confidential arrangements he concluded with Hamas leaders, as brought to Washington’s notice by Israel, are revealed here:
1. Qatar undertook to establish a diplomatic mission in Doha with a military attaché assigned to maintaining direct liaison with Hamas’s military arm, the Izz-e-din al Qasam Brigades.
On Oct. 22, the day before the Qatari emir’s visit, debkafile's military and intelligence sources disclosed that his main object was to mobilize Hamas’s military arm for conversion into the Qatari version of Iran’s “Al Qods Brigades” and fight for Emir al-Thani interests in the Arab world.
The Obama administration refused to take this and other reports seriously. Now that a Qatari military attaché is on his way to Gaza to execute this scheme, Washington and Riyadh realize they missed the train for stopping it.
2. A highly symbolic ceremony was staged during the visit, every detail of which was approved in advance by the emir. He and his wife were presented with token keys of the homes Palestinians fled in 1948 when the fledgling Jewish state was attacked by Arab armies. This amounted to the Qatari ruler’s commitment to the Palestinians refugees’ “right of return” to present-day Israel.
3. In another ceremony at the Islamic University in Gaza, al-Thani and his wife were presented with a large ceramic sign with the slogan: "80 kilometers to Jerusalem.” He himself paid to have the plaque artistically designed as a symbol that his visit to Gaza was only a first wayside stop on the road to “liberating Jerusalem.”
In summing up the Gulf ruler’s visit to Gaza, Israeli officials pointed out that, instead of furthering steps against Iran – as he had promised Washington, he had gone the other way and bolstered Israel’s most radical and proactive adversaries.
The United Arab Emirates president eyes Ramallah
The Qatari emir was the first Gulf ruler to woo the Palestinians – but not the last.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is no less powerful than his Qatari colleague, has secretly offered to patch up the quarrel between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan, Gaza strongman in the Arafat era and up to 2008 a leading PA light.
After intriguing against Abbas for years, Dahlan was finally forced to leave Ramallah and take up exile in Abu Dhabi.
Now, for reinstating Dahlan in Ramallah as a member of the Fatah executive committee, al Nahyan is offering one million dollars per month to haul the Palestinian Authority out of bankruptcy and cover its public sector payroll.
Abbas’s representatives are in intensive negotiations with the UAE ruler on his offer.
But our Gulf sources question whether those talks will end in an accord. The PA chairman will have understood that the UAE president seeks to make Dahlan his Trojan horse for seizing control of the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, to compete with the Qatari ruler’s bid to acquire the Gaza Strip and command over the Hamas militia.
Abbas knows that once the two Gulf rulers’ free-for-all for controlling the two divided Palestinian assets bursts into the open, he had better pack his bags.