Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said this week that negotiations on the release of the hostages captured by Hamas were progressing. With most of the more than 200 hostages still captive or unaccounted for, and Gaza quickly running out of food, water and electricity, international pressure is building on the Persian Gulf state to help secure their release.
Qatar's working relationship with Hamas and its October 7 statement holding Israel fully responsible for the escalation of violence have prompted public furor in the United States, yet analysts see the emirate as an important player in efforts to mediate the conflict.
Qatar's leaders have been key to securing the release of Israeli hostages. Qatari officials helped broker a deal for Monday's release of two Israeli women held by Hamas — days after it negotiated the release of mother-daughter pair Judith and Natalie Raanan.
Qatar has long enjoyed good relations with the U.S. The gas-rich emirate hosts a large U.S. military presence, one of the biggest in the region, at Al Udeid Air Base. The base was built by the Qataris in 1996 and received U.S. acknowledgement in 2002 when then-Vice President Dick Cheney visited.
U.S. relations with the country date to 1972 and center on issues of regional security, energy and education. Qatar cooperates with the U.S. military in conducting counterterrorism and countering violent extremism, running operations as far away as the Horn of Africa.
Following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, Qatar's role in coordinating the safe exit of tens of thousands of people — including U.S. citizens and contractors — was invaluable to the American government.
Nearly 40% of all evacuees were taken out via Qatar. In the years leading up to the Taliban takeover, Qatar played a pivotal role in hosting meetings between U.S. officials and members of the Taliban in the capital, Doha, chaired by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. While the talks ultimately failed, they demonstrated the reliance the U.S. places on Qatar as a key intermediary.
For these and other efforts, U.S. President Joe Biden designated Qatar a major non-NATO ally in March 2022.
"I am making this designation in recognition of Qatar's many years of contributions to U.S.-led efforts in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and in recognition of our own national interest in deepening bilateral defense and security cooperation with the state of Qatar," the president wrote in a letter to Congress.
More recently, Qatar facilitated the release of five American prisoners held in Iran, as well as the release of Ukrainian children held by Russia.
An established record
Qatar began to carve out its role as a credible mediator years ago.
In 2008, when Hezbollah took over key infrastructure installations in Lebanon, including the airport and major seaports, it was Qatar that brought the Shiite group and its Western-backed opponents to the negotiating table. The talks resulted in the Doha Agreement, which prevented the crisis from escalating and plunging Lebanon into another civil war.
Qatar's working relationships with traditional U.S. adversaries such as Iran and Russia — or nonstate groups like Hamas and the Taliban — have made it an invaluable partner for the U.S. and other Western countries.
"Qatar has been a very close partner to the United States on a broad range of issues that are crucial to both of our countries and to this region — from working together on evacuating Americans, Afghans and others from Afghanistan, to cooperating very closely in responding to humanitarian emergencies, like the devastating earthquakes in Turkiye and in Syria," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at a press conference in Doha on October 13.
Analysts say the ability of Qatar to maintain good relations with both nonstate armed groups and state actors such as Russia and Iran, while still being a strategic partner to the United States, will continue to enhance its importance on the global stage.
"Qatar is framing this achievement — and associated praise from the U.S. — as proof that it is correct in its strategy of keeping communication lines open with multiple opposing actors. Its role in the current conflict is giving its geopolitical ambitions a boost," Lina Khatib, director of the SOAS Middle East Institute at SOAS University of London, wrote in an article this week for Barron's. She is also an associate fellow at Chatham House.
Others say connections with groups like Hamas will bring greater scrutiny to Qatar, the world's third-largest natural gas exporter and home to just 300,000 citizens.
"It's a double-edged sword, and the Qataris need to have the right message, because although the Americans have expressed gratitude and they're earning brownie points from the U.S., their image is getting bruised," Mehran Kamrava, professor of government at Georgetown University Qatar, said in an interview with the Financial Times.