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WikiLeaks and Iran

WikiLeaks and Iran

The disclosure of Arab views on Iran's nuclear plans has made a military strike more likely.


Former US secretary of state Henry Stimson famously declared that "gentlemen do not read each other's mail", referring to Japanese diplomatic cables the US had uncovered by breaking Japan's military code. Today, everybody reads everybody else's diplomatic mail, if they can get their hands on it.

Mostly, this is a bad thing because secrecy – when properly used – can serve the interest of peace and security. Nations have the right to keep secrets from other nations, although they generally overdo it. But individuals do not have the right to decide for themselves when to reveal state secrets. The soldier who broke into governmental computers committed a serious crime and will be punished for it. The question is whether those who released the secrets to the press, namely WikiLeaks, are complicit in the crime.

Related Article: WikiLeaks

The newspapers that published leaked material make a compelling case for the decision to select certain items for publication while withholding others. The press is, after all, part of our informal system of checks and balances.

But secretary of state Hillary Clinton is surely correct when she warns that WikiLeaks poses a danger not only to the US but to international diplomacy, while at the same time trying to minimize the actual harm done by these particular disclosures.

The disclosure that virtually every Arab country, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would favor a military attack, as a last resort, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons could have a discernible effect on the policies of several countries. Israel, of course, has long insisted that the military option be kept on the table. The disclosure that North Korea has delivered missiles to Iran may well frighten European countries into considering the option of military action, if sanctions don't work.

There is additional information, not revealed by WikiLeaks, suggesting that although sanctions are having some effect on Iran's economy, Tehran has decided to move forward with its nuclear weapons program. Computer bugs and the assassination of nuclear scientists may be slowing the process, but are not likely to stop it.

The leaks confirm the US has made two disastrous decisions in dealing with Iran. The first came in 2007, when it released a misleading National Intelligence Estimate conveying the impression Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program. The second was the more recent statements by secretary of defense Robert Gates that appear to have taken any military option off the table. These mistakes have encouraged Iran to move ahead with its program.

It will become more difficult for these Arab countries to condemn Israel if it was to decide on a surgical strike.

A third mistake is to believe that there can be real peace in the Middle East with an Iranian nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the head of Israel. Even if Israel were to continue the settlement freeze and negotiate borders with the Palestinian Authority, the Iranians could ruin any prospect of permanent peace by unleashing Hezbollah and Hamas – which oppose any peace with Israel – to target Israeli civilians.

President Obama understated the threat when he said a nuclear Iran would be "a game changer". It would be a disaster, threatening Middle East peace, putting an end to any hope of nuclear non-proliferation, and engendering the greatest arms race in modern history.

Now that it has been made public that Arab nations favor a military attack, it will become more difficult for these countries to condemn Israel if it was to decide on a surgical strike. This public disclosure might embolden Israel to consider such a strike as a last resort.

So the leaking of secret information may have grave, even if unintended, consequences. We need new laws and new technologies to cope with the apparent ease with which low-level functionaries can access and download the most secret of information. But there will always be those willing to break the law and suffer the consequences for what they believe is a higher purpose; and it is always just a matter of time until the techno-thieves catch up to the techno-cops. We will have to learn to live with the reality that there is no absolute assurance that "gentlemen" (and others) will not be reading each other's mail.

December 5, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Beverly Kurtin, December 6, 2010 4:21 AM

Dinner Jacket

The president of Iran, Dinnerjackst, wishes to wipe Israel off the face off the earth. The only reason any of the Arab countries would want Israel's help in stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions is because they realize that it is impossible to set up a wall that would prevent radiation from spreading into Arab lands. Methinks that the best thing that the Arab countries could do is just stand back and let Israel pull off another Iraq. I've no idea of how Hamas and Hezbollah will be dealt with. Certainly the Arabs realize that those to terrorist organizations whose only motivation is HATE will have to be controlled. Their stated goal is to kill ALL Israelis; men, women and children. Exactly like the Nazis. EXACTLY LIKE THE NAZIS! Israel is the only country that has both the skill and chutzpah to pull off what needs to be done. Now all we have to do is tie Mrs. Clinton down to a chair while Israel does its thing. I like her, but as our Secretary of State she will blow a fuse when Israel destroys Iran's nukes. I see that Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel is linked to Amazon. If you've never read it, I recommend it wholeheartedly. It answers all of the negative things that people say about the right of Israel to exist. I have it in hard back and Kindle. The reason for the Kindle is that it's nice to have with me when I run into someone who is anti-Israeli. I also have some other material that shows Jews who are considering converting to Christianity. I know you will go back and back and back to the book.

(5) Mark Gary Blumenthal, MD, MPH, December 6, 2010 1:16 AM

No guts, no glory

The Israelis are not paranoid about Iran: They are 100% correct! Israel alone has had the guts to speak truth to power with regard to the risk of Iran's nuclear weapons. I hope Israel will not need to go it alone and wage war against Iran’s nuclear aspirations. However, if she must, I hope she succeeds definitively. As distasteful as I consider the methods used by WikiLeaks, they have revealed the truth about the world’s assessment of Iran, and have probably done far more good than harm. The United States, our European allies, our so-called Middle Eastern Allies, the Russian Republic and virtually every other nation has thought one thing, said a second thing, and done a third thing with regard to Iran. The appropriate response would be to assemble a coalition of the willing and ‘cut off the head of the snake’, to borrow what one Arab country’s leader stated in the cables. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, in which the United States has no vital interest, Iran is rapidly moving toward developing a nuclear strike force. This cannot stand.

(4) Anonymous, December 5, 2010 3:43 PM

Let the light shine in.

Horrific human conditions existed and exist because of apathy and the lack of transparency. This commentary assumes an honesty in international affairs which none of the named nations follows. It is quite remarkable that a supposedly learned commentator displays such a lack of common sense.

(3) , December 5, 2010 3:26 PM

Wiki Leaks exposed Obama dissimulation on Israel

I concur with everything that Dershowitz has written, but wish to add this with respect to President Obama. Starting with his June 4, 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama has falsely implied that the gravest threat to Middle East peace is the dispute between Israel and some of its Arab and Muslim neighbours. President Obama has also falsely argued that progress in the so-called "peace process" with the Palestinians is, in some sense, a precondition for getting the Arab States effectively on board for the effort to confront the Iranian threat. However, the Wiki Leaks now conclusively show us the truth that both US diplomats and their Arab interlocutors have always clearly understood that the "Number 1" Middle East problem lies, not between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, but in Iran where there is a race to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of reaching European cities like Paris. This was clearly always known to President Obama. So, why does he consistently hide the gravity of the Iranian threat from the US people? And, why does President Obama place so much unwarranted pressure on Israel which is a friendly, democratic country consistently supported by the overwhelming majority of the USA people? Wiki Leaks has revealed that, with respect to the most important issues, President Obama puts his own "spin" on international relations. And, to be sure, that spin demonstrates President Obama's dissimulation and clear anti-Israel bias. Considering how poorly President Obama is faring vis a vis the inter-related problem of the nuclear weapons of North Korea and Iran, it seems to me that the USA national interest urgently requires him to get off Israel's case and to start focusing on the real priorities like North Korea and Iran.

(2) Anonymous, December 5, 2010 2:38 PM

Elimination of Nuclear capabilities in Satan's hands is a necessity for all!

Congratulations on your views that even the Arab countries wish for a strike. One again, they might team-up with Israel to protect their own territories from unavoidables Iranian threats and skrikes. When in reported Jewish history did this happen before? RSVP Moshe

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