Cracks in the Argument That Iran Is Realist and Rational?

Ostensibly, Israel fears annihilation should Iran develop nuclear weapons. Israeli officials and commentators have often invoked Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s alleged statement in 2005 that Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth. (Nor do they seem to draw much consolation from the truth: that he repeated a remark by the leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, to the effect that Israel “must be wiped out from the map of the world.”)

What’s worse than falsely attributing to Iran the desire to wipe out Israel? Falsely attributing to Iran the wish to self-destruct in an apocalypse. Why? Because it implies that not only does Iran have nothing to lose, but that it intends to enlist the aid of Israel in igniting the apocalypse by targeting Iran with nuclear warheads. Israel’s missiles would presumably “launch on warning” (before Iran’s nukes strike Israel) and destroy Iran in the bargain.

However far-fetched, that’s the substance of the charge often leveled at Iran by Israeli and American war hawks. In his 2009 book The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West (Regnery Publishing, Washington, D.C.), former Israel ambassador Dore Gold exemplifies this view.

In Twelver Shiite tradition, Muhammad ibn Hasan was the twelfth descendent of the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib. He was born in 868, but at the age of six, he vanished and was expected to reveal himself as the Mahdi (literally, the “Rightly Guided One”) at the end of days before the Day of Judgment, when a new era of divine justice will prevail, and Shiite Islam will be recognized as the true global faith. . . .

Ahmadinejad made the re-appearance of the Twelfth Imam as the Mahdi into a hallmark of his presidency. He declared in an address to the Iranian nation shortly after his 2005 election victory: “Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Mahdi.” . . . On another occasion he said that it was his mission to hand over Iran to the Madhi at the end of his presidency [a belief] advanced and supported by those who served as his religious mentors, particularly Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi [whose lectures] repeatedly stressed the theme of hastening the coming of the Mahdi.

But level-headed analysts scoff at the idea that Iran’s leadership seeks the end of days. They point out that Tehran has always been a “rational actor.” Far from the apocalypse, its dream is regional hegemony. But what if the idea that Iran sought to hasten the end of the world contained a kernel of truth?

Pepe Escobar, the eminently trustworthy Asia Times Online commentator, raises just that specter in an interview at Consortium News with German Lars Schall. On the subject of what’s on the mind of the average Iranian, Escobar says

People are expecting the worst. They are trying to keep a brave face, but they immediately recognize there is a power struggle inside the regime between the Ahmadinejad faction and the revolutionary guards ultra-hardline faction, which is against Ahmadinejad because he wants some sort of a compromise with the West. These IRGC guys, they want confrontation.

This is very dangerous. Why? Because the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameinei, is supporting this faction against Ahmadinejad. He wants Iran to be respected for what it is, and we can assume that he is welcoming this confrontation. This is extremely dangerous, because we could have an incident that would be the casus belli for an attack, an Israeli-Anglo-American attack, let’s put it this way.

The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, is not of the Mahdist tradition, but if he supports those whose actions could lead to a nuclear holocaust (recall, of course, though, that Iran has no nuclear weapons), he bears some responsibility for daring Israel to attack.

But neither are some in Israel exempt from an apocalyptic fantasy, which can also be called a death wish to the power of 10 megatons. Escobar again.

You have the majority of the establishment who wants to have an Eretz Israel, a greater Israel, and the religious nuts, who say: Okay, the best way to (expedite) Armaggedon is a war against our neighbours.