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From the BBC World Service.


Please let us know what you think and tell other people about us on social media. Podcasts from the BBC World Service are supported by advertising. Hello, I'm Katya Adler. From the BBC World Service, this is The Global Story. Welcome to our third episode. Our mission is to give you fresh, smart takes on the stories that matter. We focus on one story in detail, Monday to Friday, with the help of the BBC's best journalists. Today, after six weeks of brutal, deadly conflict in Israel and Gaza, in which thousands and thousands of civilians mainly in Gaza, have lost their lives, we finally got positive news. I can't believe it. It's just so happy to know that they're here in Israeli territory. I feel as.


If part.


Of my family came back. Some of the hostages taken from Israel by Hamas in October were able to return home, and this allowed a multi-day pause in hostilities and more desperately needed aid to enter the Gaza Strip. In the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, large crowds greeted dozens of Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails in exchange for the hostages. All of this took weeks of painstaking negotiations, and at the center of the process was tiny Qatar, one of the smallest countries in the Middle East with a population of just under three million. Our question today, how did Qatar pull it off? When did it become such a global linchpin? With me today, our security correspondent, Frank Gairdner, he's covered security matters and the Middle East for more than 20 years now, and Jayda Taha as well from BBC Monitoring. She's in Cairo. Hello to both of you.


Hello. Hello.


Frank, today we're looking at Qatar's pivotal role on the international stage and in these hostage negotiations. But to set the scene, first of all, I really want to understand a bit more about how negotiations took place at all between sworn enemies currently at war, Israel, and Hamas. Hamas, of course, governs Gaza and is labeled a terrorist organization by many Western governments.


Right. It came about the instigation of Qatar, particularly of the ruling family. Qatar is this tiny, gas-rich Gulf state which has burst onto the world's financial stage some time ago, but has also more recently been bursting onto the diplomatic stage. Qatar was very quick to offer their services as honest brokers, as intermediaries because they've got good relations with the West and they have relations with Hamas. They host the political office for Hamas in Doha, their capital. Initially, that wasn't taken up by Israel, which was still reeling from the October the seventh attack, but with a bit of nudging from the US, that then started to happen.


You say almost in a throwaway way that Qatar sat down with Hamas, with the Israelis. But of course, if we look at that terrible brutality, the bloodshed on the ground in Gaza, the idea that these groups are sitting together in somehow rounded table, we hear of Mossad going to to Qatar, for example, as part of trying to get the deal brokered.


From talking to people who are closely involved with this, I don't think Hamas was sitting at the table with the Israelis. That's too much for either side because they absolutely loathe each other. Remember that they are dedicated to each other's destruction. The Chief of the CIA, William Burns and David Barnir, the head of Mossad, which is Israel's external secret service, have both been in Qatar and sitting down with Qatari officials who in turn have then passed on messages to Hamas. One of the problems of this is logistics, is that getting messages from Doha from what is agreed there, or tentatively agreed, getting that to Gaza, to underground military commanders who are fighting a war under constant bombardment, knowing that their communications are being intercepted, almost certainly by the Israelis, that's always been quite difficult, I think, and why there's been a few delays. And at one point Hamas pulled out and there was no communication from them for several days and it looked like the whole thing was going to collapse. The initial deal was refused by Israel, who felt that it was giving away too much. Remember, this is quite a hardline right-wing cabinet and there are plenty of people in the Israeli security establishment and on the extreme right-wing who have even been demanding the death penalty for captured Hamas gunman.


It was quite difficult, I think, initially, but with a lot of pushing from the Americans, President Biden reportedly called Netanyahu 13 times.


Israel's Prime Minister?


Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called him 13 times between October the seventh and the date that the deal was finalized.


Because there's a lot at stake here, isn't there? First of all, the plight of Gaza civilians on the ground to a living and dying through the daily bombardments by Israel, the fate of all of those hostages, mainly civilian who were taken in that Hamas-organized attack on the seventh of October, and stability in the wider Middle East region, which is really destabilized by what's going on. And Qatar as a linchpin.


