As mentioned in today’s Talking Points, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has an op-ed in the Washington Times in which he pronounces the “death of ‘linkage’.” Ayalon claims that both the recent instability in the Middle East and WikiLeaks provide proof that “linkage”—which he defines as “if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was solved, then there would be peace in the Middle East”—is “one of the most mistaken theories about development and peace in the Middle East.”
The two main problems with Ayalon’s analysis is that he seems not to have actually read the WikiLeaks cables—which offer ample evidence confirming the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the minds of Arab leaders—or bothered to understand how promoters of linkage define the concept.
(Matt Duss has an excellent post up on the Wonk Room that covers many of the same problems with Ayalon’s rather selective (when not downright misleading) interpretation of WikiLeaks and linkage.)
Linkage, as defined by Gen. David Petraeus last March, is [my emphasis]:
The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.
Rather conveniently, Ayalon’s definition of linkage misinterprets the concept and fails to address the concerns raised by Petraeus and members of the Obama administration who have endorsed the idea. Matt Duss accurately describes Ayalon’s description as “an obvious strawman.”
While right-wing blogs, political pundits, and columnists quickly embraced the talking point that WikiLeaks showed an Arab world that is deathly afraid of Iran’s nuclear program — but didn’t have much to say about the Arab-Israeli conflict — an actual reading of the cables suggests a very different message.
Here are a set of excerpts from WikiLeaks that show Arab leaders endorsing the concept of linkage (the Petraeus definition, not the Ayalon one) in the most blunt way possible.
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, in a December 9, 2009 meeting with the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman:
Emphasized the strategic importance of creating a Palestinian State (i.e., resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict) as the way to create genuine Middle Eastern unity on the question of Iran’s nuclear program and regional ambitions.
A cable from the U.S. embassy in Amman, written shortly after the end of the Gaza War in January 2009, reads:
Speaking to PolOffs [political officers] in early February 2009, immediately after the Gaza War, Director of the Jordanian Prime Minister’s Political Office Khaled Al-Qadi noted that the Gaza crisis had allowed Iranian interference in inter-Arab relations to reach unprecedented levels.
An April 2, 2009 cable from Amman repeated the Jordanian position:
Jordanian leaders have argued that the only way to pull the rug out from under Hizballah – and by extension their Iranian patrons – would be for Israel to hand over the disputed Sheba’a Farms to Lebanon.
It went on:
With Hizballah lacking the ‘resistance to occupation’ rationale for continued confrontation with Israel, it would lose its raison d’etre and probably domestic support.
And a February 22, 2010, cable describes UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nayan as he warns a Congressional delegation against a military attack on Iran, led by Nita Lowey:
The cable remarks that bin Zayed:
Concluded the meeting with a soliloquy on the importance of a successful peace process between Israel and its neighbors as perhaps the best way of reducing Iran’s regional influence.
During a February 14, 2010, meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Qatar Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-thani suggested one reason that Israel might be hyping the threat of a nuclear Iran.
The cable summarizes bin Khalifa as saying:
[The Israelis] are using Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons as a diversion from settling matters with the Palestinians.
Ayalon twisting the definition of linkage and misstating the messages contained in the WikiLeaks cables is indicative of the increasing desperation that the Israeli right-wing must be experiencing as authoritarian Middle Eastern governments, that have helped Israel maintain the status quo, are under increasing pressure to make democratic reforms. There’s no guarantee that the governments in Middle Eastern capitals will be as cooperative in helping Israel maintain its occupation of the West Bank or its siege on Gaza in the future. The time for Israeli hardliners to face their nation’s political realities and make difficult but necessary concessions may be drawing closer. Danny Ayalon is choosing to ignore the shifting political winds.