On Friday, June 19, the WikiLeaks website published more than 60,000 confidential and top secret Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry documents. It promised there was more to come. The same day, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported that a considerable portion of the leaked documents — over 1,000 in the first batch of released material — concerned Iran.
The bulk of the documents consist of correspondence between ministry officials, Saudi embassies and diplomatic missions around the world. But others bear the signature of Saud bin Faisal who was, until April 2014, the Saudi foreign minister for 40 years.
Although the Associated Press reports that the Saudi documents contain many “hard-to-confirm stories” and that it has succeeded in authenticating only a handful of them, the Saudi government acknowledged in a statement on June 20 that its diplomatic servers had been hacked. According to Al-Akhbar, which has published material from Wikileaks before, the leaked material offers a clear picture of Saudi Arabia’s approach to foreign affairs, how it conducts itself in the global arena, particularly in the Middle East, and how it competes with Iran in particular when it comes to matters in the Middle East.
According to Al-Akhbar, Saudi Arabia is extremely unhappy with nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. In recent years, it has spent a considerable budget on confronting Iran, mainly by financially and strategically supporting various groups and individuals that oppose Iranian leaders.
“Clear in many of the documents are efforts by Saudi Arabia, a Sunni power, to combat the influence of Shiite Iran, its regional rival, as well as Iranian proxies like Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group and political party,” wrote the New York Times.
"The Saudi Cables lift the lid on an increasingly erratic and secretive dictatorship that has not only celebrated its 100th beheading this year, but which has also become a menace to its neighbors and itself,” said Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. Assange has taken refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London since 2012, after he faced extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.
According to WikiLeaks, the breach of Saudi servers “was attributed to a group calling itself the Yemeni Cyber Army.”
A review of some of the leaked documents follows.
Scholarship for the Son of Former Iranian Culture Minister
In a letter from the Saudi finance ministry to Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal (document no. 1), it is stated that following an order by Saud bin Faisal, the ministry paid £65,484 for the continuing education of Ali Mohajerani, the son of the Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance under former president Mohammad Khatami.
The order mentioned in the document is a “supreme order,” an executive order by the highest authorities in the kingdom, which must be carried out by officials inside the Saudi diplomatic establishment. This document shows that on October 11, 2011, the Saudi finance ministry accepted a request for a scholarship by Mohajerani’s son based on a supreme order.
The document estimates that the cost of Ali Mohajerani’s education at Warwick University in Coventry would amount to £12,115 per year for the tuition and £4,256 per year for living expenses. The total cost for four years is estimated to be £65,484, or around $104,000.
In the document, the finance ministry informs Saud bin Faisal that it has issued four checks, each for £16,350, to the Saudi Embassy in London, payable to Ali Mohajerani upon producing necessary documents for tuition and lodging.
The name of Aytaollah Mohajerani appears in five other documents. In a letter sent by Saud bin Faisal (document no. 2) to the Saudi Minister for Pilgrimage (Hajj), he asks for groundwork to be laid to invite Mohajerani to a large conference on Hajj, which was scheduled to take place in 2012. The foreign minister adds that three other Iranians have been invited to the conference: Mohammad Ali Azar, a member of the Iran-Arab Friendship Society, Mohammad Mohaghegh, a university professor, and Mohammad Reza Shahroudi, a member of the [Iranian] Expediency Council. But, he continues, since these individuals share the viewpoints of the Iranian government and the third one is not knowledgeable enough, it would be a good idea to invite Mohajerani “who lives in London because of differences with the Iranian government,” so that a balance could be struck.
Another correspondence, from the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue to Saud bin Faisal (documents 3 and 4), mentions efforts to enlist Ataollah Mohajerani as a member of the King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. It also mentions that a letter sent by Saud bin Faisal dated January 3, 2012 had asked the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue to begin such efforts.
The international center, known by its initials as KAICIID, was founded in 2011 through an agreement signed by King Abdullah, Austria and Spain, and is headquartered in Vienna. Its board of directors includes three representatives from the Muslim world and describes itself as “an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to promote the use of dialogue globally to prevent and resolve conflict, to enhance understanding and cooperation.”
According to the leaked documents, Saudi Arabia wanted Mohajerani to be one of the three representatives, and it had received a positive response. “The Board of Directors have concluded that the membership of a non-Saudi, non-Lebanese, as the third Muslim representative is important,” says the correspondence addressed to Saud bin Faisal. “The name of Ataollah Mohajerani has been greatly welcomed by the Austrians and the Spanish, and members of the board elected him. Mr. Mohajerani is known for his moderation, affinity towards Saudi Arabia and opposition to Iranian hardliners.”
