ExclusiveMossad's Cohen thanked emir: Aid eases humanitarian situation

Documents show Israel sought, valued Qatari aid for Gaza in years leading to Oct. 7

Netanyahu long attempted to avoid talking publicly about arrangement with Doha, but letters from top aides reveal Jerusalem felt assistance was critical for regional stability

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 10, 2023. 
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at Lusail Palace, in Doha on February 6, 2024. (Ronen Zvulun/AP, Mark Schiefelbein/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 10, 2023. Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at Lusail Palace, in Doha on February 6, 2024. (Ronen Zvulun/AP, Mark Schiefelbein/AFP)

A series of documents obtained by The Times of Israel reveal how top Israeli officials sought and expressed their appreciation for the financial support provided by Qatar to stabilize the humanitarian situation in Gaza in the years and months prior to Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught.

“This aid has undoubtedly played a fundamental role in achieving the continued improvement of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and ensuring stability and security in the region,” then Mossad chief Yossi Cohen wrote in a 2020 letter to Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, expressing his “thanks and appreciation for the humanitarian aid provided by the State of Qatar during recent years” to the enclave.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu long sought to avoid talking publicly about the funds his successive governments secured from Qatar for Gaza over the past decade. But the hundreds of millions of dollars in payments came under renewed scrutiny following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, as their apparent goal of keeping Israel’s southern border quiet by improving the economic situation in Gaza dramatically backfired. Nonetheless, Netanyahu has since defended the assistance as necessary for preventing a “humanitarian disaster” in the Strip.

The premier insists this wasn’t his goal, but critics have argued that the Qatari aid helped strengthen Hamas at the expense of the more moderate Palestinian Authority, which seeks a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a framework Netanyahu opposes.

The Arabic and English letters obtained by The Times of Israel indicate that Israel did seek to ensure that the funds wouldn’t be directly diverted to Hamas. However, with Doha funding humanitarian projects in the Strip, Hamas, the Gaza-ruling terror group that avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, was absolved of having to provide such services to Palestinians themselves, freeing up its own cash for military projects.

Since 2018 Qatar has periodically provided millions of dollars in cash to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, to pay Hamas’s civil servants and to provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families.

In a second letter from 2021, Ronen Levy — who at the time headed the NSC’s Middle East, Africa and Special Liaisons Directorate — acknowledged Doha’s financial support through the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee to advance “civilian and infrastructure projects in electricity, residential areas, medicine and support for the population.”

“We reiterate the importance of continuing to transfer the Qatari humanitarian financial assistance through the existing mechanism, i.e. the ambassador [Mohammad] al-Emadi [head of] the Qatar Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, in order to maintain the aforementioned… achievements,” Levy wrote to Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani.

In a third letter sent just four months before the October 7 attacks, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories COGAT Ghassan Alian updated Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi on Israel’s approval of the “Gas for Gaza” project, which aims to replace the diesel fuel currently powering Gaza’s electrical plant with Israeli gas.

“We are at your disposal and will continue accompanying the implementation of this project,” Alian wrote, appearing to elicit Qatar’s assistance in continuing to fund the project.

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, Foreign Ministry director Ronen Levi, COGAT head Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, Qatar’s envoy to Gaza Mohammad al-Emadi, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. (Collage/Flash90, State Department, AP)

A senior Israeli official confirmed the authenticity of the letters, as did a second source familiar with the matter.

Israel’s assessment that Hamas was more interested in securing economic aid and maintaining quiet in Gaza is believed largely responsible for Jerusalem being lulled into a sense of complacency that allowed the terror group to launch the devastating October 7 attack, when thousands of gunmen burst across the border, overrunning military bases and communities and killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians in their homes and at a music festival. Another 253 were taken hostage.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu’s office, Cohen, and COGAT did not respond to repeated requests for comment, and Levy declined to comment.

Another Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity stressed that the relationship with Qatar was managed strictly by Mossad and COGAT and that any letter sent by the NSC was done at the request of one of those agencies.

“Qatar’s support for Gaza was made in accordance with the decisions of the political echelon with approval from the cabinet,” the Israeli official added. “The aid was defined as being for humanitarian purposes only.”

Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi (C) leaves a press conference at the Dar al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, on February 19, 2018. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Doha won accolades from one of Netanyahu’s top aides after it succeeded in securing the release of four Israeli hostages in October. It brokered a deal between Israel and Hamas the next month that freed over 100 hostages. But the stalemate in ensuing talks has since led Jerusalem to sour on Qatar, with Netanyahu accusing Doha of failing to apply sufficient pressure on Hamas.

Last week, though, two officials told The Times of Israel that Qatar’s emir proposed expelling Hamas’s leaders from Doha during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken days after October 7.

Al Thani was effectively rebuffed by the top US diplomat who said it would be better for Qatar to use its contacts with Hamas — through the office it allowed the terror group to establish in Doha in 2012 at Washington’s behest — to mediate between the Gaza war parties to secure a hostage deal, the officials recalled.

However, Blinken clarified to the emir that it would not be “business as usual” for Hamas in Qatar once the war in Gaza concludes, the officials added.

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