Probably unintentionally, WikiLeaks has done the international campaign against Iran’s nuclear program a major service by revealing the views, in their own words, of Arab leaders in the Gulf. The leaders of Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, among others, are now on the record in the public domain.
For several years, many observers of the Iran nuclear program had intimated that Arab governments were just as fearful of Tehran’s intentions as Israel – some even argued that Arab fears, given proximity, Shiite-Sunni rivalry and military weakness were greater than those of Israel.
However, this was a view largely based on assumption, as the majority of Arab leaders reflexively refrained from explicit criticism of Iran. Only Bahrain openly described Iran as the biggest threat in the region. And Arab countries did not join overtly in international sanctions against Iran adopted by the U.N., or implemented by the U.S., and then by the EU, Canada, Japan, Australia and South Korea.
Meanwhile, attention was focused on Jerusalem. Virtually any news article in major American newspapers on Iran’s nuclear program in recent years has included references to a possible Israeli military strike. This media obsession seemed to bear a hint of wishful anticipation for how Israel might single-handedly save the region, and world, from the Iranian menace.
Israelis are understandably concerned, given the Tehran regime’s continual threats to obliterate the Jewish state and its denial of the Holocaust. And those themes have also been projected with regularity by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at U.N. forums in Geneva and New York, and other venues.
Israel and the United States have long argued that a nuclear Iran would threaten the entire Middle East region and beyond. If indeed Arab nations have been thinking similarly, then their silence has not been helpful in mobilizing world opinion to counter the Iranian threat.
But what Gulf Arab leaders have been thinking -- and, it turns out, expressing to American diplomats in private -- should reinforce the case for getting tougher with Tehran.
The Iranian nuclear program “must be stopped,” King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah of Bahrain told American officials in 2009. “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”
Saudi King Abdullah asked Washington several times to “cut off the head of the snake,” referring to Iran’s leadership.
There likely are more of these views among the thousands of cables divulged by WikiLeaks, which speak to the divide between these Arab leaders and successive American administrations. While the Arabs were frustrated by what they considered a lack of effective U.S. action to stop Iran, Americans had been frustrated with the Arabs’ unwillingness to speak out against Iran.
The U.S. alone provides huge amounts of weaponry, including a pending $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, and other defense arrangements, such as the Fifth Fleet, to protect the Gulf Arab regimes.
Washington and our Arab allies must close the divide on Iran policy. To strengthen regional and international solidarity against the Iranian menace, Arab states should cooperate more openly with the U.S., especially in implementing more fully the strongest possible economic and political sanctions.
Ultimately, stronger willpower will be required.
“Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals,” said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, referring to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, in one of the leaked cables.
The same Crown Prince is also quoted, in 2009, as saying that “Ahmadinejad is Hitler,” suggesting that, in his view, Iran must be stopped before it wreaks the kind of havoc that tore the world apart just seventy years ago.
So, thank you, WikiLeaks for confirming Arab leaders’ worst fears about Iran. Let’s hope they will stay true to their words and actively support U.S. and other efforts to stop Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of communications.