Using WikiLeaks to Advance the Narrative of War on Iran

Muhammad Sahimi in Los Angeles – Tehran Bereau PBS.org December 8, 2010

Supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejoiced over the cable in which a British official opined that he had actually won the rigged June 2009 presidential election. They could not see the irony in taking the opinion of an official of a foreign government that their president routinely denounces as “proof” that he secured his victory honestly. In so doing, they exhibit once again their desperation to legitimize their illegitimate president. I suppose there might be something to Iranians’ favorite conspiracy theory — kaar kaar-e Engelis haast (this is the work of British agents) — after all. Ahmadinejad’s supporters also overlooked another leaked cable in which an American diplomat reported that a source had told him that it was Mir Hossein Mousavi who had won the election with 26 million votes, which only goes to show that neither of the two cables should be taken seriously.

Those (like this author) who despise the French president got a kick out of a cable in which Nicolas Sarkozy was called “an emperor without clothes.” Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu was happy to see confirmation that the Arab governments of the Persian Gulf are as hostile toward Iran as Israel is.

Netanyahu’s claim brings us to some of the most debated documents released by WikiLeaks, namely, those concerning what the rulers of the Arab countries, especially those in the Persian Gulf area, think of Iran and its nuclear program. According to the documents, many Arab leaders have privately been urging the United States to stage a military attack on Iran. These are the same leaders that time and again have publicly proclaimed that they oppose such an attack, which demonstrates both their utter dishonesty toward their own citizens and the fact that they are well aware that, as unpopular as Ahmadinejad is at home, he enjoys wide popularity in the Islamic world due to his intransigence toward Israel. The fact that the American mainstream media fails to point out such dishonesty only reveals its own moral bankruptcy.

In an April 2008 cable, Adel A. al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, is quoted talking about Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and his “frequent exhortations to the U.S. to attack Iran and thus put an end to its nuclear weapon program…to cut off the head of the snake.”

Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is quoted in a July 2009 memo to the effect that “Ahmadinejad is Hitler” and urging the United States not to “appease” Iran, echoing the views of Israel’s Likud Party.

King Hamad of Bahrain, where the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet is located, is quoted in a November 2009 cable discussing Iran’s nuclear program: “That program must be stopped. The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is quoted in an August 2006 cable arguing that the “Iraq [invasion] was unnecessary. [Invading] Iran is necessary.” Of course, the American mainstream media did not mention that Hariri called for defense ties with Iran during his recent trip to the country.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is quoted in a June 2006 cable saying that it is in the “interest of all nations” to work with the United States “to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” and that in his opinion “Tehran wants to restore the Persian Empire.” The imbecile president is apparently unaware that many of Tehran’s hardliners reject the notion of the Persian Empire that existed in pre-Islamic Iran.

To appreciate what a turncoat the Yemeni president is, consider the cable made public by WikiLeaks that describes his meeting with General David Petraeus in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in January 2010. Saleh agreed to persist in covering up the plan to use U.S. fixed-wing bombers with precision weapons to attack the opposition (or the terrorists) in his country. He told Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” according to the cable, written by then U.S. Ambassador Stephen Seche. In short, Saleh was far more concerned with protecting the image of the United States than with being honest with his own people.

According to a May 2008 cable describing a meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and a group of U.S. congressmen, when he was “asked about Egypt’s reaction if Iran developed nuclear weapons capability, Mubarak said that none will accept a nuclear Iran, ‘we are all terrified.’” A February 2009 cable reported that Mubarak repeatedly refers to Iranians as “liars” and denounces the Islamic Republic for seeking to destabilize Egypt and the region at large.

The way in which the U.S. mainstream media has discussed the sentiments of these Arab rulers is very troubling. It appears that the only thing that American analysts, ranging from David E. Sanger of the New York Times to all the right-wing pundits at Fox News and the Weekly Standard, are interested in is using the Arab leaders’ private comments to advance the narrative that the neoconservatives, the Israel lobby in the United States, and the War Party have developed: that Iran is a threat to the nonexistent stability of the Middle East and the nonexistent “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians, and that its nonexistent nuclear weapon program is a security threat to U.S. allies in the region and beyond.

That the Arab rulers are hostile toward Iran and Iranians is nothing new. They were just as hostile during the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Because he was supported by the West, however, the Arab rulers, with the exception of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, did not dare to challenge Iran. Even Saddam Hussein was forced to accept the Algiers Agreement of 1975 regarding the border dispute between Iran and Iraq.

