The clearest thing that has emerged from the content of confidential communications between US embassies in the region and Washington is that regional leaders are overwhelmingly preoccupied with Iran, its attempts to develop nuclear technology and its growing influence throughout the region.
The communications, released by whistleblower website Wikileaks, show the leaders of Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, all finding an unlikely ally in Israel in their calls for US military action to against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud reportedly urges the US to “cut the head off the snake”, in reference to Iran. He also warned that if Iran developed nuclear weapons, “everyone in the region would do the same”.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa told a US diplomat that the US stop Iran’s nuclear programme by “whatever means necessary”. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, is described as “the most passionately anti-Iran of the Arab leaders”.
In that sense, the region’s leaders have more in common with the Israeli stance on this issue they would like to admit in public. The cables reveal that Gulf ties with Israel are “a function of the Gulf Arabs’ fear of Iran, but also due to the belief in Israeli influence in Washington”. UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israeli foreign minister Livni are even described to have a “good personal relationship”.
The picture that emerges is of a region that feels unable to say it public what it says is private. In public relations with Iran are always described as friendly, and Israel is frequently denounced. Yet in private regional leaders call for action to counter Iranian influence.
Relations with Israel are also better than many would expect, with many leaders well aware of the need for real progress on the Israel-Palestine issue, and the need to engage with Israel.
What hinders progress is their reluctance to start a public debate about the merits of these policies, and their unwillingness to expend political capital by stepping out and publically chastising Iran for its nuclear programme, or getting behind the Arab-Israeli peace process.