Media Pushes Narrative That Arabs Want War With Iran, Ignores Cables That Show Arabs Urging Restraint

Over the weekend, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks began leaking hundreds of diplomatic cables sent by U.S. embassies and diplomatic staff across the world. The cables contain all sorts of information, from gossip from embassy staff poking fun at world leaders to details of high-level meetings between world leaders and American legislators.

However, one set of cables that the major news media found particularly attractive were ones detailing Arab leaders’ concerns about Iran. Seizing on a handful of the cables, major news media outlets published stories pushing the narrative that Arab leaders had privately urged the United States government to attack Iran:

“Around the World, Distress Over Iran” [NY Times, 11/28/10]

“Arab leaders urged US to attack Iran, says WikiLeaks” [Irish Times, 11/29/10]

“Cablegate: Arab Leaders Pressuring US to Attack Iran” [PBS, 11/29/10]

“Netanyahu Says WikiLeaks Cables Show Arab States Share Israeli Concerns About Iran’s Nuclear Program” [Washington Post, 11/29/10]

Iran ‘Must Be Stopped’: Arab Leaders Implored U.S. To Attack, WikiLeaks Disclosures Show” [Los Angeles Times, 11/29/10]

“Cables Show Arab Leaders Fear a Nuclear Iran” [Der Spiegel, 12/01/10]

While it’s true that a number of the cables include Arab leaders urging the United States to engage in a military attack against Iran — Saudi King Abdullah made the most persistent calls for a militaristic response — a number of Arab public officials also questioned the idea that Iran is an imminent threat to them and rebuked the idea of attacking the country.

Syrian President Bashar Asad questioned whether Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and promoted the use of diplomacy — including offering Syrian cooperation in monitoring the Iranian nuclear program — while meeting with an American congressional delegation including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

Asad swiftly responded, “we’re not convinced Iran is developing nuclear weapons.” He argued Iran could not use a nuclear weapon as a deterrent because nobody believed Iran would actually use it against Israel. Asad noted an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel would result in massive Palestinian casualties, which Iran would never risk. Second, he continued, the IAEA had reported no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran existed. […] Asad asserted demands for Iran to “stop” its nuclear program were unproductive and a violation of its rights under the NPT. Instead, he said, “the argument should be about how to monitor their program,” as outlined in the NPT. “Without this monitoring,” Asad warned, “there will be confrontation, and it will be difficult for the whole region.” Asad leaned slightly forward and said: “Let’s work together on this point.”

Oman’s General Ali Majid, in a meeting with U.S. diplomats, said that Oman prefers a “non-military” solution to the Iranian issue, and cautioned against taking the words of Arab leaders urging for war seriously, warning that they may be speaking from “the basis of…emotion” and may be offering false intelligence much like Iraqi defectors did prior to the invasion of Iraq:

Citing Oman’s preference for a non-military solution, [Majid] nevertheless acknowledged that a nuclear-armed Iran as opposed to war with Iran posed “an extremely difficult dilemma for all of us.” Returning back to comments about GCC countries, General Ali singled out Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar as three Gulf countries that probably would want the U.S. to strike Iran. However, he urged the U.S. to determine whether such voices were speaking on the basis of logic or emotion. He likened private entreaties of these countries to the U.S. for military action on Iran to the Iraqi opposition in exile providing the U.S. false information on Iraq that led to the invasion of Iraq.

While Majid believed that neighboring Qatar may be agitating for a strike against Iran, the leaked diplomatic cables show that at least one top Qatari official opposes such a route. During a meeting with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the Amir of Qatar says that he does not want to “provoke a fight with Iran.” When Kerry suggested that the U.S. needs to talk to the Iranian leadership directly, the Amir agreed:

The Amir answered by affirming that his first obligation is to defend the interests of Qatar. Due to the natural gas field Iran shares with Qatar, Qatar will not “provoke a fight” with Iran. He added that in the history of the two countries, “Iran has not bothered us.” […]

Senator Kerry lamented that every communication the current Administration has attempted to the Government of Iran has gone back channel and been met with no response. There have been non-U.S. initiatives, too. Again, no success. The Chairman observed that the Iranians are scared to talk. The Supreme Ayatollah had met with Russian President Putin, but seems not inclined to meet with other political leaders. Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk to him. Your instinct is right, replied the Amir. The U.S. needs to talk directly with senior Iranian officials.

Additionally, the Guardian reports today that the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Deputy Director for Western Affairs Department Mojahid Ali Alwahbi, during a meeting with U.S. officials, “strongly advised against taking military action to neutralize Iran’s program. Rather, establishing a US-Iranian dialogue was the best course of action, asserting that the USG opening an Interest Section or re-opening our Embassy in Tehran would be positive step.”