Sunday, December 12, 2010

Beyond WikiLeaks

The damaging drip-by-drip disclosures of sensitive American diplomatic communications by WikiLeaks have been receiving saturation media coverage. Too few are asking why Julian Assange's website is preoccupied with confidential American cables while displaying no interest in, say, Iranian secrets. Still, there is no denying that reading other peoples clandestine communications offers heretofore unavailable insights.

Jerusalem has long argued that Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons is not Israel's problem alone. That there was an enormous disconnect between what Arab leaders said publicly and what they said privately about Iran is no revelation. Yet the intensity and uniformity with which Arab leaders have been pleading with the Obama administration to “take out” Iran's nascent capacity is illuminating.

Firstly, it debunks malicious insinuations by the Walt, Mearsheimer, Brzezinski crowd that the "Israel lobby" has been perfidiously goading the U.S. into a war with Iran against Washington's own interests, one that would cripple America's standing with Arab "moderates." We now know that virtually every Arab leader from Lebanon to Bahrain had been exhorting the U.S. to strike at Iran.

Secondly, it exposes the duplicity of the Obama administration toward Jerusalem. The president's insistence that Israeli concessions to the Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas were a prerequisite for garnering Arab support against Iran has been shown to be plain dishonest. Barack Obama knew full well that America's Arab allies wanted Iran dealt with regardless of "progress" on the Palestinian-Israeli front, as Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post has pointed out. And yet Obama "continued to propagate what he must have known to be a falsehood" that lack of progress on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking was an obstacle to wide Arab backing on Iran. Obama chose to play the Iran card as a Machiavellian tactic against Israel.

In any event, the torrent of WikiLeaks revelations ought not to obscure what is really important beyond the obvious point that basically everyone in the Middle East agrees it would be catastrophic if Iran obtained the atom bomb. Is it not intriguing that Arab autocrats, presumably adept at manipulating public opinion to stay in power, have been so shy about trying to shape the views of the Arab street on Iran?

Why not let their people know that an imperial Iran threatens Sunni Arab interests?
On the Palestinian front, is it not equally interesting that Abbas often sounds conciliatory in closed door meetings with Israeli and American leaders but intransigent when publicly addressing his followers? Why would Abbas not want to prepare his Fatah faction, indeed all Palestinians for the absolute need to make concessions on refugees, land swaps and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as the only way the conflict can be brought to an end?

Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based Palestinian journalist maintains that Arab leaders do not actually depend on public opinion at all to retain power. They will seek regional and international alliances and do whatever it takes domestically to stay in power, but trying to change popular attitudes toward Israel or Iran would, if anything, be counterproductive. Indeed, scapegoating Israel for the failures of their regimes helps them stay in power, explains Professor Prof. Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

If anything says Danny Rubinstein, a veteran Israeli analyst of Arab affairs, Arab rulers are afraid of public opinion because they know what the masses really think of them. The Arab street admires leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for standing up against the West and Israel. The masses perceive their rulers are being propped up by the West. That is why any attempt by the autocrats to constructively realign perceptions on such core issues as Iran and Israel is simply too dangerous. For this reason, too, no amount of WikiLeaks exposure will impel Arab "moderates" to bring their public utterances and private stances into harmony.

The dysfunctional way in which ideologically indoctrinated Arab masses acquire their ideological orientations and their basic assumptions about political life has gravely warped Arab political culture. No wonder, then, that Israelis are dubious about the prospects of genuine peace with the Palestinians and apprehensive about the durability of existing peace treaties reached with unpopular autocrats.
The more profound lessons of the WikiLeaks revelations are sobering in ways, perhaps, unintended.


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