But the 1979 Revolution that established the first Shia theocracy in the world frightened the Arab leaders, all of whom are Sunni Muslims. Thus, they supported Iraq in its war with Iran, with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait providing up to $50 billion in aid to Hussein’s regime. When Iranian forces overran the Faw peninsula on February 11, 1986, and established a foothold inside Iraq, Saudi Arabia flooded the market with oil to bring down the price to $6-10 per barrel and put pressure on Iran. Ever since, Saudi Arabia has used its oil “weapon” to “contain” Iran. And, of course, while the Islamic Republic has supported Shia groups in Iraq, Saudi Arabia has strongly supported the Sunnis. In fact, in one leaked cable King Abdullah was quoted telling an Iraqi official that “you and Iraq are in my heart, but that man [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] is not.” Recently, there have been persuasive rumors that Saudi Arabia has authorized Israel to use its airspace to attack Iran.

The troubling aspect of the WikiLeaks documents concerning Iran is thus not that they demonstrate the hostility of Arab leaders toward the Islamic Republic. Rather, it is the fact that the mainstream media has failed to talk about the huge gap between the sentiments of the masses in the Islamic and Arab worlds and those of their rulers regarding Iran’s nuclear program and its stance toward Israel. The mainstream media has also failed to remind the public of the nature of the Arab regimes that are supposedly U.S. allies and of what the consequences of a military attack on Iran would be. Let us consider these issues that have been swept under the rug by the mainstream media.

To begin with, the mainstream media fails to point out that almost all of the Arab nations whose leaders have advocated an attack on Iran are ruled by unpopular and corrupt dictatorships that are supported by the United States:

* The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is run in a virtually medieval fashion. Women have almost no rights and citizens in general enjoy no political freedom.

* In the island nation of Bahrain, the ruling Sunnis harshly suppress the Shiites, who are the vast majority of the population. The government has even been importing Sunni Arabs and quickly granting them citizenship to increase the Sunni population share. Until the late 1960s, the Iranian governments considered Bahrain Iran’s 14th province. A secret deal between the Shah and Great Britain led to the island’s independence.

* Kuwait, a city-state in which Shiites constitute about 40 percent of the population, has been virtually occupied by U.S. forces for the past two decades. Though it has a parliament, it is under the autocratic rule of the Al-Sabah clan. It was from Kuwait that U.S. forces invaded Iraq in March 2003.

* The UAE, a federation of seven absolute monarchies, is ruled by a tribe installed in power when the nation was created by the British Empire in 1971. It bogusly claims ownership of three Persian Gulf islands, the Lesser and Greater Tunbs and Abu Mousa, that have been part of Iran for at least 1,000 years. At the same time, the UAE is enriched through its lucrative commerce with Iran and by at least $400 billion of Iranian investments in the country.

* Egypt has been ruled under a state of emergency since 1981. It has been one of the destinations for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, whereby terrorist suspects are sent to countries where information and confessions are extracted from them via torture. Hosni Mubarak has been Egypt’s president for 29 years.

The supposedly “moderate” Arab regimes that are allies of the United States are thus all ruled by unpopular regimes that are dictatorial, even autocratic. Their rulers say one thing about Iran in public and the opposite in private because they are afraid of their own citizens.

The mainstream media also fails to mention that an extensive poll released by the Brookings Institution in August clearly indicates that, contrary to their dictators’ sentiments, the Arab masses support Iran and its nuclear program. They even support Iran’s attainment of nuclear weapons and consider that possibility as positive for the Middle East. They reject the narrative that it is Iran that is the source of all of the Middle East’s problems. In fact, the vast majority of Arabs consider Israel and the United States as the main threats to peace and stability in the region. Only a tiny minority holds such a view of Iran.

In using the WikiLeaks documents to advance the War Party/Israel lobby narrative, the mainstream media has also completely forgotten that one of the main reasons for the terrorism committed by Middle Eastern radicals against the West, and the United States in particular, is the West’s close association with those corrupt Arab regimes. The mainstream media fails to point out

* that 15 of the 19 terrorists that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, were citizens of Saudi Arabia, two were from Egypt, and one each from the UAE and Lebanon, the same nations that are supposedly U.S. allies and have called for attacks on Iran;

* that Iran and Iranians have not been implicated in any terrorist attacks on the United States, either here at home or abroad since at least the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. While the Islamic Republic was accused by some U.S. officials of involvement in the terrorist attacks on the U.S. base in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in 1996, no proof was ever established and in fact no Iranian was ever indicted, though others were;

* that the Taliban — bloody enemies of Iran — are in fact the former Afghan Mojahedin that were funded by Saudi Arabia, armed by the CIA, and trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI);

