While headlines report escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Amir Taheri sees evidence that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is signaling his readiness to back down in the face of growing economic pressure. To understand why, Taheri argues, one must first understand the ideological forces that shape Tehran’s behavior:
Iran and the U.S. do not have a border problem; they are not fighting over access to natural resources; and they do not seek to snatch market share from one another. Nor are they in conflict over the oppression of one side’s kith-and-kin by the other. The two are not fighting over water resources, access to open seas, or calculations about national security. . . . The reason [for tensions] is that Iran no longer behaves as a nation-state but as a vehicle for an ideology. . . .
I find it hard to imagine the Islamic Republic, under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s weird leadership, ever sacrificing its ideological pretensions in order to advance the interest of Iran as a state. And, yet although it is hard to imagine, provided that the current level of pressure is maintained both by internal opposition and by its many enemies and adversaries from without, [the regime] may be forced to ponder other options besides destructive defiance. . . .
There are [several] signs that Khamenei may be contemplating what he has called “heroic flexibility.” [Among them] is that the date fixed by the supreme leader for Israel to disappear from the face of the earth has been extended to 2050. . . .
Should one regard all that as good news? Not necessarily. The madness that is Khomeinism has always had its method which includes abject surrender when pressed too hard and brazen aggression when pressure is eased. . . . Contrary to claims by the pro-mullah lobby in Washington, [America’s] choice isn’t between surrender to Khomeminist madness and full-scale invasion of Iran. Only when the threshold of tolerable pain is reached is the supreme leader likely to reconsider his options. We are not there yet.