Just last year, there was a photo of German Economics Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck awkwardly making a deep bow to the authoritarian emir during his visit to Qatar. The photo was all over the media at the time and the viewer was never sure whether it was just a polite gesture from the minister or a special kind of kneeling.
At that time it was about becoming independent of Russian gas supplies after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Habeck therefore traveled to Qatar, an important exporter of liquefied natural gas. What followed later was a gas deal: from 2026, Qatar will supply liquid gas to Germany – on a large scale.
A year later, this deal suddenly appears in a completely different light. A month after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and massacred entire families, Qatar is back in the conversation as a state that, along with Iran, is one of Hamas’s most important financiers. As the country in whose capital Doha, Iran’s foreign minister and the head of Hamas met to talk about ways to strengthen the “axis of resistance” against Israel. So it is not surprising that there are initial calls to overturn the gas deal, which seemed so important for Germany’s energy security.
Gas is only one aspect. The Gulf emirate has shares in the largest German corporations such as VW, Siemens, RWE and Deutsche Bank. The state-controlled investment company Qatar Holding LLC holds around 17 percent of VW. Or Deutsche Bank, where the al-Thani ruling family initially invested 1.8 billion euros. Two funds run by the Al-Thani ruling family now hold more than six percent of the bank’s share capital. In this way, the emirate has become the largest Arab investor in the Federal Republic. More than 25 billion euros from Qatar are invested in German companies.
How do German companies influenced by Qatari money feel about the situation in Israel? Do they criticize or hold back from making public statements? Suddenly it’s no longer just about stocks and dividends. Now it’s also about the 200 hostages who are said to still be in the hands of Hamas. And the question: Should we now approach Tamin bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, with questions about responsibility and morality? Should one ask why Iran’s foreign minister and the head of Hamas were allowed to meet in Doha of all places? Or whether Qatar intentionally overlooked the fact that aid money to Gaza also went to terrorists? Or should we bet that, on the contrary, the Emir will now take on the role of mediator that the West in particular is hoping for from him? VW explained that it stands “on the side of Israel and its people” and “supports the terrorist attacks by Hamas “I strongly condemn innocent Israeli civilians.” Regarding the serious allegations against its major shareholder, VW only writes: “As a long-term investor, Qatar fully supports the corporate strategy of Volkswagen AG.” Similar reactions from Frankfurt: When asked, Deutsche Bank wrote that it had long-standing shareholders from Qatar who supported the bank’s strategy. “Beyond that, we do not comment on individual shareholders or our exchanges with them.” Apart from that, the bank condemns the terrorist attacks that were aimed at civilian targets. At the same time, there are concerns about the civilians in the Gaza Strip who have no connection to the terrorists.
German companies know that they have less control. If the Gulf investor were to sell his billion-dollar package to VW, this would have a serious impact on the share price. In addition, shareholders from the Middle East have so far been popular with company bosses, also because they do not interfere in day-to-day business. At Deutsche Bank, for example, the Al-Thani family watched the share price decline for years and waved through billions in bonuses year after year.
So what to do with Qatar? And above all: who should do it? It is a political question that can only be decided by politicians in Berlin, not by the fellow shareholders. German dividends as a source of financing for Islamist terrorists? The Federal Government is also aware that such suspicion is likely to damage the Republic’s reputation worldwide. The topic was raised repeatedly in several internal government meetings. So far, however, there has been no consequence, because Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his team of ministers are primarily faced with the gas dilemma: Qatar is supposed to deliver large quantities of liquid gas to Germany from 2026. A project that the government does not want to jeopardize in order not to make energy supply in Germany even more difficult. That’s why, for example, the idea of imposing economic sanctions on Qatar because of its ties to Hamas is not even discussed in Berlin.
German experts believe that the Qatar case also shows the limits of value-based foreign policy. The following question is also doing the rounds among economists: “Not getting gas from Russia was painful, but it worked. But now there is no liquid gas from Qatar, then at some point the question arises: Where can we still buy gas?” Nevertheless, there is a tendency to spare Qatar not for financial reasons, but for foreign policy considerations. Qatar is currently probably needed as a mediator so that the situation in the Middle East does not escalate completely. But now is definitely the right time to worry about the close ties between the German economy and Qatar.
Government circles point out that the terrorist group Hamas, which emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, is largely financed by Iran. But of course there are significant payments from Qatar. The Emir of Qatar provides tens of millions of dollars every month to pay Hamas public servants and to support poor Palestinian families. In German government circles it is said that these payments were made with the knowledge and even the approval of Israel and the US. According to information from the secret services, the Emir’s emissaries flew into Doha with suitcases full of money via Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport and, accompanied by agents from the Israeli secret service Mossad, crossed the border into Gaza at the official Erez crossing. Building materials from Egypt and gasoline for a seawater desalination plant from Israel were also delivered to Gaza with the help of Qatar.
Behind all of this was probably the calculation of ensuring a minimum level of public order in Gaza, as well as schools, a reasonably functioning administration and adequate health and food supplies. The idea behind it: Otherwise, the Gaza Strip would ultimately become an uncontrollable powder keg with unforeseeable consequences for the security of the people in western Israel. There could also be countless refugees. Since Hamas has its political headquarters in Doha and neither Washington nor Tel Aviv want to act as donors, Qatar offered itself as a financier.
But one thing is obvious after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel: the strategy of using the money to calm Hamas and Gaza did not work. The stage on which this question is decided is world politics, not the supervisory boards of VW and Deutsche Bank. But all of this is already having consequences in the German economy. When the name Qatar is mentioned, caution is suddenly great. Who invests where will probably be viewed more critically in the future than in the past.
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