By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 11:32 PM
TEL AVIV - Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed hope Monday that U.S. diplomatic cables revealing that several Arab states share his country's concern about Iran's nuclear weapons program could build momentum for tougher international action against the effort.
"More and more states, governments and leaders in the Middle East and the wider region and the world believe this is the fundamental threat," Netanyahu said, referring to disclosures in cables released by the Web site WikiLeaks. According to the cables, some leaders, including Saudi King Abdullah, have advocated using military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
"There's a gap between what they say privately and publicly," Netanyahu said at an annual gathering of the Tel Aviv Journalists' Association. Regional leaders read publicly from one "script" that says the "greatest threat is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Netanyahu said. "But in reality, leaders understand that this narrative is bankrupt. There is a new understanding."
Israeli analysts responded as enthusiastically as Netanyahu.
The leaked documents show that "the entire world, not just Israel, is panicked over the Iranian nuclear program," wrote Sever Plocker, a commentator for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
The leak, he said, "strengthens the main message" of the United States and Israel that "Iran poses the greatest clear and present danger to the stability of the world, and the world has to act to remove this malignant tumor."
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the cables show that other countries reached the same conclusion about Iran that the United States did when it moved to impose sanctions: "that we must do whatever we can to muster the international community to take action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state."'The right proportion'
Some Israeli experts suggested that the WikiLeaks storm would distract the Obama administration from negotiations with Israel on a new settlement freeze that the United States hopes will reinvigorate peace talks with the Palestinians.
Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and an adviser to Netanyahu on Israeli-U.S. relations, said the notion that the United States could not take tougher action on Iran without first moving forward on the Israeli-Palestinian front was undermined by the WikiLeaks disclosures.
"It puts matters in the right proportion," Shoval said.
At a news conference in Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the cables as "an intelligence game, a propaganda war" orchestrated by the United States, and he predicted they would have no effect.
"Iran is a friend of the region, and all nations are brothers," he said. "This will have no impact on regional relations."
Iran has repeatedly denied that it is pursuing nuclear weapons. But Ahmadinejad acknowledged for the first time Monday that Iran's uranium enrichment program - which the country says is for civilian energy purposes - had been the target of international sabotage, an apparent reference to the Stuxnet computer worm.
Israel and the United States are seen as the most likely sources for such cyberwarfare, but officials in both countries have declined to comment on the matter.
Ahmadinejad said Iran's enemies "had been successful in making problems for a limited number of our centrifuges, with software they had installed in electronic devices." The problem has been resolved and cannot be repeated, he said.
Also Monday, a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist was killed and a second was seriously wounded in bomb attacks in the Iranian capital. Iranian authorities blamed agents of Israel and the United States for the killings, saying they want to cause chaos in the country.
"It's not our practice to confirm or deny allegations of this sort," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu.
While U.S. Republican lawmakers and Netanyahu have pressed the Obama administration to make more direct threats of military force against the Islamic republic, the United States and its partners have tried to stymie Iran's nuclear program through U.N. and unilateral sanctions.
After months of negotiations on the structure of a new round of talks, the United States and other major powers appear to have agreed to meet with Iran on its nuclear program next week in Geneva, sources said.Silence in Arab world
Although Netanyahu spoke at length about the WikiLeaks release, the Arab world was largely silent on the matter.
Reporting on the cables in Arabic-language newspapers, Web sites or news TV channels was largely limited to straight, brief reports without many details or commentary.
The silence from Saudi Arabia was predictable, as Saudi King Abdullah was convalescing in a New York hospital after an operation for a blood clot and a slipped disk.
Abdullah, according to an April 2008 cable, repeatedly pressed the United States to "cut off the head of the snake" by launching military strikes to destroy Iran's nuclear program.
"The Iranian issue will embarrass many of the politicians in the Arab region," Mustafa Hamarneh, director of the University of Jordan's Center for Strategic Studies, told the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
But in Turkey, Akif Beki, a former spokesman for the Turkish prime minister, told TV 24, "I'm not sure the Iranians are surprised by the Saudis' stance. It is not a secret for anyone in the region the way the Saudis feel about Iran."
Correspondent Thomas Erdbrink and special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report. Erdbrink reported from Tehran and Sockol from Jerusalem.