According to Reports: Leaks Confirm Sunni Arab Feelings About Iran

In his weekly Canadian Jewish News media analysis column "According to Reports," Paul Michaels, CIC Director of Communications, finds that the Wikileaks documents simply confirmed what many already thought about Middle East politics.

Last week saw a flood of media analyses and commentary about the fallout of WikiLeaks' release of the first batch of a quarter million confidential U.S. diplomatic dispatches. Three facts about the Middle East stood out. The dispatches confirmed what was generally already well known, if not publicized:

  • The Sunni Arab states – in particular, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia – view a nuclear Iran as the great threat to regional peace and security.
     
  • These states are looking to the United States and Israel to disarm the Iranian threat and,
     
  • Despite all the Arab pleadings (including Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah's imploring the American administration to attack Iran before it's too late), the United States has not acted militarily against Iran and probably won't do so.

Much has been made also of the fact that the Arab states say one thing in public while in private urging something else entirely – military action against Iran. To a large degree that inconsistency (some would say hypocrisy) is true. Yet well before the WikiLeaks disclosures, there were quite a number of media reports about growing, if covert, ties between Israel and the Arabs, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia etc., against Iran. These included stories, denied by Saudi officials, that Israel would be given fly-over and even landing rights in their country should it decide to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

What WikiLeaks did was bring some of this out into the open (which may have the negative effect of embarrassing Arab leaders and making co-operation with Israel more difficult, even if not less urgent).

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In the December issue of Foreign Policy magazine, whose cover story is a ranking of the "100 Top Global Thinkers of 2010," Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, was accorded seventh spot. He's praised for his brilliance in pursuing Turkey's "global reawakening" – that is, using his country's "geographic position and identity as a secular Muslim democracy to build bridges between Europe, the Caucasus, and the Middle East."

Sounds charming. But according to Der Spiegel's reading of the leaked U.S. dispatches, this glowing picture is grossly misleading.

As far back as 2004, American diplomats in Ankara were disturbed that a member of a leading AKP (ruling party) think tank said that Turkey's role is "to take back Andalusia and avenge the [Muslim] defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683," a view, the Americans argue, Davutoglu shares. They're "alarmed by his imperialistic tone." In a dispatch summarizing a speech Davutoglu delivered in Sarajevo in January 2010, the U.S. ambassador wrote: "His thesis: the Balkans, Caucasus and Middle East were all better off when under Ottoman control or influence."

Even more alarming is a report that appeared in the Nov. 28 Ma'ariv by Eli Bardenstein. Not only does Davutoglu maintain that Turkey should reassert its dominance in the Middle East, he also believes that Israel will disappear as a Jewish state, which he believes is illegitimate, and that it will be replaced by a binational state.

"Davutoglu is considered the top ideologist of the ruling AKP party," Bardenstein writes.

Davutoglu's ideas are widely shared throughout the Islamic party. According to Der Spiegel, Israel's ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, was quoted as saying in a confidential U.S. embassy dispatch from October 2009 that prime minister Recep Erdogan is "a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously." And that's at the root of the Turkish government's animosity towards Israel, not Jerusalem's policy on Lebanon or Gaza.

While none of this was unknown before the leak of the American dispatches – as we see in Ankara's growing closeness to Tehran – what is now acknowledged is that, contrary to the official U.S. position on Turkey, the Americans are dismayed by the Islamic radicalism of Turkey's leadership, by the insularity and ignorance of key ministers, and by the corruption of many including, it is alleged, Erdogan himself (a charge Erdogan has challenged).