By Anthony Orkin
Israel has come out in a largely positive light following WikiLeaks’ staggered release of more than 250,000 classified US State Department documents. The cables, most of which date from between 2007 and February 2010, detail Arab countries’ fears of Iran’s nuclear program and give frank impressions from diplomats and world leaders about America’s allies and foes, including Australia.
“Israel has not been damaged at all by the WikiLeaks publications,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Association of Tel Aviv Journalists. “The documents show many sources backing Israel’s assessments, particularly of Iran.”
In an interview with Time Magazine on Nov. 30, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange complimented Netanyahu by saying he is “a sophisticated politician” and “not a naive man.” Assange believes that releasing the documents “will lead to some kind of increase in the peace process in the Middle East and particularly in relation to Iran.”
Top Israeli journalist Aluf Benn wrote in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, “Israel has no reason to be embarrassed by the leaks because there are no large gaps between what it said domestically and what it said for public consumption.”
“It is doubtful whether in recent years, the Israeli foreign affairs and defence policy has received such significant reinforcement and backing as it did last night,” wrote the Israeli Yediot Aharonot daily newspaper.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the leaks as “mischief” which would not affect Teheran’s relations with its Arab neighbours.
The usual conspiracy theories have surfaced hinting Israel was to blame for leaking the documents. Hüseyin Çelik, Deputy Leader of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey or AKP, said, “One has to look at which countries are pleased with these. Israel is very pleased. Israel has been making statements for days, even before the release of these documents.”
Some of the more interesting highlights regarding Israel and neighbouring state include:
Netanyahu and Peace
During a meeting with a Congressional delegation led by US Senator Benjamin Cardin in February 2009, Binyamin Netanyahu, newly elected but not officially PM, expressed his willingness for territorial compromises as part of a future peace treaty. This occured well before his June 2009 Bar Ilan University speech in which he publicly embraced a Palestinian state for the first time. The cable stated that Netanyahu “expressed support for the concept of land swaps, and emphasized that he did not want to govern the West Bank and Gaza, but rather to stop attacks from being launched there.” The cable stated that “Netanyahu said there were three options: withdrawing to the 1967 borders (that would ‘get terror, not peace’); doing nothing (‘just as bad’); or ‘rapidly building a pyramid from the ground up’.” The cable also suggests he would approve land swaps of Israeli territory inside the Green Line for parts of the West Bank as part of a peace deal – something he has never publicly endorsed officially.
He suggested he “would cut through bureaucratic obstacles to Palestinian economic development to build a pyramid from the bottom up that would strengthen the Palestinian Authority and offer the Palestinians a viable alternative to radicalism.” He said that “economic prosperity would make peace possible, as occured in Northern Ireland.”
Netanyahu also warned the Congressional delegation that if Iran attained a nuclear bomb, any result from negotiations with the Palestinians would be “washed away”, the cable said.
In the same meeting, it was revealed that Israel has significant trade relations with Iraq. Pointing to what he described as “strong but unpublicized trade” between Haifa port and Iraq via Jordan, Netanyahu suggested assembly points could be set up in the West Bank for some goods which would create thousands of jobs there.
Another WikiLeaks document revealed that Israel consulted both Fatah and Egypt prior to launching Operation “Cast Lead” against Hamas in December 2008.
In a June 2009 cable, Deputy US Ambassador to Israel Luis Moreno said Ehud Barak had “explained that the GOI [Government of Israel] had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to Operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas.” “Not surprisingly, Barak said, the GOI received negative answers from both,” the document went on. Barak had also “stressed the importance of continued consultations with both Egypt and Fatah” over the reconstruction of Gaza.
Israel and UAE
In a cable from March 2009, Marc Sievers, the political adviser at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, provided an overview of Israel’s relations with the Gulf states. While Israel and the UAE do not have official diplomatic relations, the cable suggests that there was secret and persistent dialogue between the countries. It said that a “good and personal relationship” has developed between then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Ibn Zayid. However, it adds that the two officials would not “do in public what they say behind closed doors.”
Qatar’s Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani told US Sen. John Kerry in February 2010 that Israelis can’t be blamed for mistrusting Arabs and acknowledged that Israel does want peace. “When you consider that many in the region perceive that Hezbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon and Hamas kicked them out of the small piece of land called Gaza, it is actually surprising that the Israelis still want peace,” he said. The Qatari Emir also suggested to Kerry that his nation could help push Hamas towards peace. Although Qatar did not “share Hamas’ ideology,” he said it could play a valuable role as an intermediary.
Qatar severed ties with Israel in early 2009 in response to the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
But another leaked cable from March 2009 quotes the head of the Middle East Division of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Yaakov Hadas, as saying that pressure on Qatar to renew relations was beginning to bear fruit. “Hadas noted that he had been invited to visit Doha to discuss reopening the Israeli Trade Office, which he saw as a positive sign,” the cable said.
