The host of a popular Fox News program recently announced a survey question for viewers. It was a multiple-choice poll about the story they anticipated would be the biggest one of 2006. I don't usually pay much attention to such polls, but this one made me sit up straight in shock. Not because of what people said, but rather because of the huge story that Fox's producers did not even put on the list.
That's the story of Iran. No doubt, Iraq's rebuilding, the pursuit of terrorists, economic peaks and valleys, Israel and the Palestinians, as well as terrorist attacks will appear in 2006's headlines. But what Iran does could well affect one or all of these other major stories.
There have been rumors of Iranian involvement in Iraq since before the 2003 war began, including the funding of any group that would interfere with the American-led coalition's efforts to remove Saddam Hussein and to uproot those committed to his brutal dictatorship.
That might seem odd to many in the West, given the eight-year war Saddam's army waged against Iran in the 1980s, inflicting hundreds of thousands of casualties.
But Iran's ruling mullahs' hatred of the West trumped any lingering bitterness they held for Hussein and his Baathist thugs.
In addition, Iran's small cabal of clerics has good reason to sabotage its neighbor's democratization. They fear democracy in their own country, which would surely overthrow the mullahs in a free vote.
Crackpot or crafty?
In a highly manipulated election last year, Iran installed a little known former university professor turned mayor as its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. You now likely have heard or seen his name many times since he took office.
He projects a "man of the people" image with his '70s-style leisure suits over open collared shirts. He even wore this casual outfit when addressing the United Nations General Assembly! That might strike Westerners as comical and tempt them to dismiss Ahmadinejad as an eccentric, to put it politely.
That would be a grave mistake.
After the speech, he claimed he felt a divine light surround him with an aura and that this same force caused his august audience to sit in rapt attention without so much as batting an eye throughout the discourse.
Since taking office, he has startled the world with speeches calling for wiping Israel off of the map, declaring the Holocaust a myth, then later backpedaling to proclaim that Europe and America should donate land for Holocaust survivors and their descendants (that is, all of the Jews in Israel). When Ahmadinejad was told of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's massive stroke, he shocked the diplomatic world with the decidedly unpresidential statement, "He is a crook; I hope he is dead."
Again, it's tempting to shrug off the president and his views as so silly as to be laughable. One might think he is an accidental leader, a coarse thug who finds himself out of his league and who will pass quickly from the world stage.
If only that were true. Actually, Ahmadinejad is giving voice to the true mind and heart of those who control the nation's government—and its military.
The president's tough talk about defying UN nuclear watchmen and pressing ahead with Iran's nuclear research caused the most concern, because it could enable Iran to produce, deliver and detonate a dirty nuclear bomb over Israel in a matter of months.
We watched the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni (the actual chief of state) for his reaction to Ahmadinejad's outlandish comments to see if the ayatollah would distance himself and the country from the brash young president.
Khameni backs Ahmadinejad all the way
Ayatollah Khameni's assigning former President Rafsanjani the responsibility of negotiating the nuclear research issue seemed at the time a possible sign of misgivings about Ahmadinejad. But Khameni has since made plain his full endorsement of the president's views, including the eradication of the state of Israel and Iran's intention to become a nuclear power. Indeed, both Khameni and Rafsanjani also made public statements in recent years calling for the destruction of Israel.
It seems to be hard for the world to awake to the possibility that we could be witnessing the buildup to a nuclear war.
Is that an overstatement? Consider the facts.
Many analysts believe that Iran would use a nuclear weapon if it had one, and the target would be Israel. Mohamed El Baradi, director general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), revealed in December that Iran could be within three months of producing a nuclear weapon.
Israel is awake, however, and it is painfully aware of the stakes of this showdown. In mid-December 2005, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz echoed El Baradi's warning: Iran would pass the point of no return in its nuclear program by March 2006. That is, it will have enough of an infrastructure to produce the type of material needed to create nuclear weapons.
How long it would take to create those weapons is unclear. It need not be a sophisticated device, only enriched uranium packed around conventional explosives.
Israel's American-supplied anti-missile missile shield is unlikely to be able to stop all incoming missiles. Only one nuclear warhead need penetrate Israel's defenses for a high altitude detonation over Tel Aviv in order to destroy the commercial heart of the nation. A single, inelegant assault like this would give Ahmadinejad his wish: Israel would no longer be a nation.
