Are Iran’s religious and political leaders rational? Many Western intelligence officials and analysts believe so. They believe that even if Iran acquires an arsenal of nuclear weapons that Iran’s leaders wouldn’t be “crazy” enough as to actually use those weapons against the U.S., Israel or Western interests. Are they right? And if so, does this mean Iran is not an existential threat to the West?
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told CNN that “we are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor.” As such, General Dempsey went on to make the argument that neither the U.S. nor Israel should seriously consider launching preemptive military strikes to neutralize Iran’s nuclear threat. “A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” General Dempsey said of the Israelis. And Dempsey is not alone.
“The former head of Israel’s intelligence service believes the Iranian regime is a rational one and even its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who has called for Israel to be annihilated — acts in a somewhat rational way when it comes to Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” reports CBS News. “While the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran becomes an election year issue, ex-Mossad Chief Meir Dagan sits down with Lesley Stahl [on "60 Minutes"] to discuss the Iranian nuclear program and stress that now is not the time to attack it. ‘The regime in Iran is a very rational one,’ says the former top Israeli spymaster. And President Ahmadinejad? ‘The answer is yes,’ he replies, but ‘not exactly our rational, but I think he is rational,’ Dagan tells Stahl. It’s a different kind of rational says Dagan, not rational in the Western-thinking sense. ‘But no doubt, they are considering all the implications of their actions … They will have to pay dearly … and I think the Iranians at this point in time are … very careful on the project,’ says Dagan. ‘They are not running.’ So he doesn’t advocate a pre-emptive Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear industry anytime soon, an attack that he said would have to be against “a large number of targets.” There is time to wait before such dire actions need to be taken.” (click here for full 60 Minutes story on Meir Dagan)
In response, let me begin by saying that I actually agree that Iran’s leaders are, for the most part, rational. That is to say, they are not mentally ill or unstable.
That said, Iran’s leaders are also evil. They are vehemently anti-American and anti-Israel. What’s more, they are driven by a dangerous, virulent, apocalyptic Shia eschatology or End Times theology that few intelligence officials or analysts in the West understand or take seriously. As such, while Iran’s leaders are rational within their own world view, this doesn’t make them less dangerous; it makes them more dangerous as General Dempsey and Meir Dagan suggest. Rather, it is precisely because of their rational but deeply misguided religious beliefs that Iran’s leaders are actually much more likely than other world leaders to use nuclear weapons to accomplish their apocalyptic, genocidal End Times beliefs and objectives. The danger is that few Western analysts are listening carefully to what Iran’s leaders are saying about their eschatology or drawing proper conclusions about the dangerous implications of those beliefs.
It should be noted, for example, that in August of 2008, the Ayatollah Khamenei publicly declared that the Shia Islamic End Times messianic figure known as the Twelfth Imam was coming to earth soon to rescue humanity and that he was committed to “preparing the ground” for the Mahdi’s arrival.
Then, in July of 2010, the Ayatollah Khamenei indicated that he had actually seen and met with the Twelfth Imam. Few Iranians understood what Khamenei meant by this. Did he see a dream or vision of the so-called Islamic “messiah”? Was he visited by an actual human being? Is this person or apparition going to reveal himself publicly soon? When? Under what conditions? And what does Khamenei believe the Twelfth Imam said to him? What was he told to do? These are all unanswered questions, but it is revealing that Khamenei believes this happened. Few Western analysts noticed this development or paid attention to it, but the point is Khamenei is a true believer. He really believes the end of the world is at hand and that he is supposed to be going to war against the “Great Satan” (the U.S., in his view) and the “Little Satan” (Israel, in his view). He also believes his eternal destiny lies with obeying the Twelfth Imam (also known as the Mahdi), not negotiating with the West. The point is not whether Western analysts believe this is true, but whether Khamenei does, and there is no question that Khamenei does.
Then, just a few weeks later in July 2010, the Ayatollah Khamenei publicly declared himself the official representative of the Twelfth Imam and the so-called Prophet Muhammad on earth and therefore must be obeyed. Previously, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the most visible public spokesman regarding the coming of the End Times and Shia “messiah.” But in July 2010 was a turning point. Khamenei consciously and willfully supplanted Ahmadinejad’s role. The Ayatollah declared himself to be the leader of the messianic age until the appearance of the Twelfth Imam.
Reporters should ask General Dempsey and Meir Dagan how they assess this End Times theology and how such beliefs factor into Iran’s foreign policy and military strategy. I believe that such pronouncements explain why Iran’s leaders steadfastly refuse honest negotiations with the West, and why they refuse to give up its pursuit of nuclear technology on the road to nuclear weaponry. Iran’s leaders believe deeply that the end is near, the messiah is about to appear, and that if they are not faithful to waging jihad against the U.S., Israel and other so-called “infidels” that they will suffer eternal punishment in the lake of fire. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that Iran’s leaders can be successfully dissuaded, contained or deterred from their genocidal objectives of wiping the U.S. and Israel off the map and ushering in a global Islamic kingdom or Caliphate. This may be rational from their perspective, but it is incredibly dangerous.
I have written about this connection between the eschatology of Iran’s leaders and their threat to the West numerous times on this blog (see here and here, for examples), as well as in my non-fiction book, Inside The Revolution. But it bears repeating at this time because war between Israel and Iran appears to be drawing near, and several high-ranking current and former Western military and intelligence officials are unwisely misreading the trend lines and foolishly misunderstanding the nature of the threat we now face.
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