Insights from Juan Cole in Top Things you Think You Know about Iran that are not True
Belief: Iran is aggressive and has threatened to attack Israel, its neighbors or the US.
Reality: Iran has not launched an aggressive war in modern history (unlike the US or Israel), and its leaders have a doctrine of "no first strike." This is true of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as of Revolutionary Guards commanders.
Belief: Iran is a militarized society bristling with dangerous weapons and a growing threat to world peace.
Reality: Iran's military budget is a little over $6 billion annually. Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets. Moreover, Iran is a country of 70 million, so that its per capita spending on defense is tiny compared to these others, since they are much smaller countries with regard to population. Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates.
Belief: Iran has threatened to attack Israel militarily and to "wipe it off the map."
Reality: No Iranian leader in the executive has threatened an aggressive act of war on Israel, since this would contradict the doctrine of 'no first strike' to which the country has adhered. The Iranian president has explicitly said that Iran is not a threat to any country, including Israel.
Belief: But didn't President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten to 'wipe Israel off the map?'
Reality: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did quote Ayatollah Khomeini to the effect that "this Occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" (in rezhim-e eshghalgar-i Qods bayad as safheh-e ruzgar mahv shavad). This was not a pledge to roll tanks and invade or to launch missiles, however. It is the expression of a hope that the regime will collapse, just as the Soviet Union did. It is not a threat to kill anyone at all.
Belief: But aren't Iranians Holocaust deniers?
Actuality: Some are, some aren't. Former president Mohammad Khatami has castigated Ahmadinejad for questioning the full extent of the Holocaust, which he called "the crime of Nazism." Many educated Iranians in the regime are perfectly aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. In any case, despite what propagandists imply, neither Holocaust denial (as wicked as that is) nor calling Israel names is the same thing as pledging to attack it militarily.
Belief: The West recently discovered a secret Iranian nuclear weapons plant in a mountain near Qom.
Actuality: Iran announced Monday a week ago to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it had begun work on a second, civilian nuclear enrichment facility near Qom. There are no nuclear materials at the site and it has not gone hot, so technically Iran is not in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, though it did break its word to the IAEA that it would immediately inform the UN of any work on a new facility. Iran has pledged to allow the site to be inspected regularly by the IAEA, and if it honors the pledge, as it largely has at the Natanz plant, then Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons at the site, since that would be detected by the inspectors.
Belief: Isn't the Iranian regime irrational and crazed, so that a doctrine of mutally assured destruction just would not work with them?
Actuality: Iranian politicians are rational actors. If they were madmen, why haven't they invaded any of their neighbors? Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded both Iran and Kuwait. Israel invaded its neighbors more than once. In contrast, Iran has not started any wars. Demonizing people by calling them unbalanced is an old propaganda trick.
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