Israeli diplomats at Qatar World Cup handled just 1 brief arrest, 9 minor incidents

On last day of tournament, Israel calls Doha operation a success, with only one citizen detained out of some 10,000 who flew to Gulf country despite no diplomatic ties

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A woman walks in downtown Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A woman walks in downtown Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Only a handful of Israelis in Qatar sought consular assistance from diplomats stationed in the country for the World Cup, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Sunday as the soccer tournament drew to a close.

Thousands of Israelis attended the games, despite Israel and Qatar having no official diplomatic ties. Special arrangements organized before the start of the tournament saw Israelis able to fly directly to the Gulf nation, with a small staff of Israeli diplomats stationed there in case of problems.

The diplomatic staff in Doha said it dealt with only 10 incidents, including one medical emergency in which an Israeli was brought to a local hospital for treatment before being flown back to Israel. Most of the other cases involved issuing travel documents for lost or stolen passports.

In one incident, the team assisted in the search for an Israeli citizen who had briefly become lost and disoriented in Doha’s urban sprawl.

There was also one Israeli arrested over a minor incident and quickly released, the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel.

“We are happy to say that the entire event went off with virtually no problems,” said Iris Ambor, head of the Israeli delegation at the World Cup. “We are full of appreciation for the Israeli visitors who took responsibility for themselves and acted with discretion throughout.”

According to FIFA, 4,500 incoming fans registered their nationality as Israeli. However, the Foreign Ministry’s own assessment suggests that thousands more entered Qatar using a non-Israeli passport, wary of potential security risks, bringing the number of Israeli fans to up to 10,000.

Illustrative: People check in at a counter in Ben Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv, the first commercial flight from Israel to Doha for the 2022 World Cup tournament, November 20, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry had warned Israelis heading to Qatar to keep a low profile and not flaunt Israeli or Jewish symbols. Some fans who nonetheless identified as Israeli complained of harassment from other attendees sympathetic to the Palestinians. This was particularly true of broadcast journalists, who were unable to hide their country of origin.

The Foreign Ministry also launched a website meant to educate fans and raise awareness to sensitive issues they may encounter.

The World Cup ends Sunday evening with a championship match between Argentina and France.

Israeli diplomats at work in Qatar during the World Cup, December 2022 (Foreign Ministry)

Though they do not have official ties, Jerusalem engages with Doha to grant permissions for the distribution of Qatari aid in the Gaza Strip, but details on such contacts are rarely publicly confirmed. Doha also openly provides a base for leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules the Strip.

Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office from 1995 to 2000, but is seen as unlikely to join other Gulf states in establishing full ties with Israel due to its relationship with Iran, the Jewish state’s regional arch-foe.

Supporters of Tunisia hold a flag that reads “Free Palestine” during the World Cup group D soccer match between Tunisia and Australia at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar, November 26, 2022. (AP/Petr David Josek)

Due to the lack of diplomatic relations, there was a need for a special agreement between FIFA, Israel and Qatar to allow the Israeli diplomats to arrive and assist Israelis traveling for the tournament. The deal also enabled direct charter flights between Israel and Qatar for the first time.

Qatar has been critical of the 2020 US-brokered agreements known as the Abraham Accords, which saw Israel normalize relations with three Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

Tensions between Israel and Qatar surged following the May killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering an army raid in the West Bank.

The Doha-based network and the Qatari state both accused Israeli of deliberately targeting Abu Akleh.

Ash Obel contributed to this report.

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