Yep, they are a paradox and a maverick, Qatar. They've always been this way. They've taken a certain amount of risk, I think, political risk, in the fact that they do host the political office for a prescribed terrorist group. Hamas is prescribed by the UK and the US and a number of other countries. But nevertheless, Qatar has pulled this off. They're very good at this. They've done deals before where they've got people out of custody in Iraq, for example. They've provided a very useful conduit for the West with Afghanistan, with the Taliban. But primarily, they've been involved in Gaza since 2007. The Emir of Qatar, the previous Emir, Sheik Hamid bin Khalif Al-Thani, it went to Qatar in, I think, 2012, about five years after Hamas took power there. And controversially, Qatar has been funding Hamas. They would say they've been funding it purely for civilian projects, but Hamas have been very good at siphoning off money for military purposes.


On Monday, the deal brokered by Qatar was extended for an extra two days. And what then? Well, we don't know. As we've already seen with this conflict, it's hard to predict the road ahead. But whatever happens next, it's likely Qatar will continue to play a vital role, working towards a ceasefire, getting more of the hostages in Qatar released. Jayda, how did this tiny country become so influential?


Qatar has for long maintained close relations with Islamist groups in the region, such as the Muslim Brotherhood group, which Hamas is considered an offshoot, as well as Afghanistan's Taliban, Tunisia's Nihdaw movement, among others, and was repeatedly accused of sponsoring other Islamic factions in the region. During the Arab Spring in 2011, Doha backed the protest that erupted in several Arab states at the time, including Egypt, Syria, and was seen largely in favor of these groups. This was particularly evident and apparent through the coverage of Qatar's flagship, Al-Jizera TV, which aired coverage critical of the region's leaders at the time. This general approach was not welcomed by other key regional players such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, or Bahrain, who for the most part, vied for diminishing the role of Islamists in the region. So at the time, they accused Doha of sponsoring terrorism and imposed a complete boycott in 2017 on the Gulf country. It should be noted that Doha repeatedly denied these accusations.


You're outlining for us how Qatar was seen as an outsider in the Middle East, if you like, and was accused by critics of sponsoring Islamist factions. But on the other hand, it also has close ties with Iran, doesn't it? You talked about its close ties to the Muslim brotherhoods, which comes from Egypt. It also is home to big US military bases as well. It's like it's dancing on lots of weddings, if you like, simultaneously.


Yes, definitely. They've always maintained close ties with Tehran, even at the times where other regional players were considering it a regional foe. But that later significantly changed when the two sides finally reconciled. I mean, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE in 2021 and Mandatai, you would see coverage of Qatar's Emir, Hugging, Saudi's Crown Prince, or Egypt's President, as if nothing really happened. Though lingering tensions with Bahrain remained, and you would still see on Al-Jazira some criticism here and there, but this significantly overall toned down.


Qatar has always annoyed its neighbors. So right back, I lived in Bahrain in the early 90s, and they had a dispute between Qatar and Bahrain about some islands called the Hoar. Then in 1995, Qatar launched Al-Jazira, they took a lot of former BBC Arabic journalists, and Al-Jazira revealed things which was shocking to most people in the Middle East. It was some of the things that, for example, Gulf Arab tourists got up to in London in the summer. There were calls from regional leaders for Qatar to tone down its coverage, which it decided not to. It goes its own way. And they held municipal elections, which were largely free and fair, for which women could stand for office in 2000, '99, 2000, around then. And they've always been this maverick, and they've tried to be what they think on the right side of history. Qatar has embraced something called political Islam. And just as J'dai was explaining there, they back the Muslim brotherhood the Iqwana, the Muslimin. This is something deeply unpopular with these rather more conservative Arab states like Egypt, Jordan, and the rest of the Gulf states. They don't like political Islam. They don't like the Muslim brotherhood because essentially it espouses the idea that you don't need these dynastic rulers.


