The Iranian regime believes what it says and can achieve its stated objectives. That's the blunt truth that few can accept.
To determine Iran's strategy, we must determine its goals and ideology. President Ahmadinejad (shown left) consistently states that he acts in order to "hasten the arrival" of the Mahdi, also called the Hidden Imam, who is to appear during the End Times to bring victory over the enemies of Islam. Since at least July 2010, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has been telling his inner circle that he has met the Mahdi, who promised him an imminent return.
A number of voices opposed to a potential Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities reassure us that the regime is a rational actor and we should not take this rhetoric seriously. Former Mossad director Meir Dagan (shown right) went so far as to say Iran is "very rational." The statement made headlines but their simplicity is misleading. Dagan actually said that Iran is "not exactly our rational." What Dagan likely meant is that the regime weighs costs and benefits. It rationally pursues goals that we'd consider irrational.
Eight Christian leaders are among those that want the U.S. to embrace a policy of containment towards a nuclear-armed Iran. On March 5, the director of the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Office of Public Witness co-wrote a letter to Congress, urging that resolutions ruling out such a policy be shot down.
It said the resolutions "sets a dangerously low threshold for war" and compares Iran to the Soviet Union.
A little-noticed documentary titled "The Coming is Upon Us" was produced by Ahmadinejad's office last year and it lays out the regime's beliefs and planned path forward, much like Mein Kampf did. And it debunks the notion that the U.S.S.R. and the Iranian regime are equivalent. The film makes the case that the regime's leaders are the incarnations of specific End Times figures foretold in Islamic eschatology.
Iran is the "nation from the East" that paves the way for the Mahdi's appearance. Supreme Leader Khamenei is Seyed Khorasani, "the preparer" who comes from Khorasan Province with a black flag and a distinct feature in his right hand. Khamenei's right hand is paralyzed from an assassination attempt. Khorasani's commander-in-chief is Shoeib-Ebne Saleh, who the film says is President Ahmadinejad. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is the incarnation of Yamani, a commander with a Yemeni ancestry who leads the Mahdi's army into Mecca.
These three "preparers" wage war against the Antichrist and "the Imposters"-the U.S., Israel and the West's Arab allies. The film also mentions that a figure named Sofiani will side with Islam's enemies. Former Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer Reza Kahlili, who leaked the film, told me that the full-length version identifies him as Jordanian King Abdullah II.
The film lists various End Times prophecies that have been fulfilled to argue that the Mahdi's appearance is near. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran; the invasion of Iraq from the south and subsequent sectarian violence and death of Saddam Hussein; the Houthi rebellion in Yemen; the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the increasing amount of open homosexuality, cross-dressing, adultery and women taking off the hijab are correlated to specific Islamic prophecies.
There are two signs yet to be fulfilled that will trigger the final grand conflict that the Mahdi will intervene during: An Arab coalition is to unite and rid itself of foreign influence and Saudi King Abdullah, who is 87 years old, is to die. The Muslim Brotherhood's rise is fulfilling the first prophecy,the film says.
The speakers state that Islamic prophecy talks of the Bani Abbas Dynasty ruling modern-day Saudi Arabia during the End Times, which is the Saudi Royal Family. The prophecy is that this dynasty will be ruled by someone named Abdullah, whose death will lead to internal turmoil right before the Mahdi's appearance. It notes that no one named Abdullah has ruled there in the past 100 years.
"For about 10 minutes [in the full-length film], the video lists the names of clerics, including very influential ones like Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi and former Revolutionary Guards chief commander Seyed Yahya Safavi, who affirm their belief that Khamenei is Seyed Khorasani. This isn't propaganda, the regime really believes it," Kahlili told me.
The Iranian regime has a realistic strategy to dominate the Middle East and lead an Arab coalition in taking Jerusalem–the two tasks that will, in its mind, trigger the Mahdi's appearance.
Iran is wisely perfecting all elements of a nuclear-armed missile before creating a bomb. It is working on the nuclear triggering mechanism, a deliverable warhead and is accumulating the supplies and infrastructure necessary to quickly produce an arsenal. Almost everything besides actually putting together a bomb is permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under Article 10, Iran can announce that it is withdrawing from the treaty in 90 days because of a security threat. Ironically, an Israeli strike could be used as that pretext. Iran could declare that it didn't intend to build nukes, but Israel's actions now force it to. Of course, Iran could just ignore its treaty obligations altogether.
Ayatollah Khamenei's anti-nuke fatwa is conditional and, as Amer Taheri explains, it's never even been published in its entirety. There can easily be an escape clause we don't know about, if the fatwa even exists in the first place. In 2009, Ahmadinejad left the door open to building nukes if the security of his country requires it. Some Iranian clerics and officials are already giving religious justifications for becoming nuclear-armed.
It is wishful thinking to believe that the pro-American Arab states can contain Iran. The governments are already insecure in the wake of the Arab Spring and, in what the Iranians surely see as an act of providence, the Shiites in the Sunni-ruled Arab countries are perfectly positioned to seize the region's oil supplies. Take a look at the map produced by Mark Langfan to see how easily Iran can take effective control of about 56% of the world's oil reserves. About 90% of Saudi Arabia's oil is located in its Shiite-populated Eastern Province. Bahrain is a majority-Shiite state. The oil-rich areas of southern Iraq are in the midst of a Shiite population. Iran can carve out enclaves in these areas through proxies or force the Arab countries to capitulate by stirring up discontent.
If Iran controls the oil and has nuclear weapons capabilities, it is hard to see how the international sanctions and agreements to reduce imports of Iranian oil survive. The European and Asian countries were slow to get on board in the first place. Increasing oil prices, the temptation to accept Iran after it acquires nuclear capability and the political power of the growing Muslim population in Europe will test these countries' commitments.
The key question is how Iran plans to retake Jerusalem and destroy Israel once Saudi King Abdullah dies and this Arab coalition has been assembled. An all-out war is an option. After all, former Iranian President Rafsanjani said in December 2001 that "the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality." But another option exists: Asymmetric warfare carried out with the protection of a nuclear shield.
President Ahmadinejad recently said that "the destruction of the Zionist regime does not necessitate making war. If countries of the region cut ties with the Zionists and give them dirty looks, it will spell the end of this puppet regime." A regional coalition could isolate Israel and sponsor countless terrorist attacks that wreck the economy and weaken it to the point where direct warfare becomes a viable option. The U.S. could militarily intervene in a conventional war but the U.S. is unlikely to get involved if it is asymmetric, especially if Iran has nuclear weapons.
Iran has been simulating the use of an Electro-Magnetic Pulse. This is the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere that destroys electronic components over an extremely long distance. An EMP attack would instantly disable the U.S., bringing the country back to the 1800s. It would be far easier for Iran to do the same to Israel. It is easy to envision millions of martyrdom-seekers pouncing at the opportunity to take part in, what they feel, is a prophetic event.
When you consider the Arab Spring, the region's oil fields' proximity to Shiite populations, the inability to stop Iran's nuclear program and the EMP technology, you can see why the Iranian regime believes it owns the future. Unfortunately, the West dismisses the proclaimed goals of the regime as meaningless bravado that, even if it is genuine, could never come to pass.
The Iranian regime's religious beliefs may be crazy but it isn't crazy for thinking it can win.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.