Asked on the night of September 11, 2001 what the terrorist attacks meant for U.S.-Israel relations, Benjamin Netanyahu, the then former prime minister, tactlessly but accurately replied, “It’s very good.” And on the day after WikiLeaks’ publication of U.S. diplomatic cables, Netanyahu “strode” into a press conference at the Israeli Journalists Association, looking “undoubtedly delighted” with the group’s latest embarrassment of U.S. President Barack Obama.
“Thanks to WikiLeaks,” Aluf Benn wrote in Haaretz, “there is now no fear Washington will exert heavy pressure on Israel to freeze settlement construction or to accelerate negotiations on a withdrawal from the territories.” Instead, also courtesy of WikiLeaks, the world’s attention had been shifted exactly where a “vindicated” Netanyahu wanted it – toward Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons programme.
“Our region has been hostage to a narrative that is the result of 60 years of propaganda, which paints Israel as the greatest threat,” Netanyahu told the assembled journalists. “In reality leaders understand that that view is bankrupt. For the first time in history there is agreement that Iran is the threat.” While there is considerable dispute about the extent to which Arab leaders share Netanyahu’s understanding of “the Iranian threat,” the Arab public overwhelmingly considers Israel to be a far greater threat.
Nevertheless, according to Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, Julian Assange “has shattered the accepted dogma on the understanding in the Middle East in the 21st century.” WikiLeaks, crowed Shavit, “proved” that the Israeli occupation and colonisation of Palestine was not the main cause of instability in the Middle East. Instead, the secret cables “revealed” that “the entire Arab world” is concerned about “one problem only — Iran, Iran, Iran.” Thus, Shavit concluded, the only way to bring peace to the region was to deal with “Iran first.”
Strangely, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange seems to accept the Israeli vision of “war is peace” in the Middle East. In an interview with Time magazine, Assange singled out Netanyahu as an example of a world leader who believed the publication of Arab leaders’ provocative privately expressed comments “will lead to some kind of increase in the peace process in the Middle East and particularly in relation to Iran.”
Even more puzzling, Assange had an op-ed piece in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, in which he quoted something the media mogul had written in 1958: “In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.” In choosing another pro-Israel apologist as a model of transparency, is it possible that Assange is ignorant of the key role played by Murdoch’s media empire in propagating the lies that led the New York Times to dub the war in Iraq “Mr. Murdoch’s War”?
Assange seems equally oblivious to the significant contribution made by the New York Times itself to the war whose conduct he now claims to oppose. On September 8, 2002, the paper of record led with a front-page story by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon, which falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy aluminium tubes as part of its “worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.” As Michael Massing later wrote, “In the following months, the tubes would become a key prop in the administration’s case for war, and the Times played a critical part in legitimizing it.” Chosen by Assange to publish its leaked documents because it is one of “the best newspapers in the world for investigative research,” the pro-Israel Times is now busily spinning the leaks to push America into an equally unnecessary but even more disastrous war with Iran.
Given that the WikiLeaks revelations have been such an unexpected “diplomatic coup” for Israel, its American lobby appears to be strangely divided over the issue. On one side, there are those like David Frum, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Michael Ledeen who delight in being able henceforth to cloak their incessant Iran warmongering behind a specious Arab cover. “Those who suggest that it’s some ‘Israel lobby’ or Jewish cabal that is driving the confrontation with Iran” should be embarrassed by the leaks, writes Frum. “WikiLeaks confirms that the region’s Arab governments express even more anxiety than Israel about the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”
Meanwhile, the most virulent attacks on WikiLeaks have come from some of Israel’s staunchest supporters. William Kristol, editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard, wants Congress to enable Obama to “Whack WikiLeaks.” Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, appear only too willing to oblige. Both senators have called for the prosecution of Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act. Feinstein is also working with Senator Charles Schumer on media legislation that would allow the prosecution of organizations like WikiLeaks.
How do we reconcile the Israel lobby’s apparently schizophrenic reaction to WikiLeaks? Could it be that Julian Assange has killed two birds for Israel with one document dump?
Thanks to WikiLeaks, the well-publicised remarks of a few Arab leaders provide much-needed cover for pro-Israelis as they relentlessly press America to whack Iran. At the same time, the disclosure of U.S. diplomatic secrets has given the likes of Joe Lieberman another excuse to “kill the internet” — to prevent Americans from ever finding out how they got into such a mess in the Middle East.