Iran's nuclear program has long been the subject of debate. It is viewed by most as one of the greatest threats to international security. Yet some have condemned efforts to stem Iran's nuclear ambitions as hypocritical. One such commentator wrote, "The US government cannot make a reasonable case as to why it's OK for Israel to have a stockpile of nuclear warheads but it's not OK for any other nation in the Middle East to pursue nuclear weapons technology." Such sentiments may seem reasonable to some. However they do not take into account some of the key dynamics behind the Middle East conflict.
Unlike Iran, Israel is not a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and, as such, technically does not have to abide by nuclear anti-proliferation conventions. Over the past five decades Israel has developed a nuclear-weapons program but has neither denied nor admitted the existence of its nuclear arsenal. Israelis call this policy "strategic ambiguity." Israel is surrounded on all sides by enemies bent on bringing about its destruction. Israel, therefore, developed its nuclear program to serve as a deterrent. Israel's nuclear arsenal is one of the primary reason nations like Iran have not yet succeeded in their plans to wipe Israel "off the map."
Iran is governed by Shiite Muslim clerics committed to a stern interpretation of Islamic law. Hatred of the United States has been a key component of Iranian foreign policy since the 1978 Islamic revolution, and Iran's leaders often refer to the United States as the "Great Satan." Iran's distaste for the United States is surpassed only by their utter loathing of Israel. Iran's political and religious leaders have repeatedly called for Israel's complete destruction.
The State Department calls the Islamic Republic of Iran the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism." Iran continues to provide funding, weapons, training, and sanctuary to numerous terrorist groups based in the Middle East and elsewhere. Iran mostly backs Islamist groups, including the Lebanese Shiite militants of Hezbollah (which Iran helped found in the 1980s) and such Palestinian terrorist groups as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Iran uses such groups to carry out a proxy war on Israel and the West. It is therefore folly to allow Iran, and consequently its terrorist allies, to obtain nuclear technology.
The Dark Horse
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in June of 2005 with more than 60 percent of the vote. He is Iran's sixth president since the 1979 revolution. He ran on a populist economic platform and beat former president Hashemi Rafsanjani - who was hugely wealthy and purportedly very corrupt. Unlike Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad appealed to the people. He is seen as an honest and simple man. According to reports, he lives so modestly that his personal assets include only a 30-year-old car, an even older house, and an empty bank account. Ahmadinejad projects the image of a humble and devout man. He is motivated, not by wealth or power, but by his conservative Islamic ideals.
Ahmadinejad is a controversial figure in the international community, but he has the support of the Iranian people and the backing of Supreme Leader Ali Ayatollah Khamenei. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad graduated from college with a degree in civil engineering and joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps during the Iran-Iraq war. During the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ahmadinejad was a member of the radical student group that took control of the US embassy. Ahmadinejad reportedly played a central role in the hostage crisis, which included interrogating captives.
Prior to running for president, Ahmadinejad was the mayor of Tehran, Iran's capitol city. He was appointed mayor in the spring of 2003 by the city council. Before becoming mayor, Ahmadinejad was a relatively unknown figure in Iranian politics. In fact, the city council members that appointed him came to power in an election that could only boast of a 12 percent voter turnout.
The Return of the 12th Imam
When Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations General Assembly in October of 2005, he ended his speech with a prayer imploring God to hasten the return of the 12th Imam. Ahmadinejad refers to the return of the 12th Imam, also known as the Mahdi, in almost all his major speeches. In the Islamic faith, the Mahdi is the ultimate savior of mankind. His appearance will usher in an era of Islamic justice and bring about the conversion of the heathen amidst flame and fire. The Mahdi will establish Islam as the global religion and will reign for seven years before bringing about the end of the world.
In a speech last November, Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying: "Our revolution's main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi. Therefore, Iran should become a powerful, developed and model Islamic society. Today, we should define our economic, cultural and political policies based on the policy of Imam Mahdi's return. We should avoid copying the West's policies and systems."
The beliefs of Sunni and Shiite Muslims differ on the identity of the Mahdi. Sunnis either believe that he is yet to be born, or that he was born recently and has yet to emerge. Shiites hold that the Mahdi is Muhammad ibn Hasan, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad born in the 9th century and the 12th and final Shiite Imam. As a devout Shiite, Ahmadinejad believes that the 12th Imam was hidden away by Allah at a young age and will someday emerge to bring justice and peace by establishing Islam throughout the world. After taking office Ahmadinejad allocated $20 million for the expansion of the Jamkaran mosque, a religious pilgrimage site where Shiites can drop messages to the "Hidden Imam" in a holy well.
Ahmadinejad ardently believes in the imminent return of 12th Imam, which he anticipates will happen in the next two years. He believes he has a personal role in ushering in the return of the Mahdi and is preparing Iran for Judgment Day. Understanding this perspective is vital to understanding the Iranian threat.