- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Israel and its adversaries in the Persian Gulf in recent years carried out extensive secret diplomacy to coordinate policy and exchange information on the threat posed by Iran, despite both sides’ public posture of mutual hostility.

A classified 2009 diplomatic cable disclosed this week provides a rare glimpse into the secret and often high-level diplomacy between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, all countries that officially do not recognize the Jewish state.

Contrary to the condemnatory rhetoric opposing Israel in public, Arab diplomats behind the scenes have asked Israel to carry messages to the U.S. government and urged tougher action on Iran.

The March 19, 2009, cable quotes Yacov Hadas, deputy director of Israels Foreign Ministry, as telling an American diplomat: “The Gulf Arabs believe in Israel’s role because of their perception of Israel’s close relationship with the U.S., but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran.”

Mr. Hadas then says, “They believe Israel can work magic.”

Israel and the Gulf states have grown increasingly concerned in recent years about Iran’s nuclear program and that country’s support for radical political movements and terrorism throughout the Middle East.

The new disclosures by the website WikiLeaks coincide with other classified cables made public in recent days that show Arab leaders have been urging U.S. officials to take military action against Iran.

Throughout Israel’s history, the state has maintained back channels to Arab governments, even on the eve of war and during a cold peace. Nonetheless, Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab states that maintain formal diplomatic ties with Israel with full representation at the ambassador level.

That said, nearly every Arab state has had less-formal ties with Israel on and off since the beginning of the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, but those ties began to sever in 2000 with the collapse of the peace process.

Aaron David Miller, who has been a senior Middle East adviser to six secretaries of state, said every Arab country with the exception of Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Libya has had some diplomatic channel to Israel.

“With the exception of Iraq and Libya, I believe every member of the Arab League had some form of contact, informal or otherwise, with Israel up to 1996,” Mr. Miller said. “This was through multilateral fora in some cases, the Middle East North African Economic Summit, for example, it was interest sections, and it was quiet contacts as well.”

In January 2009, after Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead” against Hamas in Gaza, Qatar, the last Arab Gulf state to have open ties with Israel closed an Israeli trade office, leaving Israel with no open diplomatic channels to the Persian Gulf states that it used during the 1990s.

But as the 2009 cable shows, by March of that year, the Qataris already invited an Israeli delegation back to Doha to discuss reopening the trade mission.

Nonetheless, that same month, the queen of Qatar, Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned, hired a U.S. public relations firm, Fenton Communications, to run a public-awareness campaign in America to highlight the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.

Mr. Hadas argued that Qatar’s position on Iran was less than ideal, but did not reflect a fundamental change in its foreign policy. He even noted that Egyptian and Saudi pressure on Qatar seemed to be having an effect on the kingdom’s approach to Iran.

Israel has had access to the highest levels of the Qatari government. The memo discloses, for example, that Israel has contacts with Qatar’s emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, also known as Prince Hamad.

“Prince Hamad had told the Israelis in October 2006 that he believed Iran was determined to develop a nuclear bomb no matter the cost,” the cable says. “According to Hadas, Hamad complained at the time that he felt the U.S. would not listen to him and tended to believe what it heard from Iran.”

The leaked cable says former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had “good personal relations” with Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Mr. Hadas said the UAE was “increasingly hostile” to Iran, but also noted that the Emirates allowed Iran to launder its money and had extensive financial dealings with the country. The Emiratis are “not ready to do publicly what they say in private,” the cable quotes Mr. Hadas as saying.

In February, the police chief of Dubai, an emirate in the UAE, publicly accused Israel’s Mossad of assassinating a Hamas arms dealer named Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

Diplomats from the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia declined to comment for this article. A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy also declined to comment.

Other Israeli diplomats did, however, tell The Washington Times that Israeli officials have looked to coordinate some aspects of Iran policy with Arab states in private meetings in Europe and on the sidelines of international meetings. For example, Israelis have shared information with Gulf states on weapons and high-tech shipments bound for Iran, these diplomats said.

At the end of the cable, the American diplomat told Mr. Hadas that Arab leaders tell the United States that progress in the peace process “would make it easier for them to publicly engage Israel.”

Mr. Hadas countered, “The Israeli-Palestinian track should not serve as an excuse for the Gulf to avoid action, whether against Iran or through practical steps to support the Palestinian Authority.”

Mr. Miller said the secret contacts Arabs have maintained with Israel have some value, but not too much.

“In a sense, the Arabs are getting the best of both worlds: They get points with the Americans for carrying out quiet contacts with the Israelis, but they don’t get hammered by their own press or their regional rivals. That is how they prefer it,” he said.

In response to the disclosures this week, the White House announced it would be moving to change the classification procedures. In the past, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said the recent leaking may spell the end for the intelligence-sharing reforms instituted after the 9/11 attacks.

Meanwhile, Amazon.com, which lent some of its server space to WikiLeaks, took the group off its servers after government pressure.