Terra Incognita: WikiLeaks and the Iranian octopus
By SETH J.FRANTZMAN
The documents show that the Arab world understands the threat coming from the Islamic Republic better than the Americans do.
"[Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah always told us that the Arab regimes were collaborating, not only against their own people, but with others against the Arabs and now these WikiLeaks just prove how correct he always was.” That comes from an educated secular Muslim Palestinian woman, surely the kind of “base” that should be counted on to vote for Mahmoud Abbas. However the base is fickle and is captivated by the Iranian juggernaut.
The WikiLeaks documents have shown that not only are the Arab, and other Muslim governments, candid in their wish that Iran be crushed, they also have insights into how the Americans should fight terrorism.
LET’S BEGIN in Azerbaijan, a non- Arab state that borders Iran. There, President Ilham Aliyev said to the US on February 25 that “he supported economic isolation and believed it could be effective if enforced by a broad coalition.” Azerbaijan’s population is made up of Azeri Muslims, who are also a badly treated minority in Iran. Iran helped Christian Armenia against the Azeris in the wars of the 1990s.
The Saudis come out in WikiLeaks documents with a clear and strong voice in favor of attacking Iran. However they won’t send troops. One official in an April 2008 cable “recalled the king’s frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program. ‘He told you to cut off the head of the snake’... Prince Muqrin echoed these views, emphasizing that some sanctions could be implemented without UN approval.”
The Gulf Arab states were particularly wary of Iran and encouraged the US to beat back the threat. According to a May 2005 cable, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi expressed interest in a harsh US response to Iran; “[he] agreed with [a] tough line with Teheran... A nuclear-armed Iran would destabilize the Gulf region and possibly allow terrorist access to WMD. [He] asked Lt.-Gen. Dunn whether it would be possible for anyone to ‘take out’ all locations of concern in Iran via air power.” In December 2009 he reiterated his concerns, noting that Iran believes itself to be a superpower and could not be dealt with like North Korea. Like other Arab leaders, he stressed that a deal with Iran would not transpire. The United Arab Emirates foreign minister noted in a February meeting that “the nuclear issue is only one aspect of the Iran problem, and that Iran’s regional meddling was a serious concern. He pledged the UAE’s backing as the US rallies support for new sanctions but questioned whether they would achieve the desired effect.”
Qatar’s prime minister noted in December 2009 that in regards to Iran, “they lie to us, and we lie to them.” Furthermore the Qatari leadership understood that military force would eventually result and didn’t seem to express any objections. In a November 2009 conversation with the American ambassador, the king of Bahrain expressed his support for the use of force against Iran. “King Hamad pointed to Iran as the source of much of the trouble in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their nuclear program.”
Oman was on board as well.In an August 2007 meeting “Lieutenant- General Ali bin Majid al-Ma’amari, reviewed Oman’s view on Iran from a security perspective, highlighting Omani awareness of Iran’s deceptive tactics and expansionist ideological desires in the region.” Furthermore “Oman would not oppose imposition of further measures against Iran by the international bodies; however, Oman did not want to play an active role in advocating for such measures itself.” An April 2009 document reveals the degree to which the Jordanians understand the Iranian threat. This is interesting considering Jordan is neither a front line state nor does it have a consequential Shi’ite minority.
According to the American who met with Jordanian officials, “The metaphor most commonly deployed by Jordanian officials when discussing Iran is of an octopus whose tentacles reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates. Iran’s tentacles include its allies Qatar and Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, an Iraqi government sometimes seen as supplicant to Teheran, and Shi’ite communities throughout the region.”
The Jordanians “doubt” the US knows how to effectively deal with Iran. Furthermore “Upper House [of the Jordanian Parliament] President Zeid Rifai has predicted that dialogue with Iran will lead nowhere... military force becomes the only option: ‘Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.’” WHAT THE leaked documents make clear is that the region fears Iran. Everyone wants it to be contained, sanctioned and probably attacked.
However they want Americans, Israelis or Europeans to do it for them. None of them discussed any activities of their own. None of them is shipping weapons to the Ahwazi Arabs in southern Iran or Azeris in the north. No one is arming the Baluchi or Kurdish separatists. They all fear Iranian intrigues in Iraq, yet none of them will counter them.
The most Yemen’s deputy prime minister would do is admit to lying to his own parliament while President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised “we’ll continue saying the bombs [directed at Yemeni terrorists by the US] are ours, not yours.” The Kuwaitis apparently encouraged the Americans to take the Guantanamo detainees and drop them into combat zones in Iraq to “get rid of them.” That would be better than having Kuwait take back the “rotten” people. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia suggested implanting the inmates with a chip and then releasing them. They could be tracked like horses or falcons. If they got out of line, a Predator drone could pay them a visit. These are inventive ideas (I’ve always felt the latter one would have been a good choice when Israel released the Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar in 2008) but they aren’t substantive.
There was a time when the Arabs did fight the Iranians, sort of. Al- Qaida members in Afghanistan, most of whom were Arab, hunted down Shi’ites and Iranian agents and murdered them in the 1990s. From 1980 to 1988 Iraqis died in droves to fight the Iranians. In that war, Saddam Hussein was bribed by Kuwait, the Gulf states and the Saudis to get his Iraqis to die to defend the other Arab states from Shi’ite fundamentalism. The Arab members of the Israelibacked South Lebanese Army fought Hizbullah for a decade.
Today’s Arab states are afraid even to tell their own base that Iran is a threat. Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt in Lebanon are begging Syria to save them from Hizbullah, even though it was Syria which probably arranged the murder their fathers. The WikiLeaks documents illustrate the complete breakdown and failure of the Arab leaders to realistically confront their problems, especially concerning Iran.
The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.