There should be a pan-Islamic rule and that religion should play a very big part in governance. That's not something which is shared by the rest of the region. So Qatar is seen as being a bit of a black sheep in the region.


Would you say that Maverick, you've used controversial definitely. I mean, we were hearing from Jayda that Qatar has been accused of sponsoring Islamist, extremist groups.


For example. And terrorism. It's been accused of sponsoring terrorism.


So where are we now? I mean, in the position that we've seen it able, despite all of the complications and the fact that Israel is split, doesn't speak with one voice, that Hamas is split and doesn't speak with one voice, and yet 50 hostages have been released. Palestinian prisoners have been released from Israeli jails, and there is at least for a few days, quiet on the ground, desperately needed for the civilians in Gaza. Has the Maverick foreign policy won the day for Qatar, would.


You say? Yes, for now. I think Qatar deserves a lot of praise for its efforts against great odds, actually, to be able to bring together these two bitter foes. But it's not over yet. I mean, the Qataris say we've still got a long way to go because look, there are still well over 100 hostages left in Gaza, and many of those are military, and it's not going to be easy getting them out. The Israeli government thinks that they can get them out by storming Hamas strongholds underground. That's not a certainty. It's always easier and safer to get hostages out by negotiation than by armed force.


As you say, Frank, it's not over yet. But even getting this far, we were just discussing there Qatar's relations with Iran and with the Arab world, specifically with the US. That's an interesting history too, isn't it?


It is because Qatar hosts this massive airbase called Al-Udid, which is where CENTCOM, US Central Command, which is the part of the Pentagon, the Department of Defense in the US that looks after the whole of the Middle East and used to be Afghanistan, but no longer. And they control all the air operations for all US and coalition allied operations, including against ISIS up in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, it has hosted a presence of Hamas, a prescribed terrorist organization, and the Taliban. And you have this extraordinary situation in recent years where Taliban commanders have gone shopping in shopping malls in Doha with their wives heavily veiled, passing uniform US serviceman. It's a safe zone, as it were. It's quite extraordinary.


You're painting quite an extraordinary picture there. So this rather maverick foreign policy in the last 15 years has seen Qatar position itself as a political force on the global stage. But it begs the question, why? What's in it for Qatar? This is The Global Story. I'm Katya Adler. We tell one story in detail every Monday to Friday. Subscribe or follow us wherever you listen. We've established that this hostage deal between Israel and Hamas was a huge diplomatic effort, and much of that is thanks to Qatar or engineered through Qatar. Why has Qatar done this? What's in it for them?


Talking to the Qataris, you get the sense that they are trying to be on what they see as the right side of history. Way back in 2000, I interviewed their Prime Minister at the time, Sheik Hamid bin Jaisam, and he expressed some fear that eventually the dynastic monarchies of the Gulf could be swept away. Qatar was one of the first to hold fairly democratic municipal elections, allowing women to stand for office. It's still at the heart of it, a deeply traditional Bedouin country, but it has embraced things like political Islam, the Muslim brotherhood. It's gone on a massive spending spree around the world. It's punching way above its tiny size, geographically and demographically to become a big world player. There's no question about it. And Kata matters now. They have mended their fences, as Jaira said, with their neighbors, as of just over two years ago, they're no longer up on the North East step in the Gulf. Now the embargo is over. They survived that, partly because they've got such enormous wealth. They sit on a huge gas reserve in the Gulf that is called the North Dome, and they've got half of that.


Iran has the other bit. It makes them very powerful. They're able to buy up strategic stakes in major landmark things like Sainsbury's, Barclays, Harrods, the Shard, London Stock Exchange. They own billions, tens of billions of pounds and dollars of assets here in the UK.


It's interesting because I work out of Brussels a lot of the time. Recently there was a scandal in the European Parliament called Qatar Gate, where Qatar was accused of buying good press, if you like, amongst members of the European Parliament. Of course, I should mention that Qatar categorically denies buying good press. Jayda, would you say that Qatar's aim in all of this and being involved in such a high stakes, hostage negotiation, for example, is to get good press, a friendly image abroad?


