January 4th, 2011
Mehrangiz Kar & Azadeh Pourzand
The release of WikiLeaks documents made visible a historic sense of animosity between Arab states and Iran. Fearing Iran’s nuclear program, in WikiLeaks documents some Arab authorities had asked the US to plan a military strike against Iran. Political stakeholders each benefited differently from the public release of these documents. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, publicly denounced the legitimacy of these documents. According to him, they were fake documents made by the US government in order to break the unity of Islamic nations in the region. Secretary of State in the US, Hillary Clinton, considered these documents a proof of nations’ concerns about the nuclear program in Iran. Nonetheless, Arab authorities have not yet released public statements about WikiLeaks documents. Perhaps, given the sensitivity of the issue at hand, they prefer to keep their opinions to themselves.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows well that the unity of Muslim nations is a dream made impossible due to conflicts deeply rooted in history. For instance, the friendship of Iran with the Arab world is a difficult dream to realize. Firstly, the rule of political Shia in the Iranian government creates an obstacle in the formation of sincere friendships with Sunni countries. There are many historic reasons that prevent Persians and Arabs from sincere friendships and unity. Nevertheless, the Iranian government continues to advocate for the unity of the Muslim world against the imperialist West. Thus, it is not surprising that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad downplays the importance of the recent WikiLeaks documents and denounces their legitimacy.
Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton’s statement about WikiLeaks documents represents the current challenges of the US government concerning Iran. The interpretation that she offered the public mainly revolved around the region’s rising concerns about nuclear Iran. Implicit in her comments there was a threat of a military strike against Iran with Arab countries in the region mobilized alongside the US; this is if all other diplomatic efforts fail with Iran. Therefore, her statement makes it clear that Iran would ultimately have to face a military strike if it continues its uncooperative behavior.
What becomes interesting in the WikiLeaks debates is that Arab authorities have chosen to privately communicate their fear of Iran with the US while publicly behaving otherwise. As follows, taking a close look at the current Wikileaks debates a number of important questions come to mind: Why have Arab authorities expressed their concerns about the nuclear capabilities of Iran through private correspondence with the US? Why are they still refraining from making public statements in regards to WikiLeaks documents? It is, indeed, essential to refer to socio-political analysis in seeking responses for the aforementioned question.
When looking beyond politics, it becomes obvious that the Muslim world has grown extremely sensitive to the Palestinian issue since decades ago. Governments in the Muslim world cannot disregard their nations’ collective emotions about Palestine. Almost all of these countries include the Palestinian cause in their publicly announced foreign policy. As such, even if governments in Muslim-majority populations do not want to sympathize with Palestine, they do so as they fear their people who, more often than not, are in favor of an autonomous Palestinian state.
The release of the high level private correspondences between Saudi Arabia and the US about a military strike on Iran could weaken the political stability of Saudi Arabia. The majority of Arabs and Muslims do not want their governments to damage Palestine by attacking its friends and supporters such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. In other words, the people in the region’s Arab states would align with their governments against Iran only if they consider Iran a real threat to their autonomy and security.
In the current situation, Iran does not threaten the autonomy or the short-term security of Saudi Arabia. The Iranian government –that is denounced by many Iranians for its violations of human rights—enjoys extensive popularity in many Muslim nations throughout the world as it openly criticizes the US and Israel. The Islamic Republic of Iran spends a noticeable part of its oil revenue to gain and maintain this level of popularity in the world. Thus, the release of the WikiLeaks documents ultimately damages the relationship of Saudi Arabia with its people who do not want to see their country engaged in a war with an important supporter of Palestine.
This tension between the people and government in regards to Israel in Muslim countries is not specific to Saudi Arabia. It is now a long while that the positioning of governments against Israel in many Muslim countries has become a forceful tool in maintaining political stability. As such, it is going to be tough for Saudi Arabia to manage the consequences that WikiLeaks documents may have among the Saudis and other Arab nations.
It is important to observe and analyze the policies that Saudi Arabia will pursue in the aftermath of this incident. It would be naïve to assume that the release of these documents have caught Iran by surprise as the Iranian government must have heard about the position of Saudi Arabia through other sources. If conducting a military strike against Iran takes priority in the US the theories discussed here will become irrelevant. If not, WikiLeaks documents are not going to stop Iran from its current nuclear developments.