World Can Still Change Iran Without Bombing It

Iran is rational despite menacing image and should be approached with diplomatic dialogue.

Syria has received a big compliment from the head of Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin. "Syria is a secular country, and unlike Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, it does not reject the prospect of reaching a peace agreement with Israel," he said. Which means that because Syria is a secular state, it cannot have a deep emotional attachment to religious Shi'ite Iran.

Something is slightly confused here. Fundamentalist and Shi'ite Iran does not in any way oppose Israeli-Syrian dialogue, as long as Syria gets the Golan back, of course. Shi'ite Iran engages in full and lucrative peaceful relationships with Sunni countries like Pakistan, the Hindu nation of India and Christian nations like Germany and France. Until two years ago, it had a failed affair with Egypt, the great transgressor that sinned in striking a peace deal with Israel.

Iran is a rational country; it operates according to the interests that usually guide countries. Iran's nuclear program has become a menacing demon not merely because of the program, but because of the nature of the regime and its bellicose statements. After all, Iran was the focus of an "axis of evil" even before the world began to fret about its nuclear capacity.

The Islamic revolution that rocked the world, the capture of U.S. hostages, the nurturing of organizations like Hezbollah and later Hamas, and violent rhetoric by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who himself has generated an impressive opposition movement, are the factors that created Iran's menacing image. The result is that every Iranian technological advancement, be it a new missile, submarine or even a high-tech car, invokes fear immediately. Accordingly, the knee-jerk reaction in the West and especially in Israel is to talk about the Holocaust or bombing Iran. This in turn distorts public discourse.

Can we bomb? Where should we bomb? Was there or wasn't there a chance to wipe out the uranium enrichment labs? Can Israel bomb on its own? Should it do so? How would this affect relations with the United States? Everything revolves around the bomb.

The discussion around the world about what happened in Iran only six months ago has been put in a dark corner. The election, the blow to the Iranian leadership, Mir Hossein Mousavi's Green Movement, the widening fault line between the public and its leadership, the continued demonstrations in the streets despite political arrests, torture and rape - all this is perceived as trivial now. The potential for change that could produce a new Iranian foreign policy is no longer a strategic consideration. The U.S. administration no longer even mentions how peace between Israel and the Palestinians could help form a united Arab front against Iran.

Granted, this concept did not hold water from the onset because Iran pursued its own interests. But it did characterize a change in the American approach, and this change rests on solid foundations: Diplomacy, not a military strike, could change Iran's motivation. And motivation is the heart of the Iranian problem because the Iranian threat is based on capability and motivation. Many countries have the capability to threaten Israel or Western countries, but without motivation, this capability means nothing.

So far, threats, sanctions and tempting economic offers have been used to try to neutralize or at least delay the Iranian capability. Iran is not willing to accept the principle that it is forbidden something that Pakistan, India and Israel (according to foreign publications) are allowed.

The effort required to change Iran's motivation has not yet begun. Sweeping sanctions on gasoline imports into Iran could quiet down for a while those who seek to acquire the bomb, but they will not effect change in Iran. They will only help cement the solidarity between the opposition and the regime.

If we assume that Iran is a rational state, then dialogue between the Islamic Republic and the United States - not only on nuclear issues - is the proper leverage to be used. Recognizing it as a regional power, not just a "Shi'ite Iranian threat," could change its policy. But those who think Iran is crazy better skip the rhetoric, bomb already and be done with it.