In a meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and White House Counter terrorism adviser John Brennan in Saudi Arabia in March 2009, the King noted that Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki had been sitting in that same seat as Brennan a few moments ago. He described his conversation with Mottaki as “a heated exchange, frankly discussing Iran’s interference in Arab affairs.” When challenged by the King on Iranian meddling in Hamas affairs, Mottaki apparently protested that “these are Muslims.” “No, Arabs,” countered the King. “You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters.” The King told Brennan, “Iran’s goal is to cause problems.” He described Iran as “adventurous in the negative sense” and declared, “May God prevent us from falling victim to their evil.”
Saudi authorities also apparently gave the US new information about alleged direct Iranian support for al-Qaeda. On Sept. 5, 2009 Saudi prince and long-time Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdul Aziz met with Brennan, and according to a cable “Nayef complained that over the past two years Iran has hosted Saudis (all Sunnis) – including Osama bin Laden’s son Ibrahim – who had contacts with terrorists and worked against the Kingdom.”
Nayef went on to explain that he and other Saudi officials have attempted to get the Iranians to turn over Ibrahim bin Laden and his al-Qaeda cohorts. Ibrahim bin Laden is a rising star in al-Qaeda, and if it is true that he is working out of Iran with tacit government support, then this is evidence that Iranian support for al-Qaeda is more significant than was previously known.
Saudi Arabia proposed creating an Arab force to fight Hezbollah militants in Lebanon with the help of the United States, UN and NATO. In a meeting in May 2008 with US Ambassador to Iraq David Satterfield, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said a “security response” was needed to the “military challenge” posed to Beirut by the Iran-backed militants. What was needed was an “Arab force” drawn from Arab “periphery” states to deploy to Beirut under the “cover of the UN.” But Satterfield said there were real questions about the “political and military” feasibility of such a scheme and winning a new mandate for UNIFIL would be difficult.
In a message from the US Embassy in Cairo to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January 2008, Omar Suleiman, Director of Egyptian General Intelligence, told US Sen. George Voinovich that Iran “is supporting Jihad and spoiling peace and has supported extremists in Egypt previously.” Suleiman said Iranian support of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood makes them “our enemy.”
A January 2009 letter from the US Ambassador in Cairo to Secretary of State Clinton reinforces this concern about Iran. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sees Iran as Egypt’s “greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear capability and as it seeks to export its Shia Revolution.”
A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak threatening “that Egypt might be forced to begin its own nuclear weapons program if Iran succeeds” in building a nuclear capability.
Other cables revealed that Netanyahu is perceived by Egyptian officials as an intelligent and charming person who fails to keep his promises.
In a March 2008 conversation between the Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr and US officials in Lebanon, Murr apparently offered advice on how Israel could defeat Hezbollah in a future war. He suggested “One, it must not touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep Hezbollah out of these areas” the memo read, referring to the southern Lebanese area now patrolled by thousands of international troops. “Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas.”
A cable from December 2009 summed up the visit to Damascus by a senior Iranian delegation, including Defence Minister Ahmad Ali Vahidi. The cable cited an unnamed Syrian official who claimed the Syrians told the Iranians that they would not participate in an Iranian retaliation to a potential Israeli strike. “We told them Iran is strong enough on its own to develop a nuclear program and to fight Israel,” the Syrian official was quoted as saying in the cable. “We’re too weak.”
A letter sent to then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from the Dubai Consul General in January 2007 states that in a meeting with Nicholas Burns, a State Department undersecretary, the Emirate’s leader, Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum “agreed that Iran should not have nuclear weapons but warned of the dire regional consequences of military action.” In addition, Dubai agreed to cooperate in financial restrictions against Iran but only if it is done quietly. The Dubai leader also said he hoped for a peace deal because it “would make Hamas everyone’s enemy.”
A 2008 cable from Dubai quotes an Iranian source as saying the Iranian Red Crescent (IRC) was used as a cover by members of the Revolutionary Guard to enter Lebanon during the conflict. “IRC shipments of medical supplies served also to facilitate weapons shipments.” Red Crescent staff, it added, had seen “missiles in the planes destined for Lebanon when delivering medical supplies to the plane.”
In February 2007, Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayid al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, told US officials that the Iranian nuclear program should be delayed by “all means possible.” He added “I am saying this knowing that I am putting my country at risk and placing myself in a dangerous spot.”
US Counsellor in Azerbaijan Rob Garverick said in a cable that Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel are discreet but close. “Each country finds it easy to identify with the other’s geopolitical difficulties and both rank Iran as an existential security threat.” It said Israel’s world-class defence industry “is a perfect match for Azerbaijan’s substantial defence needs.”
In October 2009, the American Embassy in Canberra applauded what it described as then Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s “pro-Israel” stance, reporting that she had “thrown off the baggage” of being from what one analyst called the “notoriously anti-Israel faction” of the ALP. Regarding the incursion into Gaza, “she said Hamas had broken the ceasefire first by attacking Israel – a stance welcomed by Israel’s supporters in Australia.” Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem apparently told the Embassy that Gillard “has gone out of her way to build a relationship with Israel and that she asked him to arrange an early opportunity to visit.”
Ambassador Rotem told US officials in July 2008 that during his first meeting with Kevin Rudd after the 2007 federal election, the newly elected prime minister had described Mr. Ahmadinejad as a “loathsome individual on every level” and said that his antisemitism “turns my stomach.” The Ambassador found Rudd to be “very pro-Israel.”