Do Arab States Really Want the U.S. to Attack Iran?

[The] cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries — notably the Saudis — in a common cause. Publicly, these Arab states held their tongues, for fear of a domestic uproar and the retributions of a powerful neighbor. Privately, they clamored for strong action — by someone else.

. . . wrote a David Sanger-led team at the New York Times on November 29 as part of its coverage of the lastest WikiLeaks dump. For example, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia supposedly called for the United States to “cut off the head of the snake” of Iran. Also, from the Los Angeles Times via Michael Bush at Focal Points:

In a May 2005 meeting, Abu Dhabi crown prince Mohamed bin Zayed, deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates armed forces, urged a U.S. general to use “ground forces” against Iran. . . . A February 2010 document attributes Bin Zayed’s “near-obsessive” arms buildup to his fears about Iran.

Apparently this didn’t jibe with what Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe of IPS News knew of Arab attitudes toward Iran. They took it upon themselves to scrutinize the cables in question. Here’s an excerpt from what they learned.

The notion that these leaders, like Israel, favour a military solution to Iran’s nuclear programme has become widely accepted by the news media in the past week. . . . for example, the Washington Post Monday asserted that the Wikileaks disclosure “show[ed] that Persian Gulf leaders have pressed for a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities…”

But a careful reading of all the diplomatic cables reporting the views of Saudi and other Gulf Arab regimes on Iran shows that the [New York] Times’ account seriously distorted the content — and in the case of the Saudis, ignored the context — of the cables. . . . The original Times story, headlined “From Arabs and Israelis, Sharp Distress Over a Nuclear Iran”, referred to “a largely silent front of Arab states whose position on sanctions and force looked much like the Israelis”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. neo- conservative backers immediately seized on the story as confirmation of what Israel has been saying all along.

In fact . . .

. . . the cables show that most Gulf Arab regimes including Saudi Arabia itself — have been seriously concerned about the consequences of a strike against Iran for their own security, in sharp contrast to Israel’s open advocacy of such a strike.

Also:

The [NY Times] story asserted that the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, had recalled the king’s “frequent exhortations to the U.S. to attack Iran” during an April 2008 meeting with Gen. David Petraeus. . . . The implication was that al-Jubeir had made that statement during the Petraeus-Abdullah meeting. But the reporting cable makes clear that [it was] two days later, in a conversation with the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Riyadh, Michael Gfoeller.

In his meeting with Petraeus, in fact, Abdullah had not spoken about Iran’s nuclear programme but focused instead on the importance of “resisting and rolling back Iranian influence and subversion in Iraq”, according to the cable. [Meanwhile] the foreign minister “called instead for much more severe U.S. and international sanctions on Iran, including a travel ban and further restrictions on bank lending.”

Furthermore:

Even if Abdullah had in fact offered explicit support for a military attack against Iran in the meeting with Petraeus . . . that would not be a reliable indicator of Saudi policy toward the issue, according to Chas Freeman, a veteran diplomat who served as Washington’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992 and maintains contact with top Saudi officials. Freeman told IPS that such a statement would “fit a pattern of communication with the United States of ingratiating themselves with their protector”.

In their hearts of hearts, Arab leaders might long to turn their friendship with the United States to their advantage and beat back Iran. But they know that trying to make use of U.S. military power is as likely to evoke blowback as when the United States thought they were clever and armed the mujahideen in their struggle against the Soviets.