Commentary

The Middle East Reacts to WikiLeaks - Part 2

Middle East In Focus

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With the release of yet more confidential documents from the WikiLeaks website — containing embarrassing and revealing conversations and communications among various diplomats — it is not surprising that Middle Eastern countries and their leaders find themselves once again at the center of the debate. Even news agencies like Al Jazeera have been implicated “as bargaining chips in foreign policy negotiations.” In fact, in what so far amounts to less than 1 percent of the available information to WikiLeaks, few countries in the region have remained untouched. Reactions from these countries and what the leaks reveal about them differ, however.

In Jordan, the leaks reveal “fears that any breakthrough dialogue between the United States and Iran could damage the interests of moderate Arab countries. In a cable from the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Stephen Beecroft, dated April 2009, King Abdullah II is quoted as telling Washington's Middle East envoy George Mitchell that such dialogue could spark a rift between Arab states.”

The revelations that “investigators working for the UN probe into the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [have] fought with “insane” procedural constraints that may have damaged its operational capacity” have made the situation in Lebanon even more difficult than before. Reports that “intercepted confidential U.S. Embassy correspondences paint a picture of an investigation plagued by bureaucracy, poor management and staff shortages” will do little to inspire confidence in the findings of the tribunal.

Some Gulf Arab states however seem to take the release of the documents in stride. News agencies have reported that “WikiLeaks disclosures have had no effect on Washington's Gulf Arab allies because it is clear the cables do not reflect official U.S. policy, two senior ruling family members said. The royals, one from Bahrain and one from Saudi Arabia, suggested in a debate at a Gulf security conference that final judgment on the leaks would have to await publication of all the quarter of a million cables obtained by the website.”

Nevertheless, the leak of the confidential conversations has hit a nerve with several officials and governments. In Kuwait, the Interior Minister Jaber Khaled al-Sabah “was quoted as telling the U.S. ambassador that his country did not want to see the return of Kuwaiti suspects held in Guantanamo Bay and suggested ‘the best thing to do is get rid of them.’” The Foreign Ministry subsequently released a statement that the report was a lie and that Kuwait has worked hard to earn the release of Kuwaiti nationals in U.S. custody.

The Iraqi government on the other hand has called the WikiLeaks unhelpful and “Iraq’s foreign minister has criticized the leak of thousands of American diplomatic cables that detail U.S. concerns over Iranian involvement in Iraq.” The Saudi response, even though initially dismissive, points to the possible long-term negative effects that the WikiLeaks have caused to the U.S. diplomacy in the region. Speaking at a security summit, “former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Turki Al-Faisal said that America's credibility and honesty have been seriously compromised [and that] …officials will henceforth find it extremely difficult to engage in frank discussions with American diplomats.”

In the Israeli-Palestinian context, the cables also “raised the possibility that Fatah, the Palestinian group in power in the occupied West Bank, knew that Israel was planning an attack on the Gaza Strip before it launched its deadly offensive in December 2008.” In addition to raising questions about when and how much Fatah knew about the Gaza offensive, the leaked documents show that “Washington saw Yemen as a key transit point for arms flowing to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and the Gaza Strip via Sudan.” According to a July 2009 memo from the U.S. embassy in Saana, “a significant volume of arms shipments to Hamas make the short 24-hour transit across the Red Sea from Yemen to Sudan.”

In what has turned out to be one of the more intriguing revelations, the WikiLeaks show a number of Arab states eager to see the United States take a more aggressive stance vis-à-vis Iran. This has led the Israeli PM Netanyahu to state that “making privately held beliefs public will lead to increase in peace process, particularly in relation to Iran.” For some commentators it is difficult to see how the Saudi endorsement of a military strike against Iran would help Israel’s case, arguing that, “in fact, the Saudi endorsement could be the kiss of death for Netanyahu's plans.”

But perhaps the most contentious developments have taken place in Turkey, where opposition forces have on the basis of the leaked memos written by U.S. diplomats, accused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of having eight secret Swiss bank accounts. Erdogan has denied such claims and his supporters are anxious to point their finger at a state with the motives and means to initiate the leak. One of his advisors suggested in an article published in Turkish daily newspaper Star that “‘covert propaganda’ is a kind of propaganda in which both the initiator and the goal remain unclear.”

Earlier in the week, Huseyin Celik, the deputy chairman of Turkey's ruling party, put the blame squarely on Israel: “We should look at the countries that are satisfied by the leak, and Israel is very satisfied.” A similar sentiment was expressed by Mr. Akdoğan, who wrote, “Israel is trying to sabotage relations between Turkey and the U.S. through the leaked documents.” Emre Uslu writes that “since the WikiLeaks documents surfaced, Turkish political actors have been searching for the answer to the following question: Who is behind the WikiLeaks incident? While the AKP blames Israel, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli blames the U.S. and possible external players and has given open support to the AKP government.”

With more documents forthcoming, “Turkish officials are hunkering down to face potential accusations of interference in Iraq.… In confidential U.S. State Department cables made public thus far by the whistle-blowing website, Turkish officials are quoted expressing negative opinions of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s administration. The documents also include some details about Turkish efforts to influence the outcome of Iraqi elections held in March.”

 

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.