What's really behind Iran's nuclear program? Is something much bigger at work, something that becomes clear when we look more deeply into the Iranian president's religious beliefs? And does the Bible provide us with understanding regarding the future of the war-torn Middle East?
When it comes to international relations, few things are more important than understanding the thinking of the other nation's leader—particularly if the situation is or has the potential of turning hostile.
Misunderstanding or underestimating one's opponent can prove deadly. We need only look at British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's declaration of "peace for our time" after his Munich meeting with Adolf Hitler less than a year before the onset of World War II, or America's woeful unpreparedness that brought a devastating Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Both led to enormous loss of life that might have been avoided had British and American leadership shown more perception in understanding the mind-set of their adversaries.
In more recent times we might consider Osama bin Laden's declarations of war against the United States in 1996 and 1998, which preceded al-Qaeda's terror attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in September 2001.
The title of Bin Laden's first declaration —"Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places" (referring to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia)—revealed a great deal about his mindset and intentions. So did the signatories of the second—"World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders."
It is critical that we not misunderstand the thinking of those Muslims who have dedicated themselves to jihad— religious war against their enemies. Judging by their actions, many Western political leaders fail to understand their thinking also—much to the peril of their nations.
Nowhere is this more evident than in a country repeatedly making headlines these days—Iran. As Western leaders continue with more fruitless rounds of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, a dose of reality is very much in order. As German President Joachim Gauck said when meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres May 29, 2012: "I'm very concerned about Iran's nuclear program. It represents not only a concrete danger for Israel but for the whole region and potentially even for us in Europe" (quoted by Rachel Hirshfeld, "German President Warns: Iran Threatens 'New Shoah,'" Israel National News, May 30, 2012).
So what are the real objectives of Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with respect to Iran's nuclear program?
Peaceful pursuit of nuclear power and research?
Iran, of course, claims that its nuclear program is solely for energy production and to produce radioactive isotopes for medical research. Yet as some commentators point out, this is untruthful on its face for several reasons, namely:
• Iran sits atop a veritable ocean of cheap oil, making expensive nuclear power for its own use wholly unnecessary.
• Iran is vastly accelerating production of 20 percent enriched uranium (which, with further refinement, can be used for nuclear bombs), when all that's necessary for nuclear power production is uranium enriched to barely a sixth of that amount—3.5 percent.
• Iran already has far more uranium enriched to 20 percent than it could use in many years of medical research.
• Iran has gone to enormous expense to construct its supposedly benign nuclear facilities in hardened shelters, many of them deep underground or inside mountains to make them safe from possible military attack.
• Iran has gone to great lengths to conceal its "peaceful" nuclear research facilities from outside eyes, acknowledging the existence of several only after they were revealed by other governments, and for years has refused to allow international inspections.
If you think none of this adds up, you're right.
So what's going on?
Fruitless efforts to stall enrichment
We must first realize that negotiations over Iran's nuclear program have been ongoing for almost a decade now. And how much progress have Western nations and international agencies made toward halting or reversing Iran's nuclear efforts? Zero.
In fact, Iran is much further along than it was before negotiations started. Although the United Nations Security Council has passed multiple resolutions demanding that Iran suspend nuclear enrichment programs, Iran has ignored them.
Note that over recent months:
• The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly reported Iran to be noncompliant with nuclear non-proliferation treaty requirements to which it is a signatory.
• The IAEA has issued a report detailing how Iran has conducted research and experiments geared toward producing nuclear weapons, including mastering the extraordinarily difficult task of properly detonating such a device and how to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.
• The IAEA learned of the existence of a "large explosive containment vessel" at an Iranian military complex near Tehran, concluding that this was part of Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear device.
It's evident that the Iranians have used the bait of continued negotiations to buy time to make further advancements in their nuclear program. They look at the example of North Korea, which followed a similar path of negotiation and denial right up until it detonated a Hiroshima-sized underground nuclear warhead in May 2009.
So what are the Iranians' intentions?
"One nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything"
Iran's former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad's predecessor, was considered a moderate leader. But regarding nuclear weapons and Israel, he said: "If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now . . . the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality" (emphasis added throughout).
Rafsanjani was saying that if the Islamic world acquired nuclear weapons, a nuclear confrontation with Israel would be worth it. His reasoning was that while an Israeli nuclear strike might kill many millions of Muslims, that would only "harm" the vast Islamic world and not destroy it, whereas Israel, being so small—less than 10 miles wide at some points—would, by just one bomb, no longer exist.
