Wednesday 1 December 2010

WikiLeaks Heaven For Israel

We have only seen the tip of the WikiLeaks iceberg so far. The direction of the floe seems clear and there are already more than one or two embarrassed faces around. We have discovered from a 2009 cable released on WikiLeaks, that Libyan president Colonel Gadafi cannot manage to be away from his Ukrainian nurse, Galyna, described as a "voluptuous blonde". The US embassy staff in Tripoli speculated that she keeps him healthy in more than one way. We all know that diplomats like to gossip - is this not what they are paid to do? Perhaps some of us did not realise the extent to which they gossip, and what they are prepared to say in cables that were once assured of secrecy.

Having examined some of the recently released information from an Israeli perspective, I am fast coming to the conclusion that WikiLeaks is one of the best PR tools the Israeli government has accidentally come across. Almost all of the stories surrounding Israel, and particularly those connected to Iran, have served to substantially enhance Israel's world standing. The documents show that many countries are saying in private the things that only Israel has been brave enough to stand up and say publicly. More than this, it seems as though many countries are relying on Israel to undertake actions that will help them, without giving any public backing to Israel for these.

I was sure that Israel could not be the only country that recognised the threat presented by the Iranian nuclear program. I was astonished that, until quite recently, the USA seemed to be ambivalent about it, even going as far as supporting the Iranian claims that the program was intended for civilian purposes only. Finally, the Americans had the good sense to recognise the real threat that this Iranian development presents, not only to Israel, but to the entire free world. Perhaps it was the Saudi Arabians who convinced the Americans of the threat when calling on them to "cut off the head of the snake", as described in another WikiLeaks document. Not only has the USA finally recognised the threat publicly, Israel's position is further vindicated by the release of the WikiLeaks documents where some of the back channel information has been made public. The attitude of the Saudis, however, seems to the same as other countries in the region. Everybody appears to be waiting for Israel to do the dirty work on behalf of the rest of the world. Why should others risk their citizens and their army if Israel will do the work? Not only this, it is quite conceivable that the Saudis would come out publicly criticising such an attack, while privately thanking their lucky stars that there is a country like Israel which is prepared to stand up for what it truly believes.

The Emir of Qatar is quoted in a further WikiLeaks document as telling US Senator John Kerry that he can't blame Israel for mistrusting the Arabs. His sympathy for Israel is further supported by his privately-held (now publicly known) view that Israel has been under threat from the Arabs for so long, and this justifies Israel's lack of trust in the Arabs. This statement was made not long after he broke off what little ties there were between Israel and Qatar. Although no diplomatic relations exist between the two countries, there was an Israeli commercial mission in Qatar which was sanctioned by the Emir. He decided, however, to expel the mission when the Gaza War broke out.

These are only a few of the numerous examples of duplicity being shown towards Israel and now exposed by WikiLeaks. In public, Israel is forced to endure a great deal of criticism and humiliation. In private, many of those criticising Israel support the actions that Israel is taking against some of the world's bully-boys. The WikiLeaks revelations will go some way towards exposing these countries and their two-faced actions.

While the initial release of WikiLeaks documents seems to play into Israel's hands, it will be interesting to plot where this leads the future of information secrecy in the world of international politics. I wonder whether WikiLeaks will have the same impact on the world of international diplomacy that the Internet had on general information availability. Before the Internet revolution and the advent of search engines like Google, information was usually obtained by going to libraries or paying professionals to provide it. Now, it takes a few seconds via an Internet search. Will the release of documents by WikiLeaks ensure that diplomatic secrecy will be impossible to safeguard in the future? Will countries like Israel also come under pressure to make available political secrets? Probably not, but it may cause the whole secret world of international politics to become more transparent in the future.

For Israel, such a future is not very attractive. Particularly in its formative years, Israel was fortunate to be able to achieve a great deal using back channels. These dealings were only made possible by the secrecy with which such interactions were shrouded. Some of these back channels are still in operation today and will probably remain relevant as long as Israel continues to be in a situation where certain countries seek her destruction. This fact, along with the constant situation of war along her borders, necessitates secret dealings not visible to the general public in order to survive.

In the short-term, WikiLeaks has proved to be a gift from heaven for Israel. This benefit will be greatest if the established rules of international diplomacy do not change substantially in the future. If the world expects international politics to be played out more in the public eye in the future, the short-term gain for Israel may be translated into longer-term pain.

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