The image above, from the National Democratic Institute (the link is to their Iran Bulletin), provides an excellent visualition of Iran's governmental power structure. Mr. Vincent (formerly doing business as Graywolf) asked a great question in the comments to the Newshour post about Iran's leadership. His insinuation, of course, was that they are "stupid, venal, and crazy", but his equally good point is that frustration with Israeli intransigance and ongoing attempts to manipulate American foreign policy to its benefit has deranged some of our commenters away from viewing the actual behavior and intent of the Iranian government and leadership. This is a great couple of points that there is more to be concerned here than just the Israelis and their behavior.
In the case of Iran we do not have the greatest understanding of their leadership, specifically of their strategic decision making. The simple reality, as demonstrated in the graphic above, is that Iran's unique hybrid form of government means that much, if not most of the decision making is going on behind the scenes. That makes it opaque to observation and understanding. Ahmedinijad is the bright shiny object out in front. And he has seemed to be in an on again/off again power struggle with the Ayatollah Khameini, the Supreme Religious Authority, the council of advisors, experts, and the Guardian Council. But what really remains difficult to discern is just how much power he has with his ties to the ageing revolutionary movement and how much power they have in relation to the Supreme Religious Authority and the other ruling clerics.
So Mr. Vincent's concerns are well merited: we need to pay attention to Iran's leadership, its strategic culture, and its strategic decision making process just as much as we need to the Israelis. Especially if we do not want to become the third party to this dispute.
*Adam L. Silverman, PhD is the Culture and Foreign Language Advisor at the US Army War College (USAWC). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of USAWC and/or the US Army.