The Monitor's View

WikiLeaks helps Obama, Arabs jointly confront Iran nuclear program

The WikiLeaks release of secret American diplomatic dispatches has a silver lining. It revealed the real Arab stance on Iran and its nuclear program – and it lines up with Israel's. The truth can't hurt in that cause.

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Out of the more than 250,000 American diplomatic dispatches released Sunday by the website WikiLeaks, at least a few may end up actually helping the United States.

These are the cables revealing the secret pleas of top Arab leaders for Washington to take action against Iran’s nuclear program.King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for example, urged the US in 2008 to “cut off the head of the snake [Iran]” before it develops an atomic weapon. The next year, Bahrain’s King Hamad told a visiting Gen. David Petraeus that the Iranian program must be “stopped,” arguing that “the danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”

Other leaders were quite specific. The Abu Dhabi crown prince, Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, requested in 2005 that America attack Iran with ground forces.

What makes this truth-telling so useful is that it finally puts these Arab leaders openly on the side of Israel in warning about the threat of the Islamic Republic obtaining a nuclear capability. Israel would be the first nation in the cross hairs of an Iran eager to spread its radical version of Islam and to restore its historic influence in the Middle East. But the Sunni-Arab states also are potential targets for the Shiite-Persian mullahs in Tehran.

The exposed dispatches may now allow these Arab states to act more boldly as the West increases its diplomatic confrontation with Iran. Saudi Arabia has already helped bring China around to supporting tougher United Nations economic sanctions on Iran. The oil giant reportedly promised Beijing it would make up for any drop in Iranian oil exports during a crisis.

And having the Saudi monarch clearly opposed to Iran will help win friends in Congress. Many US lawmakers have opposed the Obama administration’s proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia – a deal that would be the largest arms sale in US history.

Part of President Obama’s strategy is to beef up military hardware for Arab states, such as antimissile defenses. The US already has several bases in several Persian Gulf states. One leaked cable revealed that Saudi Arabia has welcomed the US-made AWACS air surveillance aircraft to be deployed in that country in order to keep an eye on Iran.

The Obama administration also keeps open the option of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities even as the West prepares for a new round of talks with Iran slated for Dec. 5. “We’ve actually been thinking about military options for a significant period of time,” Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN Sunday. “And I’ve spoken with many others, that we’ve had options on the table.”

The US and Israel have been frustrated with Arab leaders remaining as merely silent partners in the struggle with Iran. “We need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans,” then-Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid told a set of Arab officials, according to one leaked dispatch.

One reason for the reticence of Arab leaders is that the “Arab street” is favorably inclined toward Iran’s leadership in the region. Polls indicate Arabs like Iran’s leadership in opposing Israel’s existence and its support of terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

But pretending to be friendly with Iran has not helped the Arab interest in keeping nuclear weapons out of the Middle East. “They lie to us, and we lie to them,” said Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim Jaber al-Thani, in one dispatch.

Iran’s secretiveness about its nuclear ambitions is best countered by truthfulness from its neighbors. With one fiction out of the way, maybe fresh solutions are just around the corner.

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