Top Things You Think You Know About Iran That Are Not True
by Juan Cole
a fateful day for the world, as
the US, other members of the United Nations Security Council, and
Germany meet in Geneva with Iran in a bid to resolve outstanding
issues. Although Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had earlier
attempted to put the nuclear issue off the bargaining table, this
rhetorical flourish was a mere opening gambit and nuclear issues
will certainly dominate the talks. As Henry Kissinger pointed out,
these talks are just beginning and there are highly unlikely to
be any breakthroughs for a very long time. Diplomacy is a marathon,
not a sprint.
But on this
occasion, I thought I'd take the opportunity to list some things
that people tend to think they know about Iran, but for which the
evidence is shaky.
Iran is aggressive and has threatened to attack Israel, its neighbors
or the US
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
Iran is a militarized society bristling with dangerous weapons and
a growing threat to world peace.
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.
Iran has threatened to attack Israel militarily and to "wipe
it off the map."
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
But didn't President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten to 'wipe Israel
off the map?'
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.
But aren't Iranians Holocaust deniers?
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.
the rest of the article
© 2009 Juan Cole