One of the highlights of the most recent Wikileaks release has been the focus on Arab attitudes toward Iran. The headlines suggest Arab unanimity in support of a U.S. or Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic, as long as Arab governments are allowed to keep their heads low to the ground. There was much evidence, and many colorful quotations, to make the case, especially from Saudi, Bahraini, and United Arab Emirates’ leaders. And although some of the quotations were jaw-dropping, in truth it was all a bunch of stuff we’ve heard before. But analysis by the media that followed, and the sweeping conclusion that “Arabs support attacking Iran,” is misplaced and ignores significant differences among Arab governments about how to deal with Iran—and especially missed the boat on true attitudes of the Arab public.
As I pointed out in an analysis in September most Arab governments are
suspicious of Iran and worry about rising Iranian power and influence, the degree of concern varies, and the sources of concern vary even more. . . . Most Arab governments would like Iranian power trimmed, with some supporting a potential attack on its nuclear facilities by either Israel or the United States. But Arab governments’ calculations cover a broad spectrum.
In fact, while Wikileaks showed the extent to which Arab leaders almost universally worry about rising Iranian influence, their attitudes toward military action were far from unanimous—even in the Gulf region. Leaders in Oman counseled against a war with the Islamic Republic, and the same goes for any number of Saudi officials. While Qatar expressed suspicion of Tehran’s intentions, Israel’s Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, reportedly worried about Qatar’s cozying up with Iran; so much so that he recommended that the United States close the American base there, which he saw as Qatar’s security insurance policy. And, at least in the foreseeable future, Syria is an ally of Iran. In many Arab countries, there was significant concern about the repercussions of an attack on Iran. This was the case for Kuwait and Jordan. And while there was much focus on a cable from Jordan describing Jordanian wariness about U.S. engagement with Iran and comparing Tehran to an “Octopus,” what was missed is that the same cable also noted that “they believe they can be severed if Iran is deprived of hot-button issues that make it a hero to many on the Arab street, such as its championing of the Palestinian cause.” Indeed, Most of Jordan’s—and of Egypt’s—expressed concerns focused on Iranian influence and meddling in Arab affairs, particularly in their neighborhoods, rather than being distinctly related to a U.S. or Israeli attack.