Apocalypse now?

Bloggers, analysts claim Ahmadinejad hopes to spark final inferno today to usher in Islamic messiah.

mushroom cloud 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
mushroom cloud 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The words you are reading might be your last. That is, if you believe the apocalyptic speculation of Internet surfers and Middle East analysts who claim that today Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hopes to spark the final conflagration in order to usher in the Islamic messiah. Ahmadinejad is due Tuesday to deliver Iran's response to an international incentive program offered in exchange for the country curbing its nuclear program. The date, August 22, also marks the prophet Muhammad's ascension to heaven and coincides with Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem. Bloggers were quick to jump on the connection and point to Ahmadinejad's own end-of-days inclinations, in which the Hidden Iman returns amidst the ultimate triumph of good over evil. According to the Iranian's president's beliefs, some of the virtuous on Earth can hasten that cataclysmic showdown. But they weren't the only ones to make such cosmic links. No less than prominent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis took note of Ahmadinejad's ideology and agenda in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "August 22: Does Iran have something in store?" The answer, according to Israeli experts on Iran, is no. Or at least, nothing more than saber-rattling and further defiance of the West's efforts to curb the Islamic state's nuclear program. Prof. David Menashri, head of the Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, explained that Iran had originally been given a deadline of July 13, later extended to August 31, to respond to the United Nations Security Council demands to suspend enrichment or face the threat of economic and diplomatic sanctions. While some people have pointed with suspicion to Ahmadinejad's selection of August 22 as opposed to the end of August for his declaration, Menashri noted that the day coincides with the beginning of the new month according to the Iranian calendar. Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian analyst who is co-writing a book on Ahmadinejad, acknowledged the Iranian president's messianic convictions, but said the timing of his delivery has more to do with power politics than religion. For starters, Ahmadinejad is constrained by his country's clerics, who have indicated no intention in bringing on Armageddon this week. And the leader himself, according to Javedanfar, doesn't want to be perceived as heading a "maniacal state" a la North Korea. Javedanfar maintained that Ahmadinejad simply wants to better his position on the nuclear issue and world stage - something he wouldn't achieve by attacking Israel in the immediate future. "[Today] is going to be just another ordinary day. Teheran's going to be choked in traffic like it is every other day," he said. "Teheran's unbearably hot, and I can guarantee you that's not because of nuclear reactions." According to Iran expert Menashe Amir of Voice of Israel's Farsi service, the most aggressive thing likely to come out of Teheran Tuesday would be an announcement of further progress in enriching uranium, but "nothing like an earthquake." That's quite a contrast to some of the doomsday scenarios circulating on-line, where posters have speculated on nuclear attacks on Israel, terror in the United States and general chaos being unleashed. But if the past is any precedent, mankind has little reason to be particularly concerned. Other dates on which life was scheduled to end - December 31, 1999, for instance - passed with the world at large changing very little. Then again, August 22 has witnessed some seminal historical events. It was, in 565, the first day that the Loch Ness monster was sighted; in 1654 the date Jacob Barsimson - America's inaugural Jew - first set foot in what would become New York; and, in 1969, the occasion of Elvis Presley's return to live performances in Las Vegas. Ryan Nadel and Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.