And he concluded that such thinking, being willing to sacrifice millions of Muslims to exterminate the Jewish state, is not irrational!
Threats to exterminate Israel
What about his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? He's made no secret of his hatred for Israel. Since assuming office in August 2005, Ahmadinejad has made repeated threats to eliminate the Jewish state. Notice a few:
"Israel must be wiped off the map" (2005).
"The United States and the Zionist regime of Israel will soon come to the end of their lives" (2007).
"This regime [Israel] will not last long . . . This regime has no future. Its life has come to an end" (2009).
"Israel is the most hated regime in the world . . . With Allah's grace, this regime will be annihilated, and Palestinians and other regional nations will be rid of its bad omen" (2010).
"I am telling you that a new and greater Middle East will be established without the existence of the U.S. and the Zionist regime [Israel]" (2011).
The two "Satans"—America and Israel
Ahmadinejad regularly refers to Israel as the "little Satan," and to the United States as the "great Satan." To him and his cohorts, a "Satan" is two things. It is an adversary as well as an evil spiritual entity. Ahmadinejad views the United States in both ways.
In his mind the United States is evil because its values and morals corrupt the entire world. (As pointed out in "Has America Lost Its Way?" beginning on page 25, in this he is largely right—America has grown spiritually bankrupt and is no longer a Christian nation that reveres the Bible.)
And as the world's foremost military power and supporter of Israel, the United States is an adversary and the major obstacle that prevents Islam from achieving its true destiny as the religion that is supposed to rule over the entire world. Therefore, in his mind the two "satans"—the United States and Israel—must be eliminated.
Does Ahmadinejad really believe this? At a 2006 Iranian conference with the theme "The World Without Zionism," he spoke onstage in front of a large banner showing an hourglass with grains of sand falling to the bottom, depicting time running out. Clearly visible in the hourglass was a large falling grain painted with a Star of David, symbol of Israel, showing that its time is over.
At the bottom of the hourglass was a grain that had already fallen and been broken. It was painted with a U.S. flag. The unmistakable symbolism of the banner was that the United States has to be brought down before Israel can be brought down.
His remarks confirmed the message of the banner. He said: "Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism? You had best know that this slogan and this goal are attainable, and surely can be achieved."
The "great Satan" must fall first. Then with its backer and patron out of the way, the "little Satan" will be no problem.
Iranian threats to the United States and Israel
Does this sound too outlandish to contemplate?
In a May 27 Washington Post article titled "U.S. Officials Among the Targets of Iran-Linked Assassination Plots," Middle East and national security specialist Joby Warrick cited U.S. officials in pointing out a "campaign by Iran-linked operatives to kill foreign diplomats in at least seven countries over a span of 13 months." Targeted officials included six Israelis, two Saudis and several Americans. "Iran-backed Hezbollah militants or operatives based inside Iran" were the common link in the plots.
The Iranian state-controlled FARS News Agency has recently run some extremely inflammatory statements by Iranian military officials directed toward the United States and Israel.
On May 20, 2012, FARS released an article titled "Top Commander Reiterates Iran's Commitment to Full Annihilation of Israel." It began by stating, "Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said threats and pressures cannot deter Iran from its revolutionary causes and ideals, and stressed that the Iranian nation will remain committed to the full annihilation of the Zionist regime of Israel to the end."
It further quoted Iran's supreme religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying, "The Zionist regime is a real cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut, [Allah] Willing."
A May 26, 2012, FARS article titled "IRGC Lieutenant Commander: Iran Can Target All Enemy Bases in Region" quoted Iranian Brigadier General Hossein Salami as saying, "Today, there is no base in the region lying outside the reach of the Iranian missiles."
His point was that not only Israel, but U.S. land, naval and air bases in nearby Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Persian Gulf are within Iranian missile range (and would effectively be held hostage should Iran acquire nuclear weapons). The article went on to boast of the range and firepower of Iran's latest missiles.
"Iranian Navy Able to Deploy Vessels Three Miles off New York Coasts"
An April 28, 2012, FARS article titled "Iranian Navy Able to Deploy Vessels Three Miles off New York Coasts" included the following statements:
"'Our naval forces are so powerful that we have a presence in all the waters of the world and, if needed, we can move to within three miles of New York,' The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said Tuesday . . ."
"IRGC naval commanders said in July 2011 that they would expand their mission into the Atlantic Ocean, and that the country had equipped a number of its vessels with long-range ballistic missiles."
