Analysis / A Threat Tempered by Pragmatism

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ominous words recall similar statements Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani made around four years ago. Rafsanjani was speaking when Iran was headed by the moderate president Mohammed Khatami, and sounded even more threatening.

Rafsanjani made the point that a single nuclear bomb, which the Islamic world would one day possess, could annihilate Israel. Any Israeli retaliation, however, would reach only a small percentage of Muslims.

Interestingly, Rafsanjani, who ran for president this year and failed, is considered a pragmatist and one who is interested in advancing the American-Iranian dialogue.

Israel's elimination, or its definition as an illegitimate entity which must be removed, was the line Khomeini adopted when he returned from exile in Paris and seized power in Iran. He declared: "The day will come when the Palestinians will remove those who conquered them as the Iranians removed their colonial conquerors."

These declarations, however, never stopped Iran from doing business with states close to Israel and even with Israel itself. Ahmadinejad, Khomeini's loyal student, who served in senior posts in the intelligence of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, is navigating Iran's present foreign policy on the same lines. For example, he bases Iran's nuclear policy on the principle of "force and justice," i.e. the power of faith to withstand and resist the American cultural invasion, and Iran's justness in struggling against the colonial forces.

But this rigid ideology is not being implemented in other foreign policy affairs. Iran maintains close ties with India and Turkey, close friends of Israel. Iran wishes to establish full diplomatic ties with Egypt, which was named in Ahmadinejad's speech as one of the states to be burned in the fire of hell for recognizing Israel. It also signed deals with China, Germany and Russia, all of whom have close ties with Israel.

The discrepancy between Ahmadinejad's statements and Iran's policy is explained by the system of political checks and balances in Iran. Although the parliament consists of an absolute majority of conservatives and the state is headed by a radical spiritual leader, the regime's survival is more important to them than the survival of the ideology. This depends first and foremost on creating work places, a thriving economy and individual liberty inside Iran rather than liberating Palestine or annihilating Israel.