But not before Israel would retaliate with a full-scale nuclear response (with perhaps hundreds of nuclear warheads) that would, well, wipe Iran from the map. Hundreds of Israeli nuclear warheads would rain down on Iran, turning its sand into glass.
World community not united
Israel would prefer to have the world community deal with Iran, but will the UN really be effective? The EU appears to be over its attempt to talk the nuclear threat to death. With the EU's added weight, the United States has been able to persuade reluctant Russia and China to join in reporting Iran to the UN Security Council.
However, it's highly doubtful that Iran would suddenly change a course it has pursued for two decades!
Why has this been dragging on? It's the old story of "follow the money." Europe allowed itself its naïveté for this long, because it enjoyed its profits from lucrative trade with Iran without U.S. competition. Likewise, China and Russia are invested in Iran to the tune of multiple billions.
They have been gambling with the possibility of a nuclear war. Iran wouldn't be just another nation joining the select few in the nuclear club—it would be a nuclear-armed Islamic theocracy whose underpinning philosophy is a commitment to the destruction of Israel.
This isn't a WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) scare. It is a WMD reality. Regrettably, the bad intelligence leading up to the 2003 Iraq war may have sounded the cry of "wolf" that dulled people's senses about the real deal.
Am I saying that there could be a nuclear war in 2006? Yes.
Does Bible prophecy say anything that hints at a nuclear war? When Jesus Christ exited the temple at Jerusalem for the last time in His human life, His disciples picked up on the fact that something major was afoot. You can read this in the first few verses of Matthew 24.
Christ may well have indicated the temple's destruction, for the disciples pointed out and commented on the massive size of the temple's building stones (Josephus reports some more than 55 feet long), as if to question Jesus' assertion.
The Bible gives us Christ's reply, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (verse 2). That must have seemed utterly unbelievable to the men who heard Him. But He wasn't finished.
He added a list of startling events, including a warning of war: "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom [that is, wars of all sizes]. And there will be famines [and] pestilences [the common consequences of wars, as well as other causes]..." (verse 7).
As if this were not enough, Jesus told them that this was only the beginning of "sorrows" (verse 8) or "intolerable anguish" ( Online Bible Greek Lexicon ), revealing that eventually these conditions would pass the point at which the human race could survive (see verses 21-22). It will be at that point that Christ will return, literally to save mankind.
For a complete overview of end-time prophecy, see our booklet Are We Living in the Time of the End? You can read it online or request a free copy from wnponline.org/litreq/.
Possible ways of dealing with Iran
Israeli acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (one of whom will be the next prime minister) have made it clear that Israel will not sit idly by while Khameni and Ahmadinejad hammer the last nails into a nuclear gallows with Israel's name on it.
Israel took out Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor to deny Saddam Hussein's ambitions to do what Iran is now attempting.
This time, the job would not be possible single-handedly. To reach Iran, the Israelis would have to choose between three possible flight paths: over Turkey, over Jordan and Saudi Arabia or over Iraq. Either of the first two could well be taken by these countries as an act of war against them, thus creating additional conflicts.
The third option is more likely, although it would mean U.S. knowledge of the attack and permission to pass through Iraqi airspace, as well as refueling from American tankers. Like it or not, the United States would be involved in a war against Iran.
Another major difference between 1980 Iraq and 2006 Iran is the fact that Iran has its nuclear infrastructure in scattered locations, as well as in deeply buried, hardened concrete facilities.
If Israel should preemptively strike Iran's nuclear infrastructure, Iran would surely unleash its terrorist lackey, Hezbollah, which could rain conventional missiles onto Israel's major cities. (Iran finances Hezbollah to the tune of $100 million per year.)
Some analysts, therefore, predict Israel would have to launch a preemptive ground war against Hezbollah concurrent with a massive bombing run over Iran.
The United States may not force tiny but mighty Israel to take on Iran. President Bush and various administration officials have made it clear that America would not allow Iran to go nuclear.
This is not merely a philosophical debate. Nor is it a Hollywood make-believe plot. This is as real as it gets, and the clock is ticking... WNP