What is particularly troubling about these statements is the fact that some U.S. military planners and intelligence specialists are convinced that Iran has already conducted naval test launches for an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) missile attack once Iran acquires nuclear capability.
What does this mean?
Is Iran planning an EMP attack?
A little-known byproduct of a nuclear detonation is that it emits an electromagnetic pulse—a powerful burst causing rapid changes in electric and magnetic fields that, while leaving human beings, plants and animals untouched, overloads and destroys any unshielded electrical equipment within hundreds to thousands of miles.
In practical terms, this means that any computerized technology developed since the 1970s is shut down permanently. This would include virtually all computers, electrical appliances, phone systems, radios, televisions, satellites, the Internet, the electrical power grid, water systems, sewer systems, motorized vehicles, trains and aircraft. Modern life as we know it would cease to exist in an instant. And with the infrastructure of a vast region completely collapsed, the overwhelming majority of people there would be dead of starvation and disease within months.
How might the Iranians—or other nuclear armed enemies, even terrorists—pull off such an attack? The simplest scenario is that they might load a nuclear device onto a cargo freighter and sail it near or into a major port city such as New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle and then detonate it. There is little or nothing anyone could do to stop it.
However, while the EMP from a ground-level detonation would be quite devastating to a large metropolitan area, its effects would be limited to that area by the curvature of the earth. With altitude, an EMP can affect a much larger region.
Thus, a variation of the above idea is to hide a launcher and nuclear-tipped missile on a freighter, then launch it from miles off the U.S. coastline to create an electromagnetic pulse high above the United States. Depending on the altitude and yield of the blast, up to a third of the country could be devastated by a single warhead!
U.S. and other intelligence agencies have monitored Iranian missile launches from cargo ships in the Caspian Sea in which the missiles detonated in the lower atmosphere. Initially they were thought to be failed launches—until the sobering reality hit that they were near-perfect exercises if the goal is a successful EMP missile attack.
Again, the United States has no effective defense against such a scenario.
Invitations to convert to Islam
In the Koran, Muslims are encouraged to invite non-Muslims to convert to Islam, a practice known as dawa (sometimes spelled dawah ) . It's based on Koranic passages such as the following (quoted from the Dawood translation):
"Say: 'This is my path. With sure knowledge I call on you to have faith in [Allah] . . .'" (12:108).
"Call men to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation. Reason with them in the most courteous manner" (16:125).
"Prophet, We [Allah, using the royal plural even though Allah is understood to be singular] have sent you forth as a witness, a bearer of good tidings, and a warner; one who shall call men to [Allah] by His leave and guide them like a shining light" (33:45-46)
"And who speaks better than he who calls men to the service of [Allah], does what is right, and says: 'I am a Muslim'?" (41:33).
But there is a flip side to this practice. The Koran says that if one rejects that invitation to convert to Islam, he will suffer the consequences of that rejection, which is divine punishment from Allah. Notice these passages from the Koran:
"If they [nonbelievers] pay no heed, know that We [Allah] have not sent you to be their keeper. Your only duty is to give warning" (42:48).
"Whether We [Allah] let you glimpse in some measure the scourge We promise them, or call you back to Us before We smite them, your mission is only to give warning: it is for Us to do the reckoning" (13:40).
"[Allah] has sent forth His apostle [Muhammad] with guidance and the true Faith [Islam], so that he may exalt it above all religions. Sufficient is [Allah] as a witness. Muhammad is [Allah's] apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another" (48:28-29).
"[Allah] and His apostle [Muhammad] are under no obligation to the idolaters. If you repent, it shall be well with you; but if you pay no heed, know that you shall not be immune from [Allah's] judgment.Proclaim a woeful punishment to the unbelievers . . . When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them" (9:4-5).
Ahmadinejad invites the world to convert to Islam
In several speeches to the United Nations General Assembly, President Ahmadinejad has openly urged the gathered world leaders to convert to Islam. But because Western news reporters and government officials are oblivious to the practice of dawa, they had no idea what he was doing—that he was carrying out an obligation for Muslims before initiating further steps.
Here's part of what he said in his 2009 speech to the United Nations: "We emphasize that the only path to remain safe is to return to monotheism [Islam] and justice, and this is the greatest hope and opportunity in all ages and generations. Without belief in Allah and commitment to the cause of justice and fight against injustice and discrimination [in other words, accepting Islam], the world structure cannot be put right."
