TEHRAN, Iran — Unsurprisingly, Iran surfaces time and time again among the tens of thousands of classified State Department documents released by WikiLeaks on Sunday. In more than 11,000 of them, in fact, Iran is discussed — everything from how to thwart its nuclear program to personal attacks on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad — who was referred to as Adolf Hitler in one of the cables, just one of many slights made against him by other leaders in the region — called the documents “worthless” and an act of “mischief” by Iran’s enemies, an attempt to undermine Iran’s relationship with its Arab neighbors.
“They’re so worthless I don’t even want to waste time talking about them,” Ahmadinejad told an audience of journalists at previously scheduled press conference in Tehran on Monday.
The documents, though, appear to shed light on the private opinions of regional leaders regarding Ahmadinejad himself and Iran’s rogue nature.
Key figures in the Arab world, according to the cables, repeatedly encouraged the United States to be more aggressive in its dealing with Iran. King Abudullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia made several impassioned pleas to U.S. officials to reduce the threat of Iran, at one point asking the United States to “cut off the head of the snake.”
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In diplomatic and political circles, it comes as little surprise that Arab leaders harbor a desire to see the regional threat of Shiite Iran neutralized.
“We already know that Arab countries want someone to bomb Iran,” said Rasool Nafisi, an expert on Iranian politics and a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Strayer University in Virginia. “That is no surprise.”
What is enlightening, however, is the willingness and frankness with which it appears these opinions were shared with the United States and other Western powers. The public stance on Iran by most of its Arab neighbors has increasingly been one of Islamic solidarity.
Such solidarity, it seems, goes only so far.
In one cable, Qatar’s foreign minister is quoted as saying, “They [the Iranians] lie to us, and we lie to them.”
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, who happens to also be the United Arab Emirate’s defense minister, is quoted in another cable saying “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.”
At Monday’s press conference, Ahmadinejad sought to deflect any controversy.
“We have brotherly and friendly relations with neighboring states and these actions will fail to overshadow those relations,” he said.
The president called the cables an organized “plot” that was most likely perpetrated by the United States.
“Some part of the American government produced these documents,” he said. “We don’t think this information was leaked. We think it was organized to be released on a regular basis and they are pursuing political goals.”
An Iranian student in Tehran, reached by phone, seemed to agree, saying that the leaked cables would spark tension between Iran and other Arab countries — exactly what the United States wanted, he said.
“[The United States] did the same type of information build up just before the war with Iraq,” the Tehran University student said. “By creating this atmosphere, they just want to build up momentum for war with Iran.”
For many average Iranians, who are accustomed to political scandals and conspiracy theories, the leaked documents brought little surprise. For most, given the censure of many websites and other foreign media, including WikiLeaks, the leaked documents barely registered, especially at a time when the country’s economy is teetering on the edge.
In one of the cables, which did raise some eyebrows, the health of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah is said to be dire. The cable says that Khamenie is suffering from leukemia and could die within months. Also discussed in the cable are the aspirations of his rival, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, to succeed him.
It was enough to start the gossip churning.
“I wish we had this kind of information released inside Iran,” said another Tehran resident. “Then we would know what goes on behind the scenes.”
GlobalPost Iran correspondent contributed reporting from Boston, Mass.