Monday, just before he announced that Iran had gatecrashed "the nuclear
club", President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disappeared for several hours. He
was having a khalvat (tête-à-tête) with the Hidden Imam, the 12th and
last of the imams of Shiism who went into "grand occultation" in 941.
to Shia lore, the Imam is a messianic figure who, although in hiding,
remains the true Sovereign of the World. In every generation, the Imam
chooses 36 men, (and, for obvious reasons, no women) naming them the
owtad or "nails", whose presence, hammered into mankind’s existence,
prevents the universe from "falling off". Although the "nails" are not
known to common mortals, it is, at times, possible to identify one
thanks to his deeds. It is on that basis that some of Ahmad-inejad’s
more passionate admirers insist that he is a "nail", a claim he has not
discouraged. For example, he has claimed that last September, as he
addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, the "Hidden
Imam drenched the place in a sweet light".
year, it was after another khalvat that Ahmadinejad announced his
intention to stand for president. Now, he boasts that the Imam gave him
the presidency for a single task: provoking a "clash of civilisations"
in which the Muslim world, led by Iran, takes on the "infidel" West,
led by the United States, and defeats it in a slow but prolonged
contest that, in military jargon, sounds like a low intensity,
Ahmadinejad’s analysis, the rising Islamic "superpower" has decisive
advantages over the infidel. Islam has four times as many young men of
fighting age as the West, with its ageing populations. Hundreds of
millions of Muslim "ghazis" (holy raiders) are keen to become martyrs
while the infidel youths, loving life and fearing death, hate to fight.
Islam also has four-fifths of the world’s oil reserves, and so controls
the lifeblood of the infidel. More importantly, the US, the only
infidel power still capable of fighting, is hated by most other nations.
to this analysis, spelled out in commentaries by Ahmadinejad’s
strategic guru, Hassan Abassi, known as the "Dr Kissinger of Islam",
President George W Bush is an aberration, an exception to a rule under
which all American presidents since Truman, when faced with serious
setbacks abroad, have "run away". Iran’s current strategy, therefore,
is to wait Bush out. And that, by "divine coincidence", corresponds to
the time Iran needs to develop its nuclear arsenal, thus matching the
only advantage that the infidel enjoys.
after Ahmadinejad announced "the atomic miracle", the head of the
Iranian nuclear project, Ghulamreza Aghazadeh, unveiled plans for
manufacturing 54,000 centrifuges, to enrich enough uranium for hundreds
of nuclear warheads. "We are going into mass production," he boasted.
Iranian plan is simple: playing the diplomatic game for another two
years until Bush becomes a "lame-duck", unable to take military action
against the mullahs, while continuing to develop nuclear weapons.
do not be surprised if, by the end of the 12 days still left of the
United Nations’ Security Council "deadline", Ahmadinejad announces a
"temporary suspension" of uranium enrichment as a "confidence building
measure". Also, don’t be surprised if some time in June he agrees to
ask the Majlis (the Islamic parliament) to consider signing the
additional protocols of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
manoeuvres would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
director, Muhammad El-Baradei, and Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack
Straw, to congratulate Iran for its "positive gestures" and denounce
talk of sanctions, let alone military action. The confidence building
measures would never amount to anything, but their announcement would
be enough to prevent the G8 summit, hosted by Russia in July, from
moving against Iran.
While waiting Bush out, the
Islamic Republic is intent on doing all it can to consolidate its gains
in the region. Regime changes in Kabul and Baghdad have altered the
status quo in the Middle East. While Bush is determined to create a
Middle East that is democratic and pro-Western, Ahmadinejad is equally
determined that the region should remain Islamic but pro-Iranian. Iran
is now the strongest presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, after the US. It
has turned Syria and Lebanon into its outer defences, which means that,
for the first time since the 7th century, Iran is militarily present on
the coast of the Mediterranean. In a massive political jamboree in
Teheran last week, Ahmadinejad also assumed control of the "Jerusalem
Cause", which includes annihilating Israel "in one storm", while
launching a take-over bid for the cash-starved Hamas government in the
West Bank and Gaza.
Ahmadinejad has also
reactivated Iran’s network of Shia organisations in Bahrain, Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen, while resuming contact with Sunni
fundamentalist groups in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. From
childhood, Shia boys are told to cultivate two qualities. The first is
entezar, the capacity patiently to wait for the Imam to return. The
second is taajil, the actions needed to hasten the return. For the
Imam’s return will coincide with an apocalyptic battle between the
forces of evil and righteousness, with evil ultimately routed. If the
infidel loses its nuclear advantage, it could be worn down in a long,
low-intensity war at the end of which surrender to Islam would appear
the least bad of options. And that could be a signal for the Imam to
At the same time, not to forget the task
of hastening the Mahdi’s second coming, Ahamdinejad will pursue his
provocations. On Monday, he was as candid as ever: "To those who are
angry with us, we have one thing to say: be angry until you die of
His adviser, Hassan Abassi, is rather more
eloquent. "The Americans are impatient," he says, "at the first sight
of a setback, they run away. We, however, know how to be patient. We
have been weaving carpets for thousands of years."
• Amir Taheri is a former Executive Editor
of Kayhan, Iran’s largest daily newspaper, but now lives in Europe