What is an insane country? What is a country that we have to fear, lest it decides to do something for which it will be remembered in infamy? What is the thin line between a rational country and an irrational country?
In Western jargon, a crazy country means something different than it does in Middle East countries. In Syria or Egypt, government forces can sanely shoot demonstrators demanding their basic rights to show them who the boss is. In Europe and the U.S. though - and more generally in the enlightened world - such an act would be considered borderline madness.
In the Western view, Iran, on one hand, is insane because it is focused almost entirely on obtaining nuclear capability, coupled with its desire to remove Israel (and perhaps a few other countries) from the global map. On the other hand, the West views it - or would like to view it - as a rational actor that aspires to obtain nuclear capability, but would never abuse that capability.
And how does Iran view itself? Do Iranians view Iran as an irrational country, creating trouble for the whole world and bringing severe sanctions upon itself? Or perhaps they view the “enlightened world” as a world filled with insane countries bent on preventing Iran from becoming a global power?
As mentioned above, the logic of Middle East countries - including Iran - is completely different than the logic of Western countries. According to Iran, the West, under the patronage of Israel (the Judeo-Christian world), sees Iran’s rise as a Muslim power as an evil disease that must be suppressed and prevented from achieving success in the region and throughout the world. In Iran’s eyes, that is insane.
In many speeches by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his late predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one can notice a repetitive pattern of “the world doesn’t understand us,” or “they (the West) don’t understand the meaning of the changes that have transpired in the world - especially in the Muslim world.” This, in Iranian terms, means that the suppression of values (human rights and democracy) have become enlightened values, through Islamic approval.
Yes, this certainly does sound cynical and confusing. Islamic Iran has a different set of values than those of the West.
So when U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey says, “We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor,” and, “We also know, or we believe we know, that the Iranian regime has not decided to make a nuclear weapon,” he is claiming that they actually do know, but are scared to announce it publicly because they would then have to take action against Iran - something they prefer not to do in an upcoming election year.
Gen. Dempsey is correct when he says that Iran is a rational actor. Iran is very rational. In its own view. According to Iran, rationality means achieving nuclear capability to stake its claim as a regional power as an initial step, and, at a later stage, as an international power.
The essential question is what will happen if or when Iran achieves nuclear capability. Will Iran use that capability against Israel? Will it use it against Arab countries or the West? The assumption in the West is that the answer is yes, Iran will use nuclear weapons if it obtains them. In Iran’s mind though, nuclear weapons are only required to protect the Islamic Republic and for Jihad (holy war) in protection of the Muslim world.
To summarize, Iran’s aim is to become a regional superpower, and nuclear weapons, in its view, are a means to that end.
The writer is a member of the Department of Israel and Middle East Studies at the Ariel University Center in Samaria.