Politics & Policy

Apocalypse Now?

Is Iran planning a cataclysmic strike for August 22?

Is Iran planning an apocalyptic strike against Israel and/or the United States for August 22? If so, what should the U.S. do to protect Americans and our ally? Such questions are worrying a growing number of officials in the White House, at the CIA, and at the Pentagon, and for good reason.

As a devout Shiite Muslim, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is telling colleagues in Tehran that he believes the end of the world is rapidly approaching. He also believes that the way to hasten the coming of the Islamic Messiah known as the “Hidden Imam” or the “Mahdi” is to launch a catastrophic global jihad, first against Israel (the “little Satan”) and then against the U.S. (the “Great Satan”). What’s more, Ahmadinejad is widely believed to be pursuing nuclear weapons that would give him the ability to carry out his apocalyptic religious views. Some experts even speculate that Iran may already have several atomic bombs and the means to deliver them.

In recent days, Ahmadinejad and his advisers have said that Iran will answer the world regarding the future of its nuclear program on August 22. That happens to be a very significant date for Muslims: It is the anniversary of the supposed “night flight” by Mohammed from Saudi Arabia to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to heaven and back again. There is a worry that Ahmadinejad is planning some sort of apocalyptic attack as his ‘“response” on August 22. If so, time is short and the clock is ticking.

It is hard for many Americans to imagine an Iranian leader (or any other world leader) actually trying to bring about the end of the world by launching a nuclear attack to destroy millions of Jews and Christians. But it is precisely this type of attack that I wrote about in my recent political thrillers, The Ezekiel Option and The Copper Scroll. One of my goals was to help people understand this brand of radical Islamic thinking and its implications for Western civilization. On page 358 of The Ezekiel Option, a fictional Islamic character insists that Israel is going to be “wiped off the face of the map forever.” Five months after Option was published last June, Ahmadinejad gave a speech vowing to wipe Israel “off the map” forever. In the novel, Iran forms a military alliance with Russia and starts buying state-of-the-art weaponry from Moscow to accomplish its apocalyptic objectives. Last December, fiction again became reality, when Iran signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to buy missiles and others weapons.

Muslims are not the only ones who have apocalyptic end-times views, of course. As an evangelical Christian from an Orthodox Jewish heritage, my novels are based on a number of “end times” prophecies that the Bible says will be fulfilled in “the last days.” For example, the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel — writing 2,500 years ago — described a future Middle Eastern war to annihilate Israel that is known today by Bible scholars as the “War of Gog and Magog.” Jews and Christians who take Ezekiel’s prophecies seriously believe that at the last minute the God of Israel will supernaturally intervene to defeat Israel’s enemies in this war. By contrast, the Muslim version of the “War of “Gog and Magog“ found in the Koran concludes with Muslims winning. The Ezekiel Option and The Copper Scroll imagine how such prophecies could play themselves out in modern times. But suddenly this is no longer the stuff of fiction. Ahmadinejad actually seems intent on launching the “War of Gog and Magog.”

Bernard Lewis of Princeton University, arguably the world’s foremost expert on Middle Eastern history, wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday warning that Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic objectives could lead to a “cataclysmic” attack on August 22. Lewis observed that there it is not possible to say with any certainty that such an attack is planned, but he felt compelled to explain to Americans just how dangerous Ahmadinejad’s thinking is, especially in light of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian “end times” theology, such as the “War of Gog and Magog” and “Armageddon.” How, Lewis asked, can you negotiate with a man who believes it is his religious duty and mission to bring about the end of the world? How can you deter a man who wants to die and go to paradise, but believes he won’t actually die in such a war because Allah is on his side to kill millions of “infidels”?

Lewis’s warning was prudent and needed, as was his careful explanation of the apocalyptic thinking driving the Iranian leadership at present. But Lewis’s conclusion was puzzling. He writes:

“How then can one confront such an enemy, with such a view of life and death?” he wrote. “Some immediate precautions are obviously possible and necessary. In the long term, it would seem that the best, perhaps the only hope is to appeal to those Muslims, Iranians, Arabs and others who do not share these apocalyptic perceptions and aspirations, and feel as much threatened, indeed even more threatened, than we are. There must be many such, probably even a majority in the lands of Islam. Now is the time for them to save their countries, their societies and their religion from the madness of MAD [the Cold War policy of Mutual Assured Destruction].”

’This is indeed a wise “long-term” strategy, trying to win over Islamic moderates, but Lewis writes as if the danger posed by Iran is not an immediate one, as if we have the luxury of relying on far-sighted strategies. But ’Lewis himself is suggesting that Iran may be planning “cataclysmic” attacks to begin as early as August 22. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for long-term planning. We all hope and pray that August 22 is not the day Ahmadinejad has chosen to launch the apocalypse, but there is little doubt in the White House and at the CIA that the Iranian leader is feverishly trying to build, buy, or steal nuclear weapons, and that he will quite likely use them once he has them.

All of this raises very serious questions for the president and the nation. How much time do we have to pursue a diplomatic track with Iran? At what point do we have to conclude that negotiations are going nowhere? Are we prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran? If so, how? If not, what is the president prepared to do to protect Americans and our allies from an Iranian nuclear-strike, or nuclear blackmail?

In his famous “axis of evil” speech on January 29, 2002, President Bush made the following case:

“We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. And all nations should know: America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation’s security. We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

Today, the country is deeply divided over whether using military force in Iraq was the right thing to do. But the Iranian nuclear threat is now far worse than the Iraqi threat of having or obtaining weapons of mass destruction was then. President Bush has a decision to make and precious little time to make it. For let’s be clear: should Iran go nuclear on this president’s watch, all the gains made to date in the War on Terror will be wiped out overnight. That is not a legacy this president wants, nor one this nation can afford.

Joel C. Rosenberg, a one-time aide to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky, is a New York Times best-selling author of Middle East-based political thrillers. His new novel is The Copper Scroll. His forthcoming non-fiction book is entitled Epicenter: Why The Current Rumblings In The Middle East Will Change Your World.

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