Iran Isn’t the Soviet Union and President Obama Needs Another Gameplan
by Yedidya Atlas
In the three years since President Obama has been in office he has attempted to “engage” Iran, invoke “sanctions” with multiple loopholes, and sign into law even “tougher sanctions” too late to be relevant. While he has “removed nothing from the table” – a euphemism for military action – it nonetheless appears that the administration neither wants to attack Iran under almost any circumstance, nor wants Israel to attack.
In an interview last week, Mr. Obama said that he did not believe that Israel had made a final decision to attack Iran, and wouldn’t attack without first coordinating with the US. He added that Israel and America were “in lockstep” on the Iranian issue.
Recently another administration orchestrated leak was released to NBC News by unnamed “US officials” claiming that deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israeli intelligence. Why the US would publicize such an unsubstantiated allegation, true or not, makes no sense unless the point is to damage Israeli freedom of action.
This week, President Obama announced an additional sanction on Iran: the freezing of the Iranian government’s assets in the US. The harsh truth is that President Obama and his policy advisors have gone into ostrich mode and collectively stuck their heads in the sand. Aside from the fact that the “tougher sanctions” demanded by Israel to avoid the necessity of armed conflict with Iran should have been implemented years ago, it is questionable whether such sanctions would stop Iran’s clerical leadership from pursuing their path to creating a nuclear arsenal.
Sanctions didn’t stop North Korea and the Korean mindset is somewhat closer to the West. Mr. Obama and his advisors appear incapable of comprehending with whom they are dealing. As Professor Niall Ferguson recently noted in The Daily Beast, there are those who believe “a nuclear-armed Iran is nothing to worry about….[and] States actually become more risk-averse once they acquire nuclear weapons.” This wishful thinking prefers to view Iran as if it were the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the threat of MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction – is still a viable alternative.
Professor Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Middle East historians for more than half a century, put his finger on the problem in his keynote address at the international Jerusalem Conference back in 2008: “Iran’s leadership comprises a group of extreme fanatical Muslims who believe that their messianic times have arrived,” he warned. “Though Russia and the US both had nuclear weapons, it was clear that they would never use them because of MAD. Each side knew it would be destroyed if it would attack the other. But with these people in Iran,” Professor Lewis explained, “MAD is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement. They feel that they can hasten the final messianic process. This is an extremely dangerous situation of which it is important to be aware.”
Iran’s Shi’ite theocratic leadership headed by its “Supreme Leader” the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his acolyte, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sincerely believe that this is the apocalyptic age, which will result in the triumphant return of their messianic figure, the Twelfth Imam, or “the Mahdi.”
To fully comprehend the enemy we are facing, it would behoove Mr. Obama and his compatriots to understand that Iran is not a Chicago neighborhood and “engagement” by a community organizer just doesn’t cut it. This is not merely a facile observation. Mr. Obama’s recent State of the Union address demonstrates how out of it he really is:
“[The US] seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We do not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. We have condemned terrorist attacks against Iran,” President Obama declared. “We have recognized Iran’s international right to peaceful nuclear power. We have demonstrated our willingness to take confidence-building steps along with others in the international community……It is time for the Iranian government to decide,” Obama said. “Whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice for its people,” he continued.
Does he really expect al-Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to suddenly jump up and say: “you’re right, we changed our mind?”
Iran, as noted above, is a Shi’ite theocracy. To understand the Iranian leadership, one has to understand Islamic history.
After the death of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad, there was a bloody dispute as to who would be the next leader. The Caliphate, or secular leadership of Islam, was handed to Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, rather than Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law and purportedly chosen successor. The Muslims who supported Ali called themselves the “Shi’a- Ali” or “Partisans of ‘Ali.”
In 656, the Umayyads revolted against Ali and established the Umayyad Caliphate. From this point onwards, authority was divided in the Islamic world. The Shi’a Ali, or the “Shi’ites”, recognized only the successors to Ali as authorities, and gave these successors the title “Imam” – “spiritual leader of Islam.”
In Shi’ite history, Ali is the first Imam and was followed by a total of eleven Imams, who passed their title down to their sons in hereditary succession. However, the most important Imam of Shi’a was Hussein, who was killed/martyred by Yazid, the second Umayyad caliph, at the battle of Karbala.
A grand total of eleven Imams succeeded Ali passing the Imamate down to their sons. However, the eleventh Imam, Hassan al-Askari, died without a son. Shi’ite Islam then divided into several different sects, the most important of which was the Qat’iyya – “those who are certain.” They believe that Hassan al-Askari really did have a son, Muhammed al-Mahdi. The Shi’ite sect that believes that “the Mahdi” – the “Twelfth Imam“ – hid himself in the 9th century and remains in hiding, is called the “Ithna-Ashari”, literally “Twelvers”, and is the dominant Shi’ite group that now rules Iran.
According to the Shi’ites, at no time in human history has the world been without an Imam. This last Imam, the Twelfth Imam, according to Shi’ite belief is still alive today and is awaiting the time when he will return, guide the world, and restore Shi’a to its proper place as the universal religion.
The “Ithna-Ashari” sect of the Shiites (90 percent of the 75 million Iranians) has been the official state religion in Iran since 1502. The Ayatollah Khomeini turned it into an activist political doctrine and the basis for the present Iranian Islamic revolution. “Twelvers” also comprises more than half the population in Iraq and is a significant minority in Lebanon which includes the Hizballah (Hizb-Allah, Party of Allah).
Iran’s current rulers fervently believe the above. Bernard Lewis and Niall Ferguson point out that Iran’s Supreme Leader al-Khamenei and Iranian President Ahmadinejad would even go so far as to hasten a nuclear showdown and cataclysmic strike via an attack on Israel as well as European and American interests (e.g.: Sunni Saudi Arabia) with its inevitable retaliation to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam. Ahmadinejad even called for the reappearance of the 12th Imam from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly. And when speaking in Iran, Ahmadinejad declared that the main mission of the Islamic Revolution is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam.
At the aforementioned Jerusalem Conference, another speaker, a Jerusalem rabbi, asked to be introduced to Professor Bernard Lewis since he was a big fan and had read 27 of his 33 books. He asked Professor Lewis why, since what he wrote was so clear, did the majority of western policy makers “not get it?” The Professor answered in Hebrew with a Biblical quote: “They have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear.” Israel’s leaders see and hear. President Obama should also before it’s too late.
The author is a veteran journalist specializing in geo-political and geo-strategic affairs in the Middle East. His articles have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Insight Magazine, Nativ, The Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon. His articles have been reprinted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the US Congressional Record.
This article first appeared in FrontPage Magazine.