Monday, November 29, 2010

Arab Positions on Iran in WikiLeaks and Juan Cole's Efforts to Downplay their Significance


For me, the biggest story of the latest WikiLeaks release so far is the documentation of active Arab lobbying against Iran and repeated calls for aggressive American intervention. In the leaked reports, Saudi and several other Gulf state officials repeatedly urge America to keep the military option on the table. It's interesting to see Juan Cole and others downplay the significance of these revelations. For Cole, it's all about Israel, even though Saudi and other officials hardly mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in these cables (see here, for example):
It is no secret that the Sunni Arab leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf have been alarmed by the rise of Iran as a regional power. That rise has taken place for three reasons. First, the worrisome deterioration in the condition of stateless Palestinians under rightwing governments of Israel since 2001, and that country's increasing belligerence toward neighbours, as with the 2006 Lebanon war, have inflamed passions throughout the region, allowing Iran to position itself as a champion of the weak.
The rise of Iran as a regional power has very little to do with the alleged deterioration in the condition of the Palestinians since 2001. There is nothing new about rejectionist (anti-U.S.) powers in the region supporting the cause of the Palestinians, rhetorically and financially. Egypt did this under Nasser and the Syrians have presented themselves as the patron of radical Palestinian factions for a long time. Neither regime owed its rise to Israeli policy or the conditions of the Palestinians.

Cole wants to minimize the real fears of the Gulf states about Iran's ambitions and its pursuit of nuclear weapons to achieve them. Of course, he's right that the "street" in the Arab world supports Iran for its virulent stands against Israel. But the people do not rule in any of the Gulf states. They are far from positions of political responsibility, which might actually make them to identify with the interests of their states in the global arena or to articulate realist political stances.

Lastly, Cole makes an argument from absence about Egypt's position on Iran:

Despite the breathless headlines they generated, the yield of the documents is actually thin. The most populous and militarily most important Arab state, Egypt, appears not to have been among those urging military action. There is no sign in the diplomatic cables of any practical steps toward an Arab attack on Iran, no evidence of logistical or military preparations. At most there is high-level gossip in Arab capitals that something should be done, and by someone else. In any case, if this is the anti-Iranian Arab axis, Tehran can sleep peacefully at night.

In fact, the cables show great Egyptian concern over Iranian meddling in Arab affairs, especially closer to home. I think the jury is still out on Egypt's position. Cole somehow wants to continue to insist in the face of the leaks that only the Americans and the Israelis are bothered by Iran. He believes that the leaders of the region should share view that there is "no evidence" that Iran has a nuclear weapons program or that it aspires  to achieve this capability. Ergo, everyone should rest easy. Those who disagree, he implies, are either trying to manipulate the situation to advance their imperialist interests in the Middle East.(the U.S. and Israel) or being manipulated by imperialist powers.

What's really funny is that Juan Cole is so obsessed with Israel that on his blog he highlighted a cable from January 2007 as one of the most revelatory documents released. He interprets the following passage
Thoughtful Israeli analysts point out that even if a nuclear-armed Iran did not immediately launch a strike on the Israeli heartland, the very fact that Iran possesses nuclear weapons would completely transform the Middle East strategic environment in ways that would make Israel’s long-term survival as a democratic Jewish state increasingly problematic. That concern is most intensively reflected in open talk by those who say they do not want their children and grandchildren growing up in an Israel threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran.
 as evidence that Israel sees an Iranian nuclear program as a threat to Jewish immigration and the demographic balance of the country. He then goes on to sound the trumpet about the inevitability of a binational state or the Lebanonization of Israel "in the next five decades." Cole is still convinced by the old story of low Jewish birthrates and the specter of net migration out of the country. Lastly, he wants to blame Israeli lobbying for the Iraq war and for a potential American invasion of Iran.

Not wanting your children and grandchildren to grow up in an Israel facing a nuclear Iran does not mean that you plan on emigrating from Israel. The kind of declaration cited in the cable simply underscores the resolve of Israelis not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. We don't know how ordinary Israelis would respond to a nuclear Iran; I am not convinced that there would be an exodus.

1 comment:

Nobody said...

I would say the yield of these essays is rather thin. But what you would expect from such a bastion of minority rights protectors as the Guardian. Otherwise, the Arab elites are worried about Iran and press the US to attack. They don't care for our nukes because they don't see us as having reqionwide expansionist ambitions which is not the case with Iran. Neither the Arabs have too much urgency about the Palestinins. The US is the only obstacle that remains on the way to the attack on Iran. Simple as that. And of course Erdogan. Not a big surprise unless one's spiritual vocation is to protest Israeli crimes against Turks and Nabatheans