Qatar, Under Pressure, Will Close Israeli Trade Office
The government said Thursday that it would shut down the Israeli trade mission, buckling to pressure from Iran and Saudi Arabia, which had threatened to boycott a summit of Islamic nations if the office remained open.
Qatar, which is to host the summit, had been the only Arab country in the Persian Gulf to have commercial ties with the Jewish state.
Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Jassim ibn Jaber al Thani did not say whether Qatar would completely sever relations with Israel, which are based on the trade mission. There are no diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries that maintain full diplomatic relations with Israel. Tunisia and Morocco, two North African Arab states, closed their interest sections in Israel after last month’s Arab summit in Cairo.
News of the Qatari move broke on the Qatar News Agency, which quoted an unidentified Qatari Foreign Ministry official as saying, “To coincide with the opening of the ninth Islamic conference in Qatar, the state of Qatar has decided to close the Israeli trade representative office in Doha to consolidate Islamic solidarity.”
The move was welcomed by Iran, which promptly announced that President Mohammad Khatami would attend the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, which runs Sunday to Tuesday in Doha.
Saudi Arabia was more cautious. The kingdom wanted assurances that the closure of the mission would be permanent and not be reversed after the summit, Saudi officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Only if it received such assurances would Crown Prince Abdullah attend, the officials said.
No one answered the telephone Thursday at the Israeli trade mission, which opened in 1995. In Jerusalem, Yaffa Ben-Ari, a spokeswoman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, declined to comment, saying the ministry had not been notified by Qatar.