x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

WikiLeaks boost Israel's anti-Iran campaign

They mainly focused on communiques about US meetings with some Arab leaders who advocated the use of military action to stop Iran's nuclear programme thus recognising the threat.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, third from right, has spun the disclosures to bolster the country's campaign against Iran.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, third from right, has spun the disclosures to bolster the country's campaign against Iran.

TEL AVIV // While the secret documents released by WikiLeaks this week have perhaps embarrassed various governments, the mood in Israel is somewhere between smugness and relief.

Top officials including Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Ehud Barak, the defence minister, have spun the disclosures on their behind-the-scenes diplomatic dealings to bolster the country's intensifying campaign against Iran's nuclear ambitions.

They mainly focused on communiques about US meetings with some Arab leaders who advocated the use of military action to stop Iran's nuclear programme. A prominent example was Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who, according to an April 2008 cable, repeatedly pressed the US to "cut off the head of the snake" by launching military strikes against Iran.

Until now, Israel appeared to be the main public proponent for using military aggression against Iran, while western and Arab countries opted to keep mostly quiet on the option.

"There is a gap between what they say privately and publicly," Mr Netanyahu told reporters. He added that regional countries publicly focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the biggest threat, but privately "they realise that the central threat is from Iran".

Shimon Peres, the country's president, said the documents showed that the Arab countries know they have an enemy, "and it's not Israel".

But despite Israel's attempted spin on the disclosures, some analysts say the country did not emerge unscathed.

Ron Ben-Yishai, the military commentator for the popular Ynet online news site, said "real damage" has been caused to the Israeli campaign against Iran by the disclosure that Meir Dagan, the outgoing head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, plotted to topple the Iranian regime.

According to a cable from August 2007, Mr Dagan presented William Burns, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, with a five-step plan to curb Iran's nuclear programme, including carrying out a coup with the help of opposition student groups and ethnic minorities.

"This revelation gives Iran powerful propaganda ammunition and grants them the political justification to violently crush any legitimate opposition movement," Mr Ben-Yishai wrote.

Commentators said that some of the communiques may have also hurt Israel's hand in the peace process with the Palestinians.

Especially revealing is a confidential memo by Washington's Israeli Embassy showing that Mr Netanyahu backs the notion of land swaps with the Palestinians. The Israeli premier has until now been cautious on not publicly voicing his stances about Israel's future borders, partly to avoid revealing his cards to the Palestinians and partly to refrain from angering his right-wing coalition partners, most of whom oppose giving up any West Bank territory.

The cable from February 2009, some two weeks after the premier came into office, says that "Netanyahu expressed support for the concept of land swaps and emphasised that he did not want to govern the West Bank and Gaza but rather to stop attacks from being launched from there".

Mr Netanyahu's office has responded to the disclosure by insisting that the premier's stance had been misinterpreted. It added that Mr Netanyahu only meant that he might accept territorial compromises within the framework of a future deal.

Another secret cable from the US Embassy in Cairo quoted Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, as calling Mr Netanyahu "charming and elegant" but saying that the Israeli premier never kept his promises.

According to Mr Ben-Yishai from Ynet, the Palestinians may use Mr Mubarak's observation to show the Israeli prime minister's lack of credibility in the current settlement dispute that is stalling the resumption of peace talks.

The WikiLeaks documents may have also embarrassed the Palestinians. One cable suggested that Israel told Palestinian leaders and Egypt that it was intending to assault the Gaza Strip months before its deadly attack began nearly two years ago. The document indicated a level of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians that has never been confirmed before.

According to the cable from Washington's Tel Aviv embassy, Mr Barak told a US congressional delegation in June 2009 that Israel "had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to [the operation], asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas." The cable added that Mr Barak said both had rejected the offer.

However, aides to Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Fatah movement and the western-backed Palestinian president, on Monday quickly denied any pre-war consultations, in apparent fear of drawing anger that it may have colluded with Israel on an onslaught that killed some 1,400 Gazans.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae