The 15th day of the Muslim month of Shaban fell on Saturday. It is one of the holiest days in the Shi'ite calendar, the birthday of the 12th Imam, or the hidden savior known as the mehdi. His return at the end of history is to herald a messianic era. Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a devotee of the hidden imam. The Iranian leader has spent a fortune refurbishing the Jamkaran mosque, a shrine outside Teheran dedicated to the mehdi. At 7:06 p.m. Saturday, Ahmadinejad commemorated the Imam's birthday by having an entirely Iranian-manufactured satellite, the Omid (Hope), launched into space. The event was also meant to underscore what Iran can achieve despite being "under heavy sanctions" as the Iranian media put it. Iran's military, too, noted the significance of the launch date, "On the birth anniversary of the last Imam of Shi'ites, Hazrat Mahdi (May God Hasten His Reappearance), thus illustrating the auspicious name of the Imam in space." Such messianic references may be lost on Westerners. That does not make them any less consequential. SATURDAY'S launching may also have been intended to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran's nuclear facilities as well as announcing that Iran was already a regional power to be reckoned with. Geography is sometimes even more consequential than ideology. Russia was a major power under the czars, communists, and is now resurgent under the popular autocrat, Vladimir Putin. Persia once swept westward into the Middle East building an empire that encompassed Egypt, Babylon, and the Greek colonies in Anatolia. Its ruler, Cyrus (circa 539 BCE), granted Jews the right to rebuild their Jerusalem temple demolished earlier by Nebuchadnezzar. Alas, Iran's present-day leader has other plans for the Jews. Were Teheran to achieve regional hegemony the consequences would be profoundly destabilizing. For the mullahs are fueled not just by geography, politics and nationalism, but by a sense of invincible messianic imperialism. Their ambitions may well extend beyond our region. THE DIMINUTIVE 20-kilogram Omid satellite is of minor concern to Israeli observers - one called it "space junk." And it will take a while for analysts to determine whether the satellite has achieved a stable orbit. If not, the effort will be judged a failure. The Safir (emissary) vehicle that carried Omid into space is an improved version of the Shihab-3, which has a demonstrated range of about 1,500 km. (930 miles) - capable of reaching Israel. But the Jewish state has long been within range of Iranian missiles. The implicit message of the latest launching may be directed at Europe: The Islamic Republic already has surface-to-surface missiles capable of reaching parts of Europe. It is just a matter of time before the Shihab-4 extends that reach even further. Iran's achievement in space also provides insight into the scope of the country's military industrial complex. Ahmadinejad boasted that 7,000 scientists and engineers were involved in the satellite project. Iran has uranium mines and facilities to enrich the mineral so as to produce a controlled nuclear reaction; it has the brainpower necessary to militarize these capabilities. It certainly appears poised to achieve the capability of placing a nuclear device on a ballistic missile. IRAN IS explicitly committed to the destruction of Israel - so Jerusalem must worry day and night about Teheran's nuclear program. At the same time, the Iranian military industrial complex is so vast, advanced and diversified as to make incredibly complex any last resort to military action. Europe and the international community, meanwhile, dawdle rather than apply the kinds of meaningful sanctions that could conceivably force the mullahs to reconsider their bellicose posture. Thus by avoiding a confrontation with Iran today, the international community is setting the stage for a far more perilous future - and not just for Israel. Is it not clear how emboldened, empowered and belligerent the mullahs already are? The threat to world peace grows exponentially with each week, each month. Either the Iranian regime must be made to go, or a strategy needs to be developed to ensure that Iran does not attain the military capability to achieve its imperial aspirations. There really are no other options.