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Israel: ‘Buying quiet’: Inside Israeli strategy that propped up Hamas

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TEL AVIV: Just weeks before Hamas launched the Oct 7 attacks on Israel, the head of Mossad arrived in Doha for a meeting with Qatari officials. For years, the Qatari government had been sending millions of dollars a month into the Gaza Strip – money that helped prop up the Hamas government there. Benjamin Netanyahu not only tolerated those payments, he had encouraged them.
During his meetings in September with Qatari officials, according to several people familiar with the secret talks, the Mossad chief, David Barnea, was asked a question that had not been on the agenda: Did Israel want the payments to continue? Netanyahu’s government had recently decided to continue the policy so Barnea said yes.Allowing the payments – billions of dollars over roughly a decade – was a gamble by Netanyahu that a steady flow of money would maintain peace in Gaza and keep Hamas focused on governing, not fighting.
The Qatari payments, while ostensibly a secret, have been widely known and discussed in the Israeli news media for years. Netanyahu’s critics disparage them as part of a strategy of “buying quiet”, and the policy is in the middle of a ruthless reassessment following the attacks. Netanyahu has lashed back at that criticism, calling the suggestion that he tried to empower Hamas “ridiculous.”
For years, Israeli intelligence officers even escorted a Qatari official into Gaza, where he doled out money from suitcases filled with millions of dollars. The money from Qatar had humanitarian goals, including paying government salaries in Gaza and buying fuel to keep a power plant running. But Israeli intelligence officials now believe that the money had a role in the success of the Oct. 7 attacks. Separately, Israeli intelligence has long assessed that Qatar uses other channels to secretly fund Hamas’ military wing. “Any attempt to cast a shadow of uncertainty about the civilian and humanitarian nature of Qatar’s contributions is baseless,” a Qatari official said.
Netanyahu’s critics say that his approach to Hamas had, at its core, a cynical political agenda: to keep Gaza quiet as a means of staying in office without addressing the threat of Hamas or simmering Palestinian discontent. “The conception of Netanyahu over a decade and a half was that if we buy quiet and pretend the problem isn’t there,” said Eyal Hulata, Israel’s national security adviser from July 2021 until the beginning of 2023. Among the team of Mossad agents that tracked terrorism financing, some came to believe that – even beyond the money from Qatar – Netanyahu was not very concerned about stopping money going to Hamas. Uzi Shaya, for example, made several trips to China to try to shut down what Israeli intelligence had assessed was a money-laundering operation for Hamas run through the Bank of China. After his retirement, he was called to testify against the Bank of China in a US lawsuit brought by the family of a victim of a Hamas attack. At first, the head of Mossad encouraged him to testify. Then, the Chinese offered Netanyahu a state visit. Suddenly, Shaya recalled, he got different orders from his former bosses: He was not to testify. Netanyahu visited Beijing in 2013, part of an effort to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties .
Shlomo Brom, a retired general and former deputy to Israel’s NSA, said an empowered Hamas helped Netanyahu avoid negotiating over a Palestinian state. “One effective way to prevent a two-state solution is to divide between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” he said. The division gives Netanyahu an excuse to disengage from peace talks, Brom said .



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