Cablegate adds to pressure on Iran

Despite all the fuss from the State Department about the leaking of a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables, the Obama administration should be grateful, because the body of evidence will add to the pressure on Iran by revealing that its neighbors have been pleading for military action over its nuclear program.

Since 2008, the Saudi monarch has privately urged the U.S. to go to war on Iran, telling President Bush to “cut off the head of the snake,” according to cables published by The Guardian on the U.K. newspaper’s website. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain do not believe Iran will back down and are also calling for military action, according to more recent cables.

None of this comes as a surprise and has previously surfaced in media reports that have provided anonymity to their sources. Israeli officials have spoken of the “coalition of the frightened,” referring to the Sunni Muslim states, which fear Iranian hegemony in the region. But here, the cables embarrassingly identify leaders and diplomats by name. One of the strongest quotes about Iran comes from the chief diplomatic adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Jean-David Levitte (the former ambassador to Washington). He told a visiting senior State Department official in September 2009 that "the current Iranian regime is effectively a fascist state and the time has come to decide on next steps.”

The Turkish foreign minister is quoted in one cable as saying that
“alarm bells are ringing even in Damascus.”

The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, gave his estimation of six to 18 months (from June 2009) as the period during which it would be “viable” to be able to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Beyond that date, he said, any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”

The cables show that the Bush administration and Obama had rejected the Arab appeals for military action and preferred to go down the sanctions route. But Iran would be wise to factor in the unity of its neighbors in their determination to prevent Tehran from possessing a nuclear weapon.

The Obama administration says that the release of the cables could put lives at risk. So far they are more embarrassing than damaging, although I can see why the governments of Yemen, Pakistan and Turkey will not be happy, not to mention the U.N. leadership. But it’s early days to take a firm view on “Cablegate,” as there are still two weeks of documents in the pipeline.