Israelis claim WikiLeaks PR boost


WikiLeaks disclosures about US-led diplomatic efforts to curb Iran's nuclear programme are a surprise public relations windfall for Israel, a former Israeli national security adviser said today.

The secret cables leaked by the whistleblower website yesterday showed Israel trying to prod a sometimes sceptical Washington into tougher action - such as sanctions, subversion, and even a military strike by 2011 - against Tehran.

But the documents also described Saudi Arabia urging the Americans to "cut off the head of the snake" by attacking Iran, a hawkishness echoed by other Arab leaders, and outline suspicions that North Korean missiles may have given the Iranians the range to reach western Europe and beyond.

"These (disclosures) don't hurt Israel at all - perhaps the opposite," said Giora Eiland, a retired Israeli general who served as national security adviser to former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

"If there is something on the Iranian issue that, in my opinion, happens to help Israel, it is that these leaks show that Arab countries like Saudi Arabia are far more interested in Iran than they are in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example," Eiland told Israel Radio.

Commentator Sever Plotzker, writing in Israel's biggest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, said "a single picture, sharp and clear" had emerged: "the entire world, not just Israel, is panicked over the Iranian nuclear programme".

Speaking ahead of the WikiLeaks release, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to anticipate the potential embarrassment for Sunni Arabs who fear the rising Shi'ite power.

"In such matters (diplomacy) there is usually a gap between what is said in public and what is said in private. In Israel the gaps aren't so large, but in some of the other countries in the region the gaps are very large," he told reporters.

Israel, which is reputed to have the region's only atomic arsenal, sees itself as uniquely threatened by the prospect of an Iranian bomb, but has long lobbied for foreign intervention.

Some analysts believe Israel lacks the armed clout to pull off a preventive strike, and may be reluctant to trigger a new Middle East war with Iran, which denies seeking nuclear arms.

According to WikiLeaks, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked in a closed meeting in February about a possible Israeli attack and responded "that he didn't know if they would be successful, but that Israel could carry out the operation".

Another cable from May 2009 recounts Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak telling US Congress members there was a six to 18-month opportunity to hit Iran without incurring "unacceptable collateral damage". Barak's deadline now looms.

While Eiland acknowledged that WikiLeaks had reflected a degree of Israeli "exaggeration" but no major indiscretion.

"For now, at least, no state secret has come out here about operational plans, on intelligence capabilities," he said.