When WikiLeaks announced last week that it would release hitherto secret communication between the US State Department and US embassies around the world, the levels of curiosity and anxiety were equally high. Overall though, the revelations might have bruised some egos and will certainly lead to more careful conversations at the next dinner parties, but we can’t say that the diplomatic world is in shock or that irreparable harm has been done.
So far, I have inferred three lessons:
- Diplomats have far too much time on their hands and are too interested in tabloid-level gossip for my liking.
- Everyone would have expected opinions of diplomats about other people to differ from what they tell foreign dignitaries face-to-face. This is standard human behaviour. Insofar, the leaked documents are not as shocking as anticipated, but they can serve as an indicator about which countries say the same in public as behind closed doors and which countries try to use different strategies, one for their own population and one for their allies.
- Using this indicator, it becomes clear that Israel has the most honest and open foreign policy, while most Arab states are quite dishonest with their own people. A lesson that should be kept in mind for future Middle East negotiations.
Let me elaborate on the second and third point a bit: It becomes clear from the US embassy cables that the main concern of most states in the Middle East is being posed by the Iranian nuclear programme.
Let’s first examine Israel:
- Israel is the country that has most consistently been warning of the dangers of the Iranian nuclear programme, not only to itself but also to the whole Middle East.
- Israeli politicians, officials, journalists and academics have made these warnings in public, in speeches, and in writing. They have backed up these warnings by disclosing and sharing as much intelligence about the Iranian nuclear programme as is possible.
- What do the WikiLeaks cables reveal about what Israeli government officials said in private, behind closed doors, in secret? – They said exactly the same. No discrepancy here.
- Let us not forget that Israel has been accused because of these constant warnings as “alarmist” and as trying to divert attention from its own problems.
And then let’s have a look at the Arab states:
- Arab leaders consistently lambast Israel for being an obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East. They hold speeches and organise rallies against the Jewish state and are not even above playing on anti-semitic sentiments.
- In public, that is; we have to add now. Because on this subject, WikiLeaks has indeed brought quite some revelations:
- Saudi-Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran. King Abdullah recommended that the US “cut the head of the snake”.
- The Crown prince of Abu Dhabi said “[Iranian President] Ahmadinejad is Hitler”, warning against appeasement with Iran. He said that “all hell will break loose” if Iran would attain nuclear weapons.
- King Hamad of Bahrain called for the Iranian nuclear programme to be stopped.
- Major-General al-Assar of Egypt said that his country “views Iran as a threat to the region”.
- Has any of the Arab leaders told this to their own people? No. Politically, to be anti-Israel is to be on the safe side.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz summed up the WikiLeaks with a nice headline: “Everybody hates Iran“. My own summary will attempt to be a bit more differentiated:
- Most states in the Middle East agree with Israel on the subject of Iran’s nuclear programme.
- None of them will admit this in public, which is a shame because it shows that Arab leaders are no leaders, they are either cowards or liars. Or is it their anti-semitic reflex?
- Israel is the only country in the Middle East with an open and honest foreign policy that says exactly the same in public as behind closed doors.
- Arab leaders prefer to lie to their own people.
- If anyone is pushing for an attack on Iran, it is neither the US nor Israel. The vociferous demands for military action are coming from Iran’s Arab neighbours.
- It was actually the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak who warned that “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage” among the Iranian people. No such concern was heard from Arab leaders.
- Israel seems to be the only country that has a coherent strategy towards Iran, consisting of “five pillars“: political approach, covert measures, counter-proliferation, sanctions and forcing a regime change. – Note that these options do not include a military strike.
- In contrast to this strategy, the Arabs’ calls “to cut the head of the snake” appear extremely simple-minded.
- On top of that, Arab states have not offered any military support themselves. It seems likely they would be happy to see the US (and possibly Israel) take care of Iran, while they would officially pretend to be outraged by “Western and Zionist imperialism”.