With the British breaking up a terrorist plan to blow-up numerous passenger planes over the Atlantic in the next few weeks, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah speaking of additional “surprises” in his Iranian-supplied war arsenal (including the possible use chemical and biological weapons), and with Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s mystical meanderings and prophesies of a nuclear Doomsday approaching, Western analysts have found themselves in the uncomfortable role of playing soothsayer for seemingly unthinkable events that may occur in the very near future if these apparently unrelated matters are, in fact, part of a larger design to bring on Armageddon.

Contrary to their natures, analysts are being forced to consider the theological (mythological) element in this particular conflict which is also the reason why this conflict has the potential to expand into full-scale regional war. It all sounds somewhat absurd, but what if it’s true? In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, historian and Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis noted that, in Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the coming of Armageddon. For Shiite Muslims who are members of the Hojatieh sect (in which Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and Iraq’s Moqtada al-Sadr are believers), the end of time and the final victory of the forces of good over evil will culminate with the long awaited return of the twelfth imam (the 12th grandson of prophet Mohammed), or the so-called “hidden” (Savior) Imam Mahdi who disappeared as a child in 941 AD – hence the name of Moqtada al-Sadr’s militias ‘the Mahdi Army’.

The Imam is set to return at a time of great global chaos and war, after which an era of Islamic justice will be ushered in through the reign of Allah, conversion of the whole world to Islam, and the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate. Some Shiites believe that Imam Mahdi will be returning some time this August (possibly at the mosque of Jamkaran, Iran) to inaugurate the end of the world – and, coincidentally, the time some military experts are predicting that Iran will be ready to construct its first nuclear weapon. For believers like Iranian President Ahmadinejad and his followers, the terminal struggle has already begun and is well advanced.

It may even have a date, based on several references by the Iranian president to giving his “final answer” to the U.S. about nuclear development by August 22. For Westerners, the only thing peculiar about this is the length of time Iran is taking to respond, since for us, the date August 22 has no special significance. But this year, August 22nd corresponds to the 27th day of the month of Rajab on the Muslim calendar. It is the festival of Lailat al Miraj (celebrated as one of the central events of Muhammad’s life) and commemorates the ascension of the Prophet Mohammed into heaven from the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. It is also the day on which Saladin conquered and entered Jerusalem, further evidence of Ahmadinejad’s belief in the regional importance of the date chosen by him to report to the West on his nuclear intentions. 

For these reasons, this date might well be deemed by Ahmadinejad and his followers as an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and, if necessary, the world. Certainly, it would explain his “strange behavior” over the past several months including his $20M expenditure to prepare the Jamkaran mosque for the Imam’s pending arrival. In a fascinating article written in the NY Sun, Daniel Pipes noted that as mayor of Tehran in 2004, Ahmadinejad seems to have instructed the city council to build a grand boulevard to prepare for the coming of the Mahdi. There is also strong evidence to suggest that he had a list of his proposed cabinet members dropped into a well associated with the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam to benefit from its purported “divine connection”. Along the same lines, he raised the subject in September 2005 when he addressed the United Nations. He shocked world leaders by concluding his address with a prayer for the Mahdi’s appearance: “O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace,” and shortly thereafter, he recalled seeing “a light around me, and I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself. I felt the atmosphere suddenly change, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink. … And they were rapt. It seemed as if a hand was holding them there and had opened their eyes to receive the message from the Islamic republic.”

Pipes notes: “From redressing the gulf between rich and poor in Iran, to challenging America and Israel and enhancing Iran’s power with nuclear programs, every issue is designed to lay the foundation for the Mahdi’s return.” In an April 14th speech, Ahmadinejad declared that “the Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm,” stated his intention to “wipe Israel off the map” and spoke of the approaching “day of happiness”. Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also hinted at the use of nuclear weapons in his phrasing when he said that Israel “pushed the button of its own destruction” by retaliating against Hezbollah’s relentless rocket barrage from south Lebanon.

These statements and events seem to support the fear that Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah are paving the way for Armageddon. Comments such as these made by Western leaders would be viewed as irresponsible (at best) or statements of a madman (at worst). But what is certain is that the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) that kept the Cold War “cold” does not necessarily represent the attitude of those who believe they have a role to play in bringing on world chaos as a pre-condition to the coming of their Messiah.

These people live in an alternate universe, so one cannot dismiss their beliefs as pure lunacy and bluster. Both Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad share the same apocalyptic vision. To many, this may appear to be cosmic nonsense, but Islamic scholars have raised the possibility that Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah are deadly serious – that they see themselves as the harbingers of a new era. If so, their activities, their statements and their beliefs cannot so easily be dismissed. Iran’s Islamic regime is determined to try to bring about the end of the world as a matter of religious fervor and if Ahmadinejad is true to his beliefs, it is likely to begin in Jerusalem. Lewis may not be far wrong in his fears that Ahmadinejad’s constant references to August 22nd may be more than just coincidence. One thing is certain. We shall all know the truth soon enough.