Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers at Tehran University.

Iran is a nation that is often said to be run by theocratic lunatics who want to "wipe Israel off the map" and deny the Holocaust but for once someone has spoken some words of sense about the Islamic Republic - a Lt. General from Israel of all people.

Lt General Benny Gantz told Haaretz that while he is preparing for action against Iran should it ever be deemed necessary he did not believe that Iran would "go the extra mile" in turning its nuclear technology to military purposes.

He added, "I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people", a statement which is entirely correct although it has different implications to what the good general thinks.

There are some who imply that rather than being rational the Iranian leadership are a group of religious maniacs who will make good on the desire to "wipe Israel off the map" and bring on the Apocalypse as soon as they get the bomb.

However let us consider geo-politics for a moment from the perspective of the Iranian government. In the last ten years the "Great Satan" of the USA has successfully toppled the regimes bordering Iran on both the east and the west (Afghanistan and Iraq respectively) and replaced them with relatively pro-US governments.

Meanwhile to the south is the Persian Gulf from which the US Navy could no doubt launch an attack should they so desire and beyond that stands another US ally, Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia which would shed few tears for the Shia's of Iran should the US or even Israel take action there.

So while the removal of Saddam Hussein may have had the effect of removing Iran's main rival in the region and so increased the nation's importance and influence, it could also be said to have left Iran isolated and nearly surrounded by nations which are friendly to the US or are even occupied by US troops - a situation weaker than that of starving North Korea which at least has China to back it up.

Given these facts which have asserted themselves in the last 10 years it is entirely rational that Iran should pursue the North Korean option of obtaining nuclear weapons. This policy has worked wonders for the North Korean leadership, who can continue murdering their citizens and blackmailing their neighbours safe in the knowledge that no US tank will be pulling down statues of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang any time soon. If it works for North Korea why not Iran?

It must also have become apparent to Iran that Colonel Gaddafi's decision to play along with the forces of democracy when it came to his own WMD programme did nothing at all to save him and his comic-opera but murderous regime from destruction.

Lt General Gantz is therefore right when he says that the Iranian leadership are "very rational" but almost certainly wrong when he cites this as the reason they will not pursue nuclear weapons. On the contrary, it is because they are rational that they will seek nuclear weapons.

This is a regime that will do almost anything to remain in power. Its reaction to the 2009 protests against the rigged election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was brutal but also highly rational - they knew the protesters could not win against merciless force and were almost certain that international intervention would not occur - it was a move not dictated by Islamic dogma but by the practicality of what would keep those at the top in power.

While no one can know for certain it seems likely that the same ruthless rationality that has kept the regime in place is behind its current nuclear activities rather than a desire to "wipe Israel off the map" as soon as they have the bomb.

However that is not to say that Israel and its allies should simply allow Iran to get its hands on nuclear weapons. One can be wicked as well as rational and while the Iranian regime is certainly the former few people give it credit for being the latter.

It is in the interests of everyone who cares about democracy, the rule of law and human rights that the oppressive regime in Iran does not strengthen its arsenal with nuclear weapons. One might even argue that nuclear arms in the hands of a wicked and rational regime could be even more dangerous than an irrational one and so we should take even greater steps to avoid a nuclear Iran.

But whatever the arguments it might be helpful when dealing with Iran to recognise the regime for what it is and discover its real objectives rather than caricature it as a kind of nation-sized suicide bomber in waiting.