* that the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996 with the direct support of the ISI and Pakistan’s military;

* that during the administration of President Mohammad Khatami it was Iran — not Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab governments that have urged attacking Iran — that provided significant support to the American campaign against the Taliban in 2001, and that it was not the U.S. Army but the Northern Alliance, armed and backed by Iran, that entered Kabul and overthrew the Taliban;

* that without Iran’s crucial involvement, the formation of Afghanistan’s national unity government in December 2001 would not have materialized. During the U.N. talks in Bonn on the future of Afghanistan after the Taliban’s ouster, Iranian representatives met daily with U.S. envoy James Dobbins, who later credited Iran with preventing the conference from collapsing due to the Northern Alliance’s last-minute demands to control the new government;

* that the Shia groups now in power in Iraq that are supported by the United States — which touts them as models of democratic Middle Eastern political parties — were suppressed by Saddam Hussein during the 1980s when the United States was supporting his war against Iran;

* that it is the rich citizens of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states that provide funding to the Islamic schools, or madrassas, in Pakistan that are a breeding ground for radicals who eventually carry out attacks on the United States and its allies;

* that it is Saudi Arabia that supports terrorist group such as Jundallah that carry out terrorist attacks inside Iran;

* that Saudi Arabia, by siding with Saddam Hussein during his war against Iran and with Iraq’s Sunni insurgents after he was overthrown, has contributed much to war and misery in the Middle East. The foreign fighters in Iraq were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and other U.S.-supported Sunni states. Of the 60 to 80 fighters who traveled to join al-Qaeda in Iraq every month, half were from Saudi Arabia. All the suicide bombers in Iraq were Sunni, the majority of them Saudis. Roughly half of all foreign militants who targeted U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians were from Saudi Arabia, as were nearly half of the foreign prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq;

* that it is the Salafi and Wahhabi branches of Islam, both emanating from Saudi Arabia, that provide the core ideology for Middle Eastern terrorists and other radicals;

* that WikiLeaks documents indicate the deep worries of U.S. officials, including former ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal — the most rapidly growing such arsenal in the world — and the possibility that radicals may get their hands on some of its weapons; and

* that WikiLeaks documents also indicate that the ISI and factions of the Pakistan military still support the Taliban, while Western soldiers continue to die in a pointless war and the people of Afghanistan suffer greatly.

No, the mainstream media has no interest in pointing out these irrefutable facts, because they would destroy the narrative of war with Iran. It is instead interested in one and only one subject: advancing the war narrative against Iran in exactly the same way that it sold George W. Bush’s outrageous lies about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and convinced the public that it should support the illegal — many would say criminal — invasion of Iraq.

All of this does not imply that Tehran’s hardliners are innocent of wrongdoing. Of course, they are not. The confrontation between the Islamic Republic and the United States has been going on for 30 years, and the hardliners bear their share of blame, the extent of which we will not know fully until Iran becomes a democracy. This is particularly true since 2005, when Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency. His reckless and aggressive foreign policy — if it can be called a policy — particularly his rhetoric regarding Israel, has made him a popular man among the Muslim masses, but has also provided the perfect excuse for Israel and its U.S. lobby, the neoconservatives, and the War Party to aggressively advance their Iran war narrative.

But that is not the central point here. Rather, it is that the mainstream media’s fueling of the war narrative, based on what some corrupt Arab leaders have said privately — while they lack the courage to say the same things to their own people and while their dictatorial rule and close connections with the United States have contributed mightily to violence in the Middle East — is simply beyond the pale. Again, the bankruptcy of the American mainstream media has been conclusively demonstrated.

The mainstream media has also inexcusably failed to educate the public about the nature of a possible war with Iran — the war that Israel and the supposed Arab allies of the United States have been urging her to undertake. It fails to point out that, just like the war in Iraq, any war with Iran would be totally illegal, so long as the Islamic Republic has neither attacked nor plainly threatened the United States. The mainstream media has failed to make clear that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will seem relative child’s play compared to a war with Iran. The Islamic Republic has placed many assets throughout the Middle East; if attacked, Iran’s military will not hesitate to use both its own resources and those assets to quickly spread the conflict — via asymmetrical warfare, in particular — throughout the Middle East and quite possibly the entire Islamic world. The mainstream media does not wish to tell the American people the unpleasant truth that a war with Iran will destroy the economy of the West, and may ultimately lead to World War III.

Yes, this will be the nature of the war that the supposedly “moderate” Arab regimes and “friends” of the United States wish for. Some friends, I would say!

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