One of the leaked documents is entitled “A Report on Iranian Thinking” (document no. 5). “A thorough review of statements by Iranian officials show that the country is in a very difficult and critical situation,” reports the undated and un-numbered document. “Either it has to yield to international demands or remain a target for economic and propaganda attacks. American and Israeli diplomats believe that, with the withdrawal of American forces from the Middle East, if no measures are taken against Iran, forces close to Iran in the region will emerge victorious and the regional balance will be upset. For this reason, the U.S. and NATO have drawn up a plan with specific roles for each and are trying to control Iran’s nuclear program as soon as possible.”
Other leaked documents indicate Saudi Arabia’s dissatisfaction over the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West and contain various suggestions for exerting influence in countries such as Iraq and Lebanon as a means of confronting Iran.
Some of the leaked documents relate to various requests to provide financial assistance to media outlets. In a document bearing no letterhead, Aouni al-Kaaki, owner and editor-in-chief of Lebanese daily Shargh, tells the Saudi Embassy in Beirut: “Iran has been helping Hezbollah with a billion dollars a year. It is following an agenda that threatens Lebanon and the whole region.
In his letter, al-Kaaki asks Saudi Arabia to pay $3 million to his newspaper so it can repay its debts. It explains that, “up to now I have refused very generous offers from Syria, Qatar, and Iran,” countries that have strained relationships with Saudi Arabia.
Aouni al-Kaaki sent this letter to the Saudi Embassy in 2011. Apparently, he did receive financial help from the Saudis. He is now chairman of the board of Lebanon’s Press Federation.
Iran and Al-Qaeda
Another document discusses the activities of certain Al-Qaeda members in Iran. This document (no. 7) reports that the Lebanese General Security Directorate, working with the CIA, found that, in 2012, a Jordanian national by the name of Abdul Malek Abdul Salam, a member of Al-Qaeda, traveled to Syria and then to Iran.
In Iran Abdul Salam met with a Kuwaiti Al-Qaeda member named Mohsen Afzali, known also as Davoud Fazli, and then returned from Tehran to Damascus. In Syria he met with a Syrian called Mansour Abu Suleiman, the leader of a suicide team associated with the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda. Eventually, Abdul Salam was arrested in April 2012 as he was entering Lebanon.
Iran, Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood
Some leaked documents relate to talks between Saudi officials and the leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. They mention Iranian attempts to invest in the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a 2012 letter to Saud bin Faisal (document no. 8), Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Khaled reports that he has received a letter from Khalil bin Abdullah al-Khalil, a former member of the Egyptian parliament. In the letter, al-Khalil states that he met with Mohammad Morsi, then chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party. Morsi assured him that he had a lot of affection for the government and people of Saudi Arabia, but that he did not trust Iranian politicians in any way.
According to the letter, Morsi also told al-Khalil that he did not agree with those who think that Egypt and Iran should reconcile their differences, and that he believes that Saudi Arabia is the leader of Sunni Islam. Morsi also asked Saudi Arabia to receive him as a head of state when he visits the country for pilgrimage, and when he requested meetings with Saudi officials.
Mohammed Bin Khaled concludes his letter by recommending that the Saudi foreign ministry support Morsi and arrange for him to meet moderate Islamic figures in Saudi Arabia.
Another document (no. 9), a letter from the Saudi Embassy in Cairo to the foreign ministry, discusses the possibility of Iranian support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the letter, the Saudi ambassador to Egypt recommends that the foreign ministry should form a special committee to closely monitor relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran and look out for future Iranian activities that could be related.
Nevertheless, the ambassador predicts that if the Muslim Brotherhood were to take power in Egypt, it would pursue close relationships with the West and would have no intention of getting close to Iran.
WikiLeaks has announced that it has more than half a million confidential and secret Saudi diplomatic documents, which it plans to publish gradually. The first batch, consisting of 61,195 documents was published on Friday June 19. Of these, 1,288 relate to Iran.
The British newspaper the Guardian reported that, on June 21, Saudi foreign ministry spokesman Osama Nugali warned citizens not to “allow enemies of the state to achieve their intentions by exchanging or publishing documents.” Many of these documents, he said, had been “fabricated in a very obvious manner”.
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