A senior European diplomat concerned with the issue of Iran told me that western politicians are perplexed by the duality of Iran’s political discourse, which combines an extremist ideological language and pragmatic diplomatic practice, based on a traditional view of the balance of power and the national interests of the Persian state.
Evidence of this view includes the implied coalition between Iran and its stated enemy, the United States, in the latest regional crises, including Afghanistan and Iran.
It is no secret that Iran vigorously supported defeating the extremist Salafi Taliban regime in Afghanistan and also supported the war to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
The interests of the two opposing countries converged in these two wars and remain linked in Iraq. This connection represents an essential condition for the continuation of the new equilibrium that has emerged after the fall of the Baathist regime.
One of the exciting contradictions is that the groups closest to Iran in Iraq are the political forces that are most eager to see US forces remain in Iraq.
Many strategic and political writers in the US have tried to justify this implicit alliance, including the likes of Daniel Pipes, Thomas Friedman and Martin Indyk, by putting their faith in the so-called secular Shiaa tendency that is reconciled with the religious institution, as opposed to the “fundamentalism of Sunni Islam”.
Clearly, this faith is misplaced and depends on a misreading of the cultural and religious situation of Islamic societies.
The strong Iranian presence in Iraq, under the umbrella of US occupation, serves qualitative strategic objectives, more than representing an extension of the Iranian model of wilayet-e-faqih.
Despite this partial core transformation, Iran has never entered into a practical conflict with Israel, even at the apex of revolutionary fervor.
Alexander Adler, a Jewish French journalist known for his strong loyalty to Israel, noted that the statements by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahamdinejad that are opposed to Israel and Jews, should not be understood as a change in they country’s strategy. Instead, they are a way to inflame internal passions and part and parcel of the conflict of factions that are competing over the legacy of the revolution.
Adler advised Israel not to consider Iran as its enemy. Instead, he called on the Jewish state to deal with the Iranian nuclear bomb as an unavoidable matter of fact, considering that is normal for a regional power such as Iran to seek to obtain nuclear weapons, in order to achieve a balance with other nuclear powers, such as Pakistan, China and India.
Adler concludes that Iranian arms pose no danger to Israel, as Iran is a country governed by rational and pragmatic calculations, whose vision of international relations is based on its vital interests and who knows the red lines she ought not overstep.
It is important to emphasize that the conflict between the reformist and conservative camps in Iran is not reflected, for the most part, on the country’s foreign policy which enjoys a national consensus.
This conflict over the application of wilayet-e-faqih, whether to interpret religious texts and the limits of personal and public freedoms might reach a violent conflict, as happened in the late 1990s.
An Iraqi intellectual close to Iran once told me that, unlike what many Arabs believe, the Iranian mindset is not dictatorial nor is it emotional. Instead, it is mysterious, twisted and realistic.