The U.S. media has been quick to accept that Arab countries share a hawkish view on Iran after the release of the WikiLeaks cables. The New York Times was at the front of this push to portray Arab leaders as just as hawkish as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Iran.
“The cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries -notably the Saudis – in a common cause,” the NYT asserted.
But Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe took a closer look at cables describing conversations with Arab leaders and found that “the Times account seriously distorted the content – and in the case of the Saudis, ignored the context – of the cables released by Wikileaks.”
In fact, the cables show that most Gulf Arab regimes – including Saudi Arabia itself – have been seriously concerned about the consequences of a strike against Iran for their own security, in sharp contrast to Israel’s open advocacy of such a strike. They also show the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait expressing that concern with greater urgency in the past two years than previously.
Porter and Lobe take apart the NYT’s assertion that “a largely silent front of Arab states whose position on sanctions and force looked much like the Israelis,” finding that Arab leaders have expressed serious concern about the consequences of U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
They also find that Saudi language on Iran as reported in diplomatic cables—some of the harshest Arab statements regarding Iran’s nuclear program, according to the NYT—mirror the official position of the Bush administration at the time.
Former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, told IPS that such a statement would “fit a pattern of communication with the United States of ingratiating themselves with their protector.”
Porter and Lobe write:
Thomas Lippman, former Washington Post Middle East bureau chief and an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, who has written a book on Saudi-U.S. relations, also said that the Abdullah quote would have been in line with the usual Saudi pattern of “telling the Americans what they wanted to hear”.
Cables highlighted in the article also include reports on discussions with senior UAE diplomats, the most recent of which summarizes a discussion between UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nayan and a visiting congressional delegation.
Most recently, a Feb. 22, 2010 cable has the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nayan, warning a visiting delegation headed by Rep. Nita Lowey, a strong supporter of Israel in Congress, that any “crisis or confrontation in the region [over Iran’s nuclear programme] would create oil supply problems world wide.”
According to the cable, the minister ended 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.”
They look at a number of cables describing discussions with Gulf Arab leaders and conclude:
While confirming growing Arab fears about Iran’s regional clout and nuclear ambitions, the cables suggest that other Gulf Arab leaders – with the possible exception of Bahrain’s King Hamad, the only regional leader with a majority Shi’a population – have little or no appetite for military action against Iran.