US State Department
US State DepartmentiStock

The US State Department on Thursday defended Qatar as a mediator in negotiations between Israel and Hamas, in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments criticizing Qatar’s role as “problematic.”

Asked about Netanyahu’s comments during a press briefing, Deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel responded, “I don’t have any assessment to offer on those comments or some of the audio that’s been circulating. What I can just say – and I spoke a little bit about this yesterday – is that Qatar has been an integral, irreplaceable, key regional partner, not just as it relates to this current ongoing conflict, but other priorities that the United States has had in the region, and we’ll look forward to continuing to deepen our partnership with them and work with them on a number of key issues.”

Channel 12 News on Tuesday published a recording of Netanyahu, during a meeting with families of hostages, in which the Prime Minister was heard criticizing Qatar for not doing enough to pressure Hamas.

"You don't hear me thanking is because in many ways it is more problematic [than the UN and the Red Cross]," Netanyahu told the families in the recording.

Dr. Majed Al Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded on Wednesday and said in a statement posted to X, “We are appalled by the alleged remarks attributed to the Israeli Prime Minister in various media reports about Qatar’s mediation role. These remarks if validated, are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives, but are not surprising.”

“If the reported remarks are found to be true, the Israeli PM would only be obstructing and undermining the mediation process, for reasons that appear to serve his political career instead of prioritizing saving innocent lives, including Israeli hostages.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich fired back at the Qatari official later on Wednesday night.

“Qatar is a country that supports terrorism and finances terrorism. It is the patron of Hamas and is largely responsible for the massacre of Israeli citizens committed by Hamas. The West's attitude towards it is hypocritical and based on unacceptable economic interests. The West can and should exert much stronger levers on it and bring about the release of the hostages immediately,” wrote Smotrich on X.

“One thing is clear: Qatar will not be involved at all in what happens in Gaza the day after the war,” he added.

Qatar has played a key role in attempts to reach a deal between Israel and Hamas that would allow for the release of the 136 hostages who are still held by Hamas in Gaza.

US President Joe Biden recently spoke with Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, and the two “discussed the urgent effort to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas, including American citizens.”

Qatar and the US have cooperated on other issues, and most recently the two countries reached an agreement that extends the US military presence at a sprawling base in Qatar for another 10 years.

The Al Udeid Air Base, located in the desert southwest of Doha, is the biggest US military installation in the Middle East and can house more than 10,000 American troops.