Harsh comments against the Tehran government by Arab leaders -- including apparent support for a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities -- should put Iranian leaders on notice that time for a diplomatic deal is growing short. At the same time, Israel should get the message that one of the best ways it can defeat Iran's nuclear and regional ambitions is to conclude an Arab-Israeli peace.
Anyone who has traveled in the Arab world knows the depth of animosity toward the Islamic Republic of Iran -- a predominantly Persian nation that embraced Shiite Islam as the state religion in the 1600s but has only sought to export a radical ideology since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Even so, the language revealed by the WikiLeaks documents is surprisingly harsh and contradicts public statements by Arab leaders opposing U.S. or Israeli military action against Iran:
- An April 2, 2009, cable by U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Stephen Beecroft notes that "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."
- An April 20, 2008, cable about a U.S. meeting with Saudi King Abdullah quotes Saudi Ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir as reminding U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command, about 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.' " In a subsequent cable describing a March 2009 meeting between King Abdullah and Obama counterterrorism chief John Brennan, the Saudi monarch calls the Iranians "evil."
- A Nov. 4, 2009, cable notes that Bahrain's King Hamad, in a meeting with Gen. Petraeus, "argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their [Iranians'] nuclear program, by whatever means necessary. 'That program must be stopped,' he said. 'The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.' "
At the same time, Clawson says, the leaks reveal "quite a remarkably broad international consensus that Iran's activities are disturbing and that something needs to be done about this."
Clawson says the comments "make it easier to contemplate military action against Iran but also make it less necessary" because it shows that foreign countries will likely support more pressure and sanctions if Tehran does not agree to curb its nuclear program and support of militant groups.
At a damage-control news conference today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said something similar: "If anything, any of the comments that are being reported on allegedly from the cables confirm the fact that Iran poses a very serious threat in the eyes of many of her neighbors, and a serious concern far beyond her region."
Some Israelis are apt to take away from the cables that they have more Arab support than they thought for striking Iran's nuclear installations if the U.S. does not. But Israel, which considers Iran's nuclear program an existential threat, could weaken Tehran much more -- without the devastation of yet another Middle East war -- by reaching peace agreements with Arab adversaries.
Iran exploits these conflicts to rally Arab public opinion and to keep the region on edge. Or as the April 2009 cable by the U.S. ambassador to Jordan puts it: "The best way to counter Iran's ambitions is to weaken the salience of its radicalism on the Arab street by fulfilling the promise of a 'two-state solution' " for Israel and Palestine.