Iranian Nationalism is a Cover for Pan-Islamic Goals
But at the same time, Ahmadinejad has emphasized Iran’s pan-Islamic aspirations to act on behalf of Muslims everywhere. An emerging nuclear power needs friends. Right now Iran wants to reduce, not promote, division between Sunnis and Shiites — and promoting broader “Islamic” interests by going after Israel is one way to lessen Sunni fears about Iran’s rise. Ahmadinejad has put his money where his mouth is, providing Hezbollah with medium-range missiles — though apparently not chemical warheads — to use against Israel. The nationalist language he has sometimes used at home may be a cover for sincerely held pan-Islamic ends — a version of the old revolutionary strategy of making nationalist claims in order to attract the support of those fellow Iranians who do not respond well to Islamist ideology. That it is convenient for Iran to emphasize Islamic unity does not mean that at least some of its leaders do not believe in it as a motivating goal.
Iranian leaders consistently present the nuclear program as an accomplishment of Iranian science and as evidence that Iran is an advanced modern industrial power. They also argue that Western opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions is an effort to keep Iran down, to prevent the country from assuming its rightful place as a leader in the region and the broader Muslim world.