Could the WikiLeaks disclosures, which are causing all sorts of negative fallout for the Obama administration’s foreign policy, actually lead to some foreign policy successes? Regarding most of the leaks the upshot will probably run the gamut from benign, to embarrassing, to trivially detrimental; however, there is one area where there may be a potential, albeit slight, for a constructive outcome.
Two facts, which were previously widely assumed, have now been confirmed. The first is the growing fear in the Arab world about Iran’s expanding power and nuclear ambitions. The second is Israel’s clandestine diplomacy with these same Arab powers.
Regarding the former, leaked documents show a number of Arab states’ unease with Iran’s nuclear program. These documents, as reported in the Financial Times, call for the US to stop Iran’s ambitions, including with direct attacks. This is relatively unsurprising as balancing between the big Arab states and Iran is a constant feature of the region. No Arab state, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the other two regional heavyweights, want to see a nuclear Iran.
Likewise, the disclosure of Israel’s communications with some of these states is unsurprising. Israel does not have official diplomatic channels with most Arab nations; however, despite public rhetoric they do often have common concerns.
While none of this is surprising to the casual follower of the region, most know that these Arab leaders say one thing in public while another thing behind closed doors. Much of this, of course, is due to the strong opinions of the Arab street and Muslim fundamentalists. However, now the metaphorical cat is out of the bag.
What is done with this “cat” though could have interesting consequences for the region. Most likely the Arab states will attempt to distance themselves from these revelations, brushing them off as distortions or simply ignoring the leaks. However, if the Arab leadership address these facts head-on and take ownership, it could profoundly alter the political map.
As both sets of disclosures prove, Israel and the Arab states are, at least in some issues, on the same side. In particular, Iran represents a growing threat to stability in the region and, at a minimum in Israel’s case, an existential threat. Currently, however, Arab nations and Israel are precluded from working together largely by the Arab street’s political pressure over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Islamic fundamentalism’s abhorrence of the Jewish state.
While admittedly these place enormous constraints on the Arab leadership, who might very well lose their power if they worked openly with Israel, the animosity towards Israel is increasingly a strategic anchor. The Jewish state is no longer the (perceived) greatest threat to the Arab world, just as the Palestinian problem is no longer the most significant issue for Israel.
This opens the door for expanded coordination between the Arab world and Israel and, daresay, a potential path to peace. Rather than spurning these disclosures, Arab leaders should attempt to use these revelations of their true security concerns to begin a (yes, slight) redirection of the Arab street’s focus. While a rush to normalized diplomatic relations with Israel is probably premature, the Arab leaders can use the WikiLeaks disclosures as a first hole in the dike which has separated Israel and the Arabs for some 60 years.
Rapprochement between Israel and the Arab states is essential for both regional and individual state security. While domestic conditions certainly make this difficult, WikiLeaks may have helped get the ball rolling. It is certainly too early to tell where this will lead, but ironically someday Julian Assange might be called a hero (okay I doubt that) for lighting the spark that checked Iran’s nuclear rise and precipitating peace between Israel and the Arabs.