Like any other regional power, they're always vying for more influence, and this is one route to lead to that. This is very apparent in how, for example, domestic press in Qatar are promoting this. There's a lot of praise to Qatar leadership and how they're leading on a balanced foreign policy. This is how they're marketing it. This is always something that is not just Qatar, but all other regional players are vying for. Because if you, for example, check Egyptian domestic press, you will see them also praising the Egyptian for their efforts in helping humanitarian aid enter through the Rafah crossing, allowing the exit of foreign nationals even before those deals. This is a very common theme.


Frank, isn't this a common theme we're seeing, particularly in the wider Middle East? I mean, you mentioned how gas-rich Qatar is, and yet the world is moving to a place, however slowly, of stopping to use fossil fuels. So don't we see various countries, including Qatar, looking for other roles on the world stage?


Very much so, yeah, definitely. I mean, Saudi Arabia has been accused of sportswashing, as it's called, of trying to improve its image post murder of Jamal Khashoghi five years ago by buying up top players and so on. The Saudi would never admit to the idea that it's sportswashing. They're saying, No, look, we've got a huge young population and we want to give them something to do. Saudi Arabia is bidding to host various big games on their soil. They've got the money and the resources and the organization to do it. This is a country, after all, that has hosted every year up to two million people coming for the hudge. Sometimes that's gone very badly, where there have been massive stampades and crushes, but they've tried to get better at it. Saudi has hosted conferences on Ukraine, a peace conference, and most recently an Arab-Islamic summit to try and resolve the gas. I think I went to it. It was extraordinary seeing President Raoud of Iran sweeping in with his entourage of these unsmiling, Iranian security men in Riyad. Saudi Arab and Riyad can't stand each other, but they've technically patched up their differences in March, but they don't trust each other.


They've got totally different agendas. And Iran has been accused of stirring up Hamas and Hezballah and funding them and arming them and training them. And that is anathema to the very conservative Saudi's, Jordanians, and Emirates and Bahrainians.


Jada, so if we're having a look at the why of Qatar here, famed now for being able to broker the deal of at least the release of 50 hostages and a few days of quiet on the ground in Gaza. Is there another motive underneath that? Is it money? Is it investment? We also know that many countries in the Middle East are looking for US military being able to buy weapons from the United States. What is at play? What are the priorities for those who rule Qatar?


It's really trying to keep all options open. After the war in Ukraine started, besides attempting to try and mediate between the two powers, we've seen a lot of focus on Qatar's role as an alternative supply of energy to Europe. And also it goes back to Qatar's Islamist ideology. Since Emear Mohamed bin Khalif's takeover in 1995, he opted for this ideology. Accordingly, Doha often tries to push for its image as an Islamist, Arab country. And one recent example where we would see this very evident was in 2022 when it hosted the FIFA World Cup. And we've seen, for the first time, discussions about whether alcohol would be allowed in the stadium, whether LGBT flags would be allowed in the country. And at the time, Qatari media, including Al-Jizira, were really promoting this and promoting Qatar's role and defending Islamic and Arab values and so on.


This is what I love about the global story, actually, is its ability we've got to just stand back and see how so many of the world's themes feed into one another. As we're discussing Qatar, we're touching on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, fossil fuels, political Islam. When we come back to the focus at hand, what's happening at the moment between Israel and Hamas, 50 hostages released a few days of quiet on the ground. Frank, Qatar, presumably behind the scenes, is already looking at further negotiations in this case.


Absolutely, it is. Qatar sent its officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to both Israel and Qatar to work not only on the further release of hostages in the immediate future, but also what happens after that. One of the worrying things that is certainly worrying Washington is that Israel does not appear to have a plan for the day the shooting stops. So you've got Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting troops in Gaza at the weekend saying, We will continue until the end. Nothing's going to stop us. But what does that mean? The end of what?


They say the end of Hamas.


