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Israel says WikiLeaks vindicates its Iran focus

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday leaked U.S. diplomatic cables had exposed widespread Arab fear of Iran’s nuclear program and vindicated his priorities in peacemaking.

While viewing the Wikileaks publication Sunday as a potential damper to secret coordination between Washington and its allies, Netanyahu said he hoped Middle East leaders would make public their concerns over Iran.

“For the first time in modern history, there is a not inconsequential agreement in Europe and in the region -- in Israel and countries in the region -- that the main threat stems from Iran, its expansion plans and its weaponisation steps,” Netanyahu said in a speech to newspaper editors.

Israel says an Iranian bomb would embolden those opposed to Middle East peace and endanger its existence.

The huge Wikileaks trove of U.S. diplomatic documents included accounts of the Saudi king urging the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake” by attacking Iran. One Arab dignitary likened Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler.

Netanyahu said he hoped Arab leaders would be “courageous enough to say publicly what they think secretly.”

“It would be a real breakthrough ... first and foremost for peace, because we must change the narrative -- the bogus argument that it is Israel that is threatening peace and security in the region, while everyone knows where the real danger lies,” he said.

Netanyahu’s rightist government is formally committed to U.S.-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians but progress has been slight. The Palestinians blame Israel’s continued settlement of the occupied West Bank.

The Israelis argue the problem is in Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state -- especially from the Gaza Strip, whose Islamist Hamas rulers enjoy Iranian support.


The leaks further outline U.S. suspicions that North Korean technology may have boosted the range of Iranian missiles to western Europe and beyond.

Israel, which is reputed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal, sees itself as uniquely threatened by Iranian uranium enrichment and 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, U.S. 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 Defense Minister Ehud Barak telling U.S. Congress members there was a six to 18-month opportunity to hit Iran without incurring “unacceptable collateral damage.” Barak’s deadline now looms.

Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, said that while the leaks may have reflected a degree of “exaggeration” by Israel, they betrayed no major indiscretion.

“These don’t hurt Israel at all -- perhaps the opposite,” he told Israel Radio. “For now, at least, no state secret has come out here about operational plans, on intelligence capabilities.”

Netanyahu, a two-time premier at times dogged by media exposes, said Wikileaks had compromised the discretion required for delicate policymaking.

“Secrecy is built into diplomacy, and exposure is built into the media, and the effect of what happened now with Wikileaks is that it will be harder for you to do your work and more difficult for us to do our work,” he told the editors.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jon Hemming