Arab Media Wonders: Where Are the WikiLeaks Cables Critical of Israel?

Arab media are growing more suspicious of WikiLeaks’s selection process of the released U.S cables. Many Arab journalists are wondering why none of these cables are critical of Israel, despite the controversy surrounding its wars in Lebanon and Gaza.
By: Jalal Ghazi - NAM

According to Wikileaks official website, the organization has acquired about 4,000 U.S cables that originated from the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. Yet the website has released only 22 cables so far, none of which damages the credibility of Israel. To the contrary, the leaked U.S. cables have forced Arab states in the Gulf to publicly take stronger positions against Iran and have strengthened Israel’s position against the Palestinian Authority.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could not find better support for his decision to go public with the classified U.S. diplomatic cables than remarks made by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Time magazine, Assange quoted Netanyahu in an attempt to show that the publication of the U.S. cables “will result in some new kind of harmonization.  "And we can see [Netanyahu] coming out with a very interesting statement that leaders should speak in public like they do in private whenever they can. He [Netanyahu] believes that the result of this publication, which makes the sentiments of many privately held beliefs public, are promising …".

Assange was referring to statements made by Netanyahu at the end of November to a group of reporters in Tel Aviv, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "Israel has not been damaged at all by the WikiLeaks publications,” Netanyahu reportedly said. “ The documents show many sources backing Israel's assessments, particularly of Iran."

He added, “For the first time in history, there is agreement that Iran is the threat. If Middle East leaders start saying openly what they have long been saying behind closed doors, we can make a real breakthrough on the road to peace."

Despite strong U.S criticism of the Wikileaks release, at least one senior American official reportedly agrees with Netanyahu’s assessment.

David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, said on NPR’s “Fresh Air:  “Just last week, a very senior American official from the State Department said to me, you know, this ultimately may be helpful because it may free up the Arab press, which takes its signals from Arab leaders, to write about Iran's nuclear program which by large, they have not done.”

For the longest time, Arab media—which are owned and controlled by Arab rulers—have mainly focused on Israeli violations against Palestinians and refrained from criticizing Iran's nuclear program or perceived threats.

Arab regimes sought to avoid confrontation with Iran, which is much stronger militarily than they are. They wanted the United States to attack Iran without becoming targets of Iran themselves.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based daily newspaper Al-Quds Al Arabi, criticized Arab rulers who urged the United States to attack Iran: “We did not read in one single cable that an Arab leader has the courage or the desire to protect his country from the alleged Iranian threat. All of them want the U.S. and Israel to perform this role on their behalf.”

Arab regimes also avoided taking strong positions against Iran's nuclear program because this would make them look like hypocrites. Arab masses expect their leaders to criticize Israel’s nuclear program, not Iran, which is seen as a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.

State-sponsored Arab media mainly criticized Israel, because this made Arab rulers appear to back the Palestinians, which enhanced their popularity despite their corruption.

However, they no longer can play this game because their animosity and mistrust of Iran have been exposed. They now have to explain to their people why they view Iran as the region’s biggest menace.

Netanyahu was quick in pointing this out. "Our region has been hostage to a narrative that is the result of 60 years of propaganda, which paints Israel as the greatest threat,” he said. "In reality, leaders understand that that view is bankrupt. For the first time in history, there is agreement that Iran is the threat.”

The leaked U.S. cables show that Arab states in the Gulf actually view Israel as an asset in their quest to weaken Iran and stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Arab rulers can rely on Israel to prevent any future rapprochement between Iran and the United State, especially if reformers take power in Iran. Atwan, the Al-Quds Al Arabi editor, put it this way: “What if an American-Israeli attack on Iran topples the current regime and brings to power a nationalist Iranian regime that is friendly to both Israel and the U.S.?”

Before the 1979 revolution, Iran was on very friendly terms with both the U.S. and Israel, and Iran was viewed as an important and strategic ally for Washington.

The possible return of such a scenario threatens Arab states in the Gulf because they fear Iran’s territorial ambitions would be emboldened. Iran refuses to give back the three islands that it has taken over from the United Arab Emirates in the straits of Hermoz during the Shah era. Iran has also taken advantage of the ongoing war in Iraq by spreading its influence there, and it is trying to take over Iraqi oil fields in the south. Iran may also demand a bigger share in the huge offshore natural gas fields in the Gulf, which it shares with Qatar.

In addition, the perceived Iranian threat has strengthened the Israel position vis a vis the Palestinian Authority. The U.S diplomatic cables show that Gulf states are much more concerned about the potential Iranian threat than the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

This has deprived the Palestinian cause of even the verbal support of these Arab states, as reflected in their non- reaction to the Obama administration’s recent dropping of demands that Israel extend the settlement freeze— a major Palestinian condition for resuming peace negotiations.

As a result, the Palestinian Authority has started asking more countries to recognize their state. So far Argentina and Brazil have agreed, but even if many more nations were to follow suit, Israel is still in a stronger position and it can do whatever it wants, especially amidst the absence of tangible Arab opposition.

Before the release of the U.S. diplomatic cables, there was a widespread belief that Arabs states—especially the oil rich ones, which have strong bonds with the United States— were exerting pressure on Washington to demand that Israel extend the settlement freeze. This view, however, turned out to be wrong—which explains why Arab states did not even protest Obama’s decision.

Israel will continue to be Wikileaks’s biggest winner, as long as Wikileaks refrains from releasing U.S. cables that potentially can be damaging to it. But one must ask how long can the rest of the 4,000 or so U.S. cables that originated from Tel Aviv remain classified in our whistle-blowing age.