How WikiLeaks trove will affect US-Arab cooperation on Iran, Yemen
The WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables could put Arab leaders in a tight spot – and make America's diplomatic dance a bit more awkward in the region.
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For the past year, the US has been thought to be conducting air strikes in the country against militant Islamists, with Yemen's permission. Yemen has publicly denied that; its populace is staunchly opposed to any US intervention. But one of the cables appears to remove the fig-leaf of plausible deniability, which could compromise counterterrorism efforts there.
"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," said Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to US Central Command Gen. David Petraeus, according to a cable. His comment came after Petraeus guaranteed that US foreign aid to Yemen would more than double in 2010.
The cable, from Jan. 4, 2010, was authored by former US ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche, and is the first official evidence that the United States carried out air strikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen in December 2009.
The cable also confirms that the Yemeni government agreed to American air power circling just out of sight of Yemeni territory, set to strike Al Qaeda targets in Yemen as soon as intelligence is available as to their whereabouts.
In Pictures Wikileaks and the war in Iraq
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Will Arab leaders pay a price for 'diplomatic heresy'?
Both the United States and Yemen have tried to downplay America’s role in Yemen, where the central government – beset by economic woes, a southern secession movement, and tribal tensions – can ill afford to spark popular discontent.
“For Yemeni people, from the beginning they did not believe the government claims that air strikes against in Al Majala and elsewhere were carried out by Yemeni forces," says Aidroos Al Naqeeb, the chairman of the Yemen’s opposition Socialist Party's parliamentary bloc. "The importance of what WikiLeaks has revealed is that it defines the foreign party who actually carried out the attacks. It is so regretful that Yemeni government not only allowed such crimes against human lives and rights, but also it claimed responsibility.”
The Yemeni embassy in Washington and the American embassy in Sanaa refused to comment on the leaked cable on Monday.
Ahmed Al Zurqa, author of a book on Al Qaeda in Yemen, warned that American military action in Yemen will help AQAP recruit Yemenis who don't want to see their administration acting as a puppet of the United States. “Al Qaeda is using the mistakes of these operations,” such as civilian casualties, to gain recruits, he said. "The people here hate terrorism, but they also hate intruders who come and kill Yemenis."
George Washington University political scientist Marc Lynch writes in his Foreign Policy blog that the "million dollar question" is whether we find out if Arab regimes' "fears of expressing these views in public" were justified.
"Will Arab leaders pay any significant political price for these positions, as they clearly feared? Or will it turn out that in this era of authoritarian retrenchment they really can get away with whatever diplomatic heresies they like even if it outrages public opinion?"