Well, yes, but you're never going to be able to destroy an entire ideology unless you've actually got something better to offer people. And at the moment, there isn't anything better. As the Emir of Qatar, not the Emir, excuse me, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, he's one of the same. This is Sheik Mohammed bin Abdul bin Jaseim Al-Thani. He gave an interview at the weekend to the Financial Times in which he said, Palestinians need a political horizon. There isn't one at the moment. The peace process is always a taboo word because it is so lapsed, it's been allowed to dribble away into the sand.


Hold that thought for me, Frank, if you would, because, JJ, I just want to ask you at that point, with Qatar so fundamental in this whole process at the moment, does it have political motives of its own? And what I mean is that if we have a look at the two Palestinian territories, Qatar and the West Bank, Qatar is governed by Hamas, and the West Bank is governed by the Palestinian authority. Even though Hamas won the elections, as you said, there—Frank, in 2006. Qatar, is it helping promote Hamas, at least its political wing, by helping in these negotiations? Because if we have a look at the West Bank, it's full of the green flags Hamas at the moment because as part of this hostage deal, Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails were released back into the West Bank and to the people who live there, thank Hamas, not the Palestinian authority. So does Qatar have an ulterior motive there?


This is definitely a theme we have seen in the West Bank. We've seen people express support to Hamas, especially those Palestinian prisoners who were released during this humanitarian truth deal, and this was picked up prominently by Arab social media users. But honestly, it's very tricky to conclude that Qatar has a preference over one Palestinian party over the other. As far as we've seen from Qatari official rhetoric, their whole approach is that this is for the Palestinian people against what they consistently call the Israeli occupation. So, yeah, that's basically what we're seeing from Qatar at the moment.


Frank, the reason we're talking about this right now is because so many voices in the Middle East and beyond are saying this war between Hamas and Israel and the huge civilian losses, it's so dark that something better has to come out of it. And even though the Palestinian desire for statehood has been largely ignored, frankly, for the last decades, there really does need to be action on some peace process rather than just the words used on the international stage. Presumably, if, it's such a huge if, isn't it? If happens, Qatar will expect to be front and center of multilateral negotiations.


Yeah, I would think so. But I don't think we should fool ourselves into thinking that Qatar or any other Arab state is going to want to take over the security, the running of Gaza. This is one of the big questions. What happens when Israel's war finishes there? I mean, the whole region is hoping that it doesn't resume, but Israel's made it very clear it is going to resume its war. When that finishes, when Israel's decided it's killed enough Hamas fighters and destroyed enough tunnels, enough weapons that it says job done, what then? Who's going to govern the rubble and the ruins of all these people's lives? We asked myself and my BBC colleague, Leece, who said, we asked Arab ministers last week who came to London, Will you be doing it? And they categorically said, No, definitely not. They don't want to come in on the back of, as somebody put it, on the back of Israeli bareness to run Gaza. America is talking about the Palestinian authority doing it, but they are unpopular. They are old, corrupt, inefficient, incompetent, and deeply unpopular. So there's no easy answer to that, but the neighbors in the region don't want to do it, and they are appalled at the damage that's been done to Gaza.


So Frank, you not that long ago wrote an article for us at the BBC about the risk for Qatar and being involved in all of this.


Well, I think the risk for them is that if they hadn't managed to get any hostages out and just done a lot of talking with no results, I think some people would have been quite cynical saying, Why are we friends with a country that hosts a political leadership of a prescribed terrorist organization? We can't see the benefit, but there clearly is a benefit. And even President Biden, even Prime Minister Netanyahu has praised Qatar for its efforts. So their gamble has paid off in that sense.


Frank and Jaydan, thank you so very much. And to you, our listeners, we want to hear from you your ideas, stories, experiences to help us understand and tell the global story. Email us at theglobalstory@bc. Com. You could also message us, or better still, leave us a voice memo on WhatsApp on plus 4.4, 3-3-0, 1-2-3-9-4-8-0. That's plus 4.4, 3-3-0, 1-2-3-9-4-80. Wherever you are in the world, from me and the Global Story team, goodbye.