TRUNCATE OFTEN? Charles Krauthammer wants us to believe that if Iran builds a nuclear bomb, it will launch an unprovoked nuclear attack on Israel. As his evidence, he cites the fact that Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani once observed that "the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam." This quotation has also made an appearance, so far, in two New Republic articles. One quick point to make is that given that the Iranian president doesn't control the country's security forces, and that Rafsanjani isn't president of Iran, it's a little odd to be citing his statements as authoritative policy pronouncement. Another point is that, as I laid out here, that's a very misleading truncation of what Rafsanjani said. If you read the statement in context, he was clearly saying that a nuclear bomb would give Iran the capacity to deter Israel, not the capacity to launch a first strike.

The longer thing to say is that it's inane to be acting as if the best available guide to likely Iranian policy is to scour the Internet for snippets of translations of speeches given by Iranian regime figures. It's not as if the Islamic Republic came into existence last March and we don't know anything about it. It's been around for over twenty years and its attitude toward Israel has been reflected by its actual policies -- the provision of meaningful, but fairly small, dollops of assistance to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. As Kenneth Pollack observes, "The Iranians have had WMD for at least 15 years, they've supported terrorism for at least 25, they've never put the two of them together, and I don't see them having the desire to do so with nuclear weapons." Nothing in the actual record of Iranian behavior indicates any desire to take large risks or jeopardize the regime for the sake of the anti-Zionist cause. They do what they think they can get away with and, quite obviously, an unprovoked nuclear strike on Tel Aviv isn't something they can get away with.

--Matthew Yglesias

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