Israel greets WikiLeaks cables as vindication of its Iran policy

The latest WikiLeaks release of documents gives Israel proof that its Arab neighbors, even those that are sworn enemies of the Jewish state, share its concerns about Iran.

Nir Elias/Reuters
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks during an annual meeting with journalists in Tel Aviv Nov. 29. Netanyahu said on Monday leaked US diplomatic cables had exposed widespread Arab fear of Iran's nuclear program and vindicated his priorities in peacemaking.
Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP Photo/File/Newscom
A 2009 file photo shows Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Kuwait City. King Abdullah urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program, according to US documents leaked by WikiLeaks and published on Nov. 28 by daily newspapers.

Wikileaks' publication of US diplomatic cables could have sparked a fresh controversy between Israel and its most important ally after a year of strained relations.

But instead, Wikileaks' release of the documents on Sunday has proved to be something of a public relations coup for Israel: on-the-record confirmation that its Arab neighbors are just as frightened as the Jewish state by a nuclear Iran. The cables confirmed previous anonymous reports that Israel has quiet partners in the region pushing the US to take bolder steps to stop what they consider an existential threat.

"I don't see any damage. Quite the opposite,'' said Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, in an interview with Israel Radio. "Maybe there's an indirect benefit that the truth is coming out, that the entire Middle East, including Arab states, are very fearful from the Iranian nuclear threat, and are calling on the West to be much more aggressive toward Iran.''

Candid assessments from Arab states

Analysts and officials pointed to candid assessments from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt that Iran posed the biggest strategic threat to regional stability. The assessments even stressed the need for considering conventional attacks on Tehran before its nuclear program becomes operational. Other officials pointed to a US diplomatic report in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is compared to Adolf Hitler.

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The revelation of regional support for Israel's hard-line approach to Iran was seen as such a boon that Sever Plocker, a columnist for the daily Yediot Ahronot newspaper, quipped, "If the WikiLeaks site did not exist, Israel would have to invent it.''

"The massive leak of American diplomatic telegrams indicates a single picture, sharp and clear," he added. "The entire world, not just Israel, is panicked over the Iranian nuclear program.''

New details about Israel's Iran strategy and relations with Arab neighbors – such as Mossad chief Meir Dagan's plan for regime change in Iran, and repeated Israeli warnings about Tehran's looming nuclear weapons program – were played down by analysts and officials as unsurprising.

Cables could weaken US – and thus Israel

But beyond the momentary public relations dividend, one Israeli veteran of diplomacy said the widespread fear of Iran among America's Arab allies does not bode well for the Obama administration's foreign policy – particularly its efforts to engage Iran diplomatically.

"When Obama decided on negotiating with Iran, he was doing exactly the opposite of what the American allies are thinking,'' says Shlomo Avineri, a political science professor at Hebrew University and a former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "Obama has made all of his friends nervous, and the Iranians are spitting in his face."

Other observers said the publication of classified US communiques weakens the international standing of Israel's most important ally – a trend that could hamper Arab-Israeli peace mediation efforts and ultimately weaken Israel, which relies heavily on the diplomatic and military weight of the United States.

"The superpower looks weakened,'' says Alon Liel, a former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "The fact that the US doesn't look good especially in the Middle East ... lowers the chances for Israel to become an integral part of the region.''

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