I think most people would assume that it is fair to say that the Western media is carefully watching every word coming from the mouths of Iran’s president and its supreme spiritual leader. Except that it is not the case at all. A couple days ago, Juan Cole reported that President Ahmadinejad said:
“Iran is not a threat to any country, and is not in any way a people of intimidation and aggression.”
In addition, Ahmadinejad went so far as to specifically denying that Iran threatened Israel:
“Weapons research is in no way part of Iran’s program. Even with regard to the Zionist regime, our path to a solution is elections.”
Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei’s pledge of no first strike against any country by Iran with any kind of weapon, and his condemnation of nuclear bombs as un-Islamic and impossible for Iran to possess or use, was completely ignored by the Western press and is never referred to.
What does all this mean coming from Iran’s hardliners? I don’t know. Why do we listen to their threats and not their more peaceful statements? On what basis does the media decide that this is not something worth hearing, but some more threatening words do bear repeating?
I don’t know what Iran’s leaders are thinking, I do not claim to “see into their souls” as Bush once remarked of Putin. What I do remember is the sentiment that many had in the Western media that Saddam was obviously lying when he said he had no WMDs and provided reams of documentation supporting the idea that he didn’t. Whatever the West does with regard to Iran, it should not repeat the mistake of only taking aggressive words at face value.
A worthwhile additional note, according to Cole the “wipe Israel off the map” comment is an inaccurate translation. The real meaning is supposed to be something more like “vanish from the page of time” or something to that effect.
Again, I do not know what Ahmadinejad means by his words (nor Khamenei by his). I do not know enough about Shiite eschatology to know what effect it is having on him. I do not know what effect his involvement in the hostage crisis has had on him. What I do know is that we should not put dangerous words into his mouth as we did with Saddam. I also know that eschatogical fears in the months leading up to the dreaded Y2K problem (remember that?) prompted those who were truly afraid to assume an essentially defensive posture. No one was proposing a war of aggression be undertaken in December 1999 to pre-empt Armageddon. Instead those gripped with premillenial terror stocked up and prepared to defend their homes. It is not inconceivable that Iran is seeking solely a defensive deterrent.