WikiLeaks’ Awkward Reading for Iran

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WikiLeaks’ Awkward Reading for Iran

The interesting thing about the revelations over Iran’s neighbours is just how far they’d go to stop it from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

Bahrain’s King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa didn’t mince his words in a November 2009 cable to Washington on what should be done about Iran's nuclear programme. According to a cable released by WikiLeaks, Hamad said:

‘That programme must be stopped. The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.’

It’s a view echoed by Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Armed Forces Emirates Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. In a July 2009 memo to the US government, he described Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as ‘Hitler,’ and urged the United States not to ‘appease’ Iran.

And there’s plenty more where that came from. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, asked the United States to strike Iran’s nuclear programme and to ‘cut off the head of the snake.’ Another memo showed Qatar had agreed to allow the United States to use a base on Qatari soil to bomb Iran.

These revelations are highly embarrassing for Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, underscoring as they do the intense level of hostility and mistrust Iran’s neighbours feel about its nuclear programme.

But what should particularly concern Iran's leadership is the statement from the Emir of Qatar. On numerous occasions, Iran's leaders have openly stated that they’d be willing to attack any neighbouring country that allows its territory to be used by foreign forces to stage an attack against Iran. By telling the United States that he’s willing to allow his territory to be used as a launch pad for a strike, the Emir of Qatar is effectively saying that he’s so concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran that he’s prepared to risk massive Iranian retaliation against his country to stop it from happening.

What’s particularly interesting about the WikiLeaks revelations, though, isn’t so much the enthusiasm that countries like Saudi Arabia demonstrated over a US-led attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but that they wanted the United States to decapitate the entire leadership of the regime. (Lebanon's Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri is also revealed to have stated to US officials in 2006 that they should have invaded Iran instead of Iraq).

Another important, related, point made clear by the cables is that the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran have broadened the regional consensus against Iran's nuclear programme, with the UAE and Bahrain having joined existing anti-nuclear Iran countries such as Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian government, for its part, has dismissed the recent revelations as 'psychological warfare.' Other analysts, meanwhile, have dismissed the WikiLeaks reports as part of the Western media's ‘narrative of war with Iran.’ Some have also argued that the views of the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE should be ignored as they are unelected.

But the fact that the leaders of the UAE and Saudi Arabia aren’t elected should hardly be a source of comfort—opposition forces in these countries include many Sunni extremists, who are even more anti-Iran and anti-Shiite than their governments. Indeed, these groups would in some cases be more than willing to take matters into their own hands, rather than simply urging the US to attack Iran—Iran would be well-advised to work with its neighbours’ current leaders, because the alternatives could be much worse.

All this means that anyone interested in finding a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear programme can’t afford to dismiss the WikiLeaks reports—and the insights they offer into how desperate Iran’s neighbours have become.

It’s true that earlier this month, the outgoing head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, said Iran wouldn’t be able to acquire a nuclear bomb until 2015 at the earliest (revising a 2009 assessment, in which he told an Israeli parliamentary panel that Iran could have its first nuclear warhead by 2014).

But the fact that the estimate for Iran to reach bomb-making capacity has been pushed back a year doesn’t take the onus off of the Iranian government to cooperate with the West and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tehran must alleviate concerns about the true nature of its nuclear programme and cease any military-related activities that are deemed unacceptable by the United Nations.

If it can, it will find itself in a much better position to enjoy closer relations with its neighbours and in a position to tap nuclear technology to produce energy for its own citizens. But until it does, Iran's neighbours will view its nuclear programme as an unacceptable danger—regardless of whether they share their fears in WikiLeaked cables.