First, here’s what Ahmadinejad said, as reported by Al Arabiya News:
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he has documented evidence that the United States is doing what it can to prevent the coming of the Mahdi, the Imam that Muslims believe will be ultimate savior of mankind, press reports said Monday.
“We have documented proof that they [U.S.] believe that a descendant of the prophet of Islam will raise in these parts [Middle East] and he will dry the roots of all injustice in the world,” the hard-line president said, addressing an audience of families of those killed during the 1980’s war against Iraq.
“They have devised all these plans to prevent the coming of the Hidden Imam because they know that the Iranian nation is the one that will prepare the grounds for his coming and will be the supporters of his rule."
And here’s how well-known conservative blogger Bob Owens responded:
The press will no doubt downplay this latest declaration as they have previous invocations of the Mahdi by Ahmadinejad — and if [the] media do discuss his seemingly bizarre beliefs, they immediately remind their audience that the real power in Iran is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
But despite attempts by the world’s media and politicians to avoid dealing with the dark religious overtones in his addresses, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly returned to the same message. That message, of an Iranian government pushing ever further towards the development of nuclear weapons that will fall under the control of an apocalyptic religious movement, is terrifying.
So, according to Owens, Ahmadinejad has been preaching the message that Iran is “pushing ever further towards the development of nuclear weapons.” Now those of you who take even a minimal interest in foreign affairs will realize that there’s one main problem with this claim—there’s no evidence to support it. Yes, Iran has a nuclear energy program, but, in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the program is safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Commission. And to date, the IAEA has found no evidence that Iran has diverted any of its nuclear material to non-peaceful uses. Moreover, the US intelligence community continues to believe that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.
Despite all this, Owens contends that, not only is Ahmadinejad trying to acquire nuclear weapons, but that he intends to use them against Israel:
The Pentagon was provided an unclassified January 2006 briefing entitled “Iranian President, Islamic Eschatology, and Near-Term Implications.” A 42-page copy of the slide deck used for that presentation focused heavily on the threat of a faction within the Iranian government, led by Ahmadinejad and his spiritual mentor Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi. Yazdi is a powerful member of the Assembly of Experts, which has the authority to appoint or dismiss the supreme leader. Yazdi’s disciples have sanctioned the use of nuclear weapons.
Owens goes on to note that this document concluded that “Iran was preparing for war, and offered two scenarios,” one of them being:
…that of a “blitzkrieg-like” rocket and missile assault on Israel by Iran, Syria, and their proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. In November, Israel intercepted a 500-ton shipment of weapons bound for Hezbollah that included Iranian rockets identical to those used against American forces in Iraq.
Let’s break all this down, shall we?
Proof #1 that Ahmadinejad wants to nuke Israel: Ahmadinejad’s “spiritual mentor” has some students who want to nuke Israel. Now if you’re confused by this piece of “logic,” don’t worry, you’re not alone. I don’t get it myself, and, between you and me, I don’t see how Owens could either.
Even if it were the case that Yazdi wanted to nuke Israel, it wouldn’t follow that Ahmadinejad was intent upon doing so. For what evidence is there that Ahmadinejad is an obedient follower, a sincere believer? Isn’t it possible that Ahmadinejad is using Yazdi for political purposes? I know that’s a crazy thing to suggest—that a politician would use a religious figure to further his own political agenda—but hear me out.
You see, I seem to remember that our own president had a spiritual advisor. And as long as Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright furthered his own political ambitions, the two men were the best of friends. But as soon as Wright became a political liability, Obama dropped him, and since then, he’s shown that he never really bought into Wright’s crazy beliefs after all, especially all those crazy anti-war beliefs.
Proof #2 that Ahmadinejad wants to nuke Israel: Israel just intercepted a shipment of Iranian rockets intended for Hezbollah. There are a number of problems with this claim. First, there’s reason to believe that the rockets Israel intercepted were not actually from Iran. If you haven’t followed the story, on November 10 Israel’s Foreign Ministry published pictures on its website purporting to prove that the munitions it intercepted were from Iran. But a few days later, Iran’s state news service pointed out that one of the pictures indicated that the munitions were being sent from the Ministry of the Sipah [i.e., Soldier]. But twenty years ago, the Ministry of the Soldier’s name was changed to the Ministry of Defense. Juan Cole writes:
It is tempting to speculate as to how the Israelis got the letterhead of the Iranian Ministry of the Soldier. It should be remembered that in the 1980s, Israel was allied with Khomeini and received petroleum and other goods from Iran in return for helping against Iraq. It is likely during that era of good feeling that Israel received the letterhead, and whoever dredged it back up to plaster on the goods carried by the intercepted ship did not realize that in the meantime the Iranians had changed the name of the ministry concerned.
But even supposing that the arms were from Iran, it wouldn’t follow that Iran was planning a nuclear strike against Israel. Owens points out that “nuclear warheads fired into Israel from Syria, from Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, or by Hamas terrorists in Gaza or the West Bank could decimate Israel without the telegraphed punch of a long-range missile launch from Iranian soil.” True enough—but the arms shipment did not contain nuclear warheads; nor did it contain material that could be used to make nuclear warheads!
Now I imagine that I hate Iran’s leaders every bit as much as Owens does. I believe that, with few exceptions, they’re evil men, and I’d love nothing more than to see the Green Revolution prevail. But as evil as Iran’s leaders might be, I see no reason to believe that they intend to attack Israel. These men are evil, not suicidal, and they know that a nuclear strike against Israel would result in their own destruction.
Owens can write all he wants that Ahmadinejad is “not interested or deterred by earthly interests,” that he believes nuking Israel “could create the cataclysm that would usher in the return of the Hidden Imam to save the world”—but, again, there’s no evidence for these assertions. Which, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that Owens is wrong. It’s possible that Ahmadinejad really is intent upon nuking Israel. It’s also possible that, behind his toothy grin, Ahmadinejad is really a reptilian space alien who’s come to earth to eat up all our rats. Lots of things are possible. But until Owens can demonstrate that he can actually read Ahmadinejad’s mind, I think it’s best to stick to the evidence.