Leaks strengthen Netanyahu’s hand

By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

JERUSALEM – Embarrassing, damaging or actually helpful? Israeli reactions to the explosive WikiLeaks revelations run the full gamut.

After a worried prelude to the disclosures of the diplomatic to-and-fro between Israel and its greatest ally the United States, and fears that the leaks would expose US antagonism to the Israeli leadership’s character and policies, there was an audible sigh of relief when the leaks finally came out overnight Sunday.

“There is no disparity between the public discourse between us and Washington, and the mutual understanding of each other’s positions,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters, not concerned about concealing his satisfaction.

The satisfaction came even further to the fore when Netanyahu and his top ministers latched onto the WikiLeaks disclosures that show the Arab world viewing Iran just as Israel does – as the chief threat to the Middle East.

According to the US diplomatic memos released by WikiLeaks, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urged Washington to attack Iran in order to destroy its nuclear program.

Netanyahu told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon that the Saudi monarch was just one of many voices in the Arab world who, according to the documents, were calling for tough action against Iran – “proof that Israel is not alone in its belief that Iran is a growing menace to the region.”

“The greatest threat to world peace stems from the arming of the regime in Iran,” Netanyahu added. “More and more states, governments and leaders in the region understand this is a fundamental threat.”

“Our warnings have been vindicated,” Netanyahu continued, “For the first time, it is now publicly clear that the world understands that it is Iran, not Israel, which is the greatest threat to the region.
“If Middle East leaders start saying openly what they’ve long been saying behind closed doors, we can make a real breakthrough on the road to peace.”

Top Israeli political analyst David Landau, normally a trenchant critic of the prime minister, told Inter Press Service (IPS) that the revelations amounted to “a remarkable corroboration of what Israel has been saying for years – that a moderate Arab alliance has been forming against extremist Shi’ism and against Iran, with Israel a silent partner in this shaping battle.”

In contrast, a leading Israeli scholar of Arab politics and a former ambassador to Egypt, Professor Shimon Shamir, believes that the leaks are “damaging to the cause of containing Iran and radical elements within the region”.

“The disclosures are ultimately embarrassing to the moderate Arab camp that wants to stop Iran. While it is true that they have been urging the US to take a tough stand on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they’re always wary of being seen by their own publics as adopting policies that are in line with those of Washington. This will only weaken them and is thus damaging to Israel’s ‘Stop Iran’ campaign,” he told IPS.

Shamir also noted that unlike the delight within the Israeli establishment about the “non-disparity” between public positions and behind-the-scenes diplomatic stances in the region, there would inevitably be consternation among the pro-Western Arab states that this “disparity” in the case of Arab societies has been brought out into the open.

Where there was some embarrassment for Israel was the disclosure that Israel views Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as being wholly dependent for his future and that of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Israel’s backing of him.

Specifically, it was the confirmation by WikiLeaks that Israel had tried to coordinate with the PA its fierce assault on Hamas during the attack it launched on Gaza in 2008. The classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks expose Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as trying to solicit PA and Egyptian support prior to the Israeli offensive. Barak wanted to know whether Abbas and President Hosni Mubarak would both be “willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas”. Both Egypt and the PA refused.

There was also some measure of discomfort at the exposing of Netanyahu by the Egyptian leader as “elegant, charming, but a man who does not keep his promises”. The embarrassment, however, is minor. “What else is new, WikiLeaks? We don’t need Mubarak to tell us Netanyahu can’t be trusted,” wrote political commentator Akiva Eldar.

(Inter Press Service)

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