Story Highlights

  • Leaked documents say Barak warned U.S. the window of opportunity to strike Iran was closing
  • Cables show Arab states pressed U.S. for military assault on Iran
  • Netanyahu downplays impact of leaked cables
Obama and Netanyahu at the White House on September 1, 2010. AP
Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on September 1, 2010. Photo by AP
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A 2009 American government cable released Sunday by the WikiLeaks website quotes Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling visiting American officials that a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities was viable until the end of 2010, but after that "any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage."

The whistle-blowing website obtained some 250,000 diplomatic cables between the U.S. and its allies, which Washington had urged the site not to publish. But by Sunday evening Israel time, major news organizations around the world had released a significant amount of documents touching on subjects ranging from Iran's nuclear aspirations, to espionage at the United Nations and even the behavior of the British monarchy.

The June 2009 cable also quotes Barak as describing the Iranian leadership as "chess, not backgammon players," with a U.S. diplomat quoting the defense minister as saying Tehran would "attempt to avoid any hook to hang accusations on, and look to Pakistan and North Korea as models to emulate in terms of acquiring nuclear weapons while defying the international community."

Meanwhile, another cable shows that a 2009 claim by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran was months away from achieving military nuclear capability was dismissed by the Americans as a ploy.

According to German weekly Der Spiegel, which also received advance information from WIkiLeaks, a State Department official says in a classified cable that Netanyahu informed the United States of Iran's nuclear advancement in November 2009, but that the prime minister's estimate was likely unfounded and intended to pressure Washington into action against the Islamic Republic.

Many of the classified communiques seem to reveal the inner workings of American and international diplomacy, and are likely to cause major embarrassment to the United States. American embassies in more than a dozen nations have informed their host countries that secret cables relating to them could be among those exposed.

The Guardian also quotes documents that show officials in Jordan and Bahrain “openly calling for Iran's nuclear program to be stopped by any means, including military.” The British daily also says leaders in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt called Iran "evil," and an "existential threat" which "is going to take us to war."

Another cable published by The Guardian, from later in 2009, cites a meeting of the U.S.-Israel Joint Political Military Group, in which members of Israel's Mossad spy agency said Iran was using repeated attempts to resolve the nuclear issue through diplomacy to "play for time" and evade sanctions, "while pursuing its strategic objective to obtain a military nuclear capability."

The cable also quotes Mossad representatives as believing that Iran wanted "to become a regional hegemon, and is dictating its agenda by using Hamas and Hezbollah as force multipliers."

Regarding what he considered Iran's true nuclear capabilities, a 2007 cable quoted outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan as stating that Tehran was attempting to convey a "false presentation that they have mastered the uranium enrichment process."

"The reality is," Dagan said, "that they are not there yet, and they are paying a heavy political price [sanctions] for something they have yet to achieve."

In Dagan's view, the 2007 cable stated, there wasn't an "ideological conflict within the Iranian leadership (all wish to see the destruction of Israel), but there is a growing divide on tactics with some supporting a retaliatory position against the West and others favoring new policies of moderation."

Netanyahu had earlier Sunday downplayed any possible damage the documents could have on Israel's security, saying he did not feel Israel would be the focal point of the leaked cables.

"Israel is not the center of international attention," Netanyahu said, adding that Jerusalem had not "been updated by the Americans about specific sensitive materials to be disclosed regarding Israel.