Senior U.S. and Israeli military leaders have publicly discounted idea that Iran is acting irrationally
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Myth 1: Iran is an irrational actor.
This myth is especially popular among those pushing for immediate military action to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Their argument is that Iranian leaders are crazed, hot-headed, and messianic actors who do not respond to logic or reason; therefore, they cannot be negotiated with or trusted with weapons of mass destruction These claims are based on cultural ignorance and prejudices that would be routinely dismissed as out of bounds in virtually any context outside US policy debates on Iran. Fortunately, several senior US and Israeli officials have publicly dismissed this myth as false. America’s senior military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey, asserted in a television interview with Fareed Zakaria that “we are of the opinion that the [Iranian] regime is a rational actor.”8 Israel’s retired Mossad director Meir Dagan similarly opined that “the regime in Iran is a very rational one.”9 Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, in a meeting with senior Obama administration officials elaborated on this basic point, stating “I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, [would] drop it in the neighborhood. . . . They are radical but not totally crazy. . . . They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process, and they understand reality.”10 Moreover, the US Director of National Intelligence recently confirmed the rational nature of the regime in Tehran judging that “Iran’s nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach.”11
The Iranian regime probably can be deterred, either from using its nuclear arsenal or from taking other aggressive actions in the belief that its nuclear arsenal will itself deter countermoves by the United States or other states. Although willing to tolerate very high costs when core interests are threatened, key members of this regime -- including Khamenei and Rafsanjani --have also demonstrated that they will concede in the face of heavy damage and are often unwilling to suffer more modest damage when their core interests are not threatened.