Leaks strengthen Netanyahu’s hand
By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM - Embarrassing, damaging or actually helpful? Israeli reactions to
the explosive WikiLeaks revelations run the full gamut.
After a worried prelude to the disclosures of the diplomatic to-and-fro between
Israel and its greatest ally the United States, and fears that the leaks would
expose US antagonism to the Israeli leadership's character and policies, there
was an audible sigh of relief when the leaks finally came out overnight Sunday.
"There is no disparity between the public discourse between us and Washington,
and the mutual understanding of each other's positions," Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters, not concerned about concealing his
The satisfaction came even further to the fore when Netanyahu
and his top ministers latched onto the WikiLeaks disclosures that show the Arab
world viewing Iran just as Israel does - as the chief threat to the Middle
According to the US diplomatic memos released by WikiLeaks, King Abdullah bin
Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urged Washington to attack Iran in order
to destroy its nuclear program.
Netanyahu told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon that the Saudi monarch
was just one of many voices in the Arab world who, according to the documents,
were calling for tough action against Iran - "proof that Israel is not alone in
its belief that Iran is a growing menace to the region."
"The greatest threat to world peace stems from the arming of the regime in
Iran," Netanyahu added. "More and more states, governments and leaders in the
region understand this is a fundamental threat."
"Our warnings have been vindicated," Netanyahu continued, "For the first time,
it is now publicly clear that the world understands that it is Iran, not
Israel, which is the greatest threat to the region.
"If Middle East leaders start saying openly what they've long been saying
behind closed doors, we can make a real breakthrough on the road to peace."
Top Israeli political analyst David Landau, normally a trenchant critic of the
prime minister, told Inter Press Service (IPS) that the revelations amounted to
"a remarkable corroboration of what Israel has been saying for years - that a
moderate Arab alliance has been forming against extremist Shi'ism and against
Iran, with Israel a silent partner in this shaping battle."
In contrast, a leading Israeli scholar of Arab politics and a former ambassador
to Egypt, Professor Shimon Shamir, believes that the leaks are "damaging to the
cause of containing Iran and radical elements within the region”.
"The disclosures are ultimately embarrassing to the moderate Arab camp that
wants to stop Iran. While it is true that they have been urging the US to take
a tough stand on Iran's nuclear ambitions, they're always wary of being seen by
their own publics as adopting policies that are in line with those of
Washington. This will only weaken them and is thus damaging to Israel's 'Stop
Iran' campaign," he told IPS.
Shamir also noted that unlike the delight within the Israeli establishment
about the "non-disparity" between public positions and behind-the-scenes
diplomatic stances in the region, there would inevitably be consternation among
the pro-Western Arab states that this "disparity" in the case of Arab societies
has been brought out into the open.
Where there was some embarrassment for Israel was the disclosure that Israel
views Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as being wholly dependent for his
future and that of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Israel's backing of him.
Specifically, it was the confirmation by WikiLeaks that Israel had tried to
coordinate with the PA its fierce assault on Hamas during the attack it
launched on Gaza in 2008. The classified diplomatic cables released by
WikiLeaks expose Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as trying to solicit PA
and Egyptian support prior to the Israeli offensive. Barak wanted to know
whether Abbas and President Hosni Mubarak would both be "willing to assume
control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas". Both Egypt and the PA refused.
There was also some measure of discomfort at the exposing of Netanyahu by the
Egyptian leader as "elegant, charming, but a man who does not keep his
promises". The embarrassment, however, is minor. "What else is new, WikiLeaks?
We don't need Mubarak to tell us Netanyahu can't be trusted," wrote political
commentator Akiva Eldar.