Lest you think that's an aberration, he said essentially the same thing in his UN addresses in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011, which you can find on the Internet. So in his mind, Ahmadinejad has fulfilled this obligation to invite enemies to convert to Islam before they suffer Allah's judgment. So if Iran does successfully develop nuclear weapons, he has already warned the entire world—through his UN addresses—by repeatedly inviting them to convert to Islam and submit to Allah.
Ahmadinejad's belief in a soon-coming Islamic messiah
We also need to realize that Iran's president, and much of the nation's leadership, adheres to a branch of Shiite Muslim theology that believes in the imminent appearance of an Islamic messiah, called al-Mahdi, who will lead Islam to its rightful place as the dominant religion in the world. Al-Mahdi 's followers believe that it's their duty to bring chaos to the world, and out of this chaos will come a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West from which Islam will emerge victorious.
So how does this belief play out in the real world? It means that Ahmadinejad will likely never voluntarily enter into any meaningful agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program. It means that any agreements are only to be used to play for time, which is exactly what we've seen for a number of years now, until Iran becomes a full-blown nuclear power.
Does Ahmadinejad really believe this? Let me quote again from his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2011, less than a year ago. These were his opening words:
"In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe, and peace and blessing be upon our Master and Prophet, Mohammad, and his pure household, and his noble companions and on all divine messengers. Oh, Allah, hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory and make us his followers and those who attest to his rightfulness."
Thus, in his statement to the United Nations Ahmadinejad claimed to be speaking in the name of Allah and Islam and prayed before all the world for the quick arrival of al-Mahdi and his "victory." What victory? Victory in leading Islam to be the dominant religion over all nations!
Sadly, most government officials and news reporters are blind to what he was really saying, so you haven't heard this reported in the news. But that's exactly what he meant. You can be sure that all the representatives of the Muslim nations sitting there, who understand Islamic theology, knew exactly what he was saying.
Ahmadinejad's view of a world united under Islam
He closed his UN speech with these words: "Through international cooperation, diligence and efforts by committed world leaders and governments and through insisting on the realization of justice and the support of all other nations, we can expedite the building of a common bright future.
"This movement is certainly on its rightful path of creation, ensuring a promising future for humanity. A future that will be built when humanity initiates to [tread] the path of the divine prophets and the righteous under the leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the Ultimate Savior of mankind and the inheritor to all divine messengers and leaders and to the pure generation of our great Prophet [Muhammad].
"The creation of a supreme and ideal society with the arrival of a perfect human being [al-Mahdi] who is a true and sincere lover of all human beings, is the guaranteed promise of Allah.
"He will come . . . to lead the freedom and justice lovers to eradicate tyranny and discrimination, and promote knowledge, peace, justice, freedom and love across the world . . .
"Today nations have been awakened. With the increase in public awareness, they no longer succumb to oppressions and discriminations. The world is now witnessing, more than ever, the widespread awakening in Islamic lands, in Asia, Europe, and America. These movements are ever expanding their spirit everyday and influence the pursuit of the realization of justice, freedom and the creation of a better tomorrow.
"Our great nation stands ready to join hands with other nations to march on this beautiful path in harmony and in line with the shared aspirations of mankind. Let us salute love, freedom, justice, wisdom, and the bright future that awaits humankind."
Ahmadinejad is here stating exactly what he believes: That al-Mahdi will appear soon, that he is the ultimate savior of mankind, that he is the successor and descendent of Muhammad, and that he will establish peace on earth through Islam becoming the supreme religion on earth. He also notes that Iran stands ready to lead the march on this path toward a very different world united under Islamic rule.
He lays out his beliefs for the world to see. But without an understanding of the background of Islam and his beliefs, non-Muslims have no idea what he's really saying.
So what will happen if or when Iran finally successfully develops nuclear weapons? He's told us. He's given the world the invitation to convert to Islam. He's told us his intentions, which are to pave the way for al-Mahdi to come and lead Islam to victory over the entire world. These are Ahmadinejad's aims for Iran and the world.
As readers of The Good News know, we present a very different view of the future that God has in store for our world. Through the pages of the Bible, we are encouraged by the wonderful and magnificent age that Jesus Christ says lies ahead for the whole world, a future far different from the dangerous visions of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A Messiah will indeed come, but it is the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, who will intervene and bring this world peace. "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And then, as the apostle John wrote in Revelation 11:15 (English Standard Version), it will be proclaimed, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever."