BY DR. AARON LERNER, IMRA—
Does the Iranian leadership really believe what they profess to believe?
The overwhelming majority of the analysis and recommendations prepared for Western policy makers has hinged on the assumption that they aren’t.
Take for example a simulation organized last May 16 by the Lauder School of Government to consider, among other things, how a nuclear Iran would act. Former head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate Maj. Gen (res.) Zeevi Farkash participated in that simulation playing the role of Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Khamenei is a “Twelver Shiite”—as is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and as such believes that incinerating Israel with nuclear weapons—even if followed by the incineration of Iran—would be a positive thing because the apocalyptic result would bring the return of the Hidden Imam.
But Farkash apparently maintains that deep down inside Ayatollah Khamenei actually subscribes to some sort of universal value system that considers the incineration of Iran an unacceptable outcome rather than a reasonable price to pay for the return of the Mahdi. As a result, the simulation found that Iran would only brandish its nukes for deterrence and never actually use them. As Farkash put it, “Iran would regard its bomb as a means of self-defense and strategic balance.”
Was Farkash’s critical assumption correct?
Perhaps a more responsible approach would have been to run the simulation both ways to see how things play out in a world where the leaders of Iran genuinely believe what they claim to believe. It might have turned out that the results were so catastrophic that even if there were only a 10 percent chance that these Twelvers are true believers, policymakers would have to adjust their recommendations to account for it.
Again, if the purpose of the exercise is to find temporary comfort, then we can all simply join the retired military Israeli intelligence head, who apparently sleeps well, confident that the Twelvers leading Iran are faking their religious belief in the return of the Mahdi.
But if the purpose of the exercise is to genuinely address the possible consequences of a nuclear Iran, policy makers would be remiss if they did not very seriously consider the possibility that the leaders of Iran genuinely believe what they claim to believe.