[ guest post by Tim Furnish, posted by Charles Cameron ]
Blog-friend and occasional guest poster Dr Tim Furnish just posted this very timely piece at his MahdiWatch blog, and I am delighted to post it in its entirety here with Tim’s permission.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to a joint session of the US Congress on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. If his speech earlier today at the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was any indication, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons will be the major topic. Partisan bickering (about whether the Republican majority in the House and Senate wished to insult President Obama) aside, the central issue boils down to whether Bibi is correct in his long-held belief that the IRI leadership amounts to a “messianic, apocalyptic, radical cult” which must be stopped at all costs from going nuclear (as he first said six years ago).
He is not.
Now as my usual friends and colleague sharpen their knives, allow me to explain. First off, I am a staunch supporter of Israel, as both a Christian and an American, and have been there three times in the last decade. Also, now that Turkey, under Sultan Erdoğan, has slipped back into Neo-Ottomanism, Israel is the only truly democratic nation in the Middle East. Along with the Kurds, the Israelis are our closest allies in that region.
But that does not mean that everything Israeli is automatically correct. And this claim that Iran wants nuclear weapons in order to use them on Tel Aviv and thus spark the coming of the 12th Imam al-Mahdi is a gross misreading of Twelver Shi`i doctrines as well as of Iranian politics.
I examined this issue in depth for the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis back in 2011, in a paper entitled “A Western View on Iran’s WMD Goal: Nuclearing the Eschaton, or Pre-Stocking the Mahdi’s Arsenal?” The major points therein follow, after this pictorial message:
Safavid Shah Isma’il (L), founder of the 16th c. dynasty that converted Iran to Twelver Shi`ism. HE would not have hesitated to use nukes (in fact, his turban itself is weaponized). But Khamenei? Not bloody likely.
Z Belief in the return of the 12th Imam from ghaybah, “occultation,” is not “fringe” or “extremist” but a mainstay of this brand of Islam (just as is the doctrine of Jesus’ return for all orthodox Christians).
Z The 12th Imam’s reappearance is totally up to Allah’s discretion; nothing humans can do will advance his timetable. “Hotwiring the apocalypse” depends not on WMD usage or any other violent activity but, rather, hinges on creating the Mahdist state in microcosm (i.e., the IRI) and then waiting on Allah to send the Mahdi to rule it.
Z The anjuman-i hujjatiyeh (“Hujjatiyeh Society”) is not some insane group dedicated to destroying Israel but an organization dedicated to re-converting Baha’is to Twelver Shi`ism—and, furthermore, was banned in the early 1980s for being insufficiently supportive of Ayatollah Khomeini’s clerical rule.
Z As per the excellent article by Ze’ev Maghen, “Occultation in Perpetuum: Shi`ite Messianism and the Policies of the Islamic Republic,” the ruling ayatollahs are probably the most vociferous opponents of a true Mahdist claim on the planet—because acknowleding anyone as such would end their rule of Iran, and with it their wealth, power and privilege.
Z Twelver Shi`i views of jihad mandate that jihad-i ghalaba, “victorious holy war,” be prohibited until the return of the 12th Imam—NOT employed to importune him to appear. Usage of nuclear weapons is thus really not allowable for the apocalypse-hotwiring which many pundits impute to Iran.
Z Yes, some Iranian leaders have spoken, repeatedly, of Israel being “erased from the pages of history.” But I believe that this means they believe in a gradual demographic disintegration of the “Zionist entity,” and not a mushroom cloud over Israel.
Z It is possible for men to have long beards, wear turbans, express eschatological beliefs and yet still be rational political actors. The Supreme Leader and his cronies all know that were Iran to use a nuclear weapon against Israel, their nation would be a radioactive ruin about 15 minutes later. The Mahdi has no desire to rule over such a wasteland. Plus, it would deprive the clerics of their wives and Rolls Royces.
Z All of the above by no means makes the IRI a peaceful or trustworthy state. The ruling ayatollahs want nuclear weapons not only to hold onto their power (as per the ruling clique in Pyongyang) but to provide immunity against possible American military strikes and to increase Tehran’s regional clout—just not to summon the Mahdi via a nuclear conflagration.
President Jarrett, er, Obama and SecState John Kerry are fools to think that any written agreement will disabuse Khameini and his ilk of their lust for nuclear weapons. But attempting to counter the administration’s naiveté with inane bluster that misepresents our enemy’s beliefs and intentions amounts to falling off the horse on the opposite side. Instead, let’s try sitting upright on a strong horse and avoiding partisan extremes of misapprehension.