A date with destiny

Ahmadinejad's August 22 nuclear incentives deadline is pregnant with religious meaning.

Ahmadinejad badass2  298 (photo credit: AP)
Ahmadinejad badass2 298
(photo credit: AP)
Iran has signalled it will issue its official answer to international demands that it halt its nuclear program today, August 22. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested that Teheran would present a "multi-faceted response" to a Western package of incentives in exchange for freezing its uranium enrichment activities. Looming in the background is a threat of international sanctions if Iran does not halt these activities by the end of the month. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday that Teheran would not stop its pursuit of nuclear technology. "The Islamic Republic of Iran has made its own decision and in the nuclear case, God willing, with patience and power, will continue its path," Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also insisted that his country would not back down from its nuclear goals, and hinted that its response today would be dramatic. A senior US official, Nicholas Burns, said last week that "there is a greater concern about the role of Iran in the Middle East than ever before." But he brushed off the August 22 deadline for Iran's response as "a mythical date." Asked to comment, an Israeli official said that while Iran posed a real threat to regional and world stability, he saw no sign that today would mark a "strategic turning point." The date chosen, however, is pregnant with religious meaning, as noted by Princeton's Middle East scholar, Prof. Bernard Lewis: "This year, August 22 corresponds in the Islamic calendar to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Burak, first to 'the farthest mosques' usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back." "This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world," Lewis wrote, hastening to add: "It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for August 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind." The date also coincides with the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin, and according to Islamic tradition, it is when Imam Mahdi is expected to return to earth, heralding a new period of justice. Conspiracy theories aside, it is apparently no coincidence that Iran chose this time to conduct large-scale military maneuvers it dubbed "The Blow of Zolfaghar" referring to the holy sword of Imam Ali. As part of what it terms its "new defensive doctrine," Iran on Sunday test-fired a new missile, with a range of up to 250 kilometers, named the Saegeh ("lightning" in Farsi). Coming on the heels of Israel's war against Hizbullah and ahead of an Iranian showdown with the United Nations over its nuclear program, the war games must be taken very seriously by the international community. The war in Lebanon was itself a test for Iranian arms. Iran is the primary sponsor of Hizbullah, just as it is of Hamas. The Iranian president came across in his recent interview with CBS's Mike Wallace as a dangerous clown, at times reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's satire of Hitler, The Great Dictator. Yet with all the snickers and smiles, he is not a funny man, and if Israel has one major adversary today, it is personified not by Hizbullah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah or Hamas's Mahmoud al-Zahar, but by their patron and puppeteer. The former mayor of Teheran has made many enemies with his denial of the Holocaust and calls for Israel's destruction, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a former mayor himself, topping the list. According to Muslim legend, a divine light enveloped Jerusalem and the rest of the world during Muhammad's night flight to al-Aksa. Ahmadinejad's extremist ambition would plunge this region into darkness. The danger he poses is clear and becoming ever-more potent. For its own sake, the international community must thwart Ahmadinejad more swiftly than it stopped Hitler, and ensure his nuclear dream does not become the free world's nightmare.