The world will shortly be discovering whether the Iranian regime takes decisions based on a rational calculus of events and forces, or on the contrary according to messianic and apocalyptic beliefs of its own. Hezbollah is only an external arm of Iran’s and the Israeli campaign in southern Lebanon is slowly but surely grinding it down. This obliges Tehran to reveal its true character.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and some of his senior officials and military, are stepping up their genocidal threats to exterminate Israel. Promises to resort to longer range and more powerful weapons to destroy Israel fill the air-waves. In language as menacing as it is vague, Ahmadinejad calls on Arabs to join in a regional war or jihad, and condemns as traitors all Muslims who hold back. Hezbollah is a presence in some twenty countries, including the United States, and all these cells are presumably capable of acts of terror.
Iranian assessment of Ahmadinejad — as far as I can judge from exiles in the West – is divided. Some think he is in fact rational, a clever calculator that war with Israel and the West is a paying proposition in the Islamic world, and his murderous bigotry is nothing but bluff and rhetoric for the benefit of the uneducated masses. But others say that he believes every word he utters, and as a faithful Shia Muslim further believes in the return of the hidden Imam and the End of Days, which he has a duty to hurry along.
At the end of June, the Western powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program offered a deal, failing which sanctions would follow. Tehran replied that its answer had to wait until August 22. This was playing for time, sure, but the date also has its religious significance. In the Muslim calendar, and specially venerated by the Shia, it is Lailat al-Israa, the evening when the Prophet Muhammad is supposed to have ascended to heaven to receive the five obligatory daily prayers. If really Ahmadinejad and the elite around him conflate religion and politics, and imagine themselves under holy obligation to wage war, then their decisions will be based on irrationality, and they will indeed sacrifice Lebanese, Israelis, and anyone else — including of course themselves, as might be perfectly plain about three weeks from now.