Is war in the Middle East imminent?
The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reported that the Islamic Republic of Iran will soon have the capacity to build nuclear warheads. Iran may already possess enough nuclear material for four bombs. It has also conducted computer modeling of nuclear explosions and developed triggering devices. It possesses missiles that can reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf. In a matter of months it could arm those missiles with nuclear warheads.
What if sanctions don’t stop Iran’s nuclear development program? A nuclear arms race in the Middle East would likely result, as Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia seek their own weapons. A nuclear Iran would shift the balance of power in the Muslim world, perhaps leading to a Soviet Union-like confederation of satellites under the Iranian umbrella. And Iran could launch a conventional war against Israel, confident that their nuclear weapons would deter the Jewish state from using their nuclear stockpile in defense.
What if Israel counters by launching a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear weapons facilities? Many of these facilities are in unknown locations or shielded in deep underground bunkers, making the effectiveness of such a strike problematic. In return, Iran could rain missiles on Israeli cities. Hezbollah, its puppet in Lebanon, could launch an attack on the Jewish state. Iran could mine the Strait of Hormuz, disrupting 40 percent of the global oil supply.
And there is an apocalyptic scenario as well – if sanctions or an Israeli strike do not destroy the Iranian program, Iran could soon launch a nuclear strike against Israel. Why would it consider such a holocaust? Because of the theology its president espouses.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran in 2005 and re-elected four years later in voting marred by widespread allegations of fraud. He has called the Holocaust a “myth” and described Israel as “the most criminal people in the world.” He consistently calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Ahmadinejad is a “Twelver”. Those in his sect comprise 70 percent of the Muslim Shia world. They believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s son-in-law, was the prophet’s proper successor, and claim that he and 11 other successors to Ali were the rightful leaders (“imams”) of Islam. They assert that the twelfth imam, Abu al-Qasim Muhammad, was hidden by God in A.D. 872 and transported in A.D. 934 to a transcendent realm. They are waiting for him to appear again at the end of history to dominate the world for Islam. They call him the Mahdi (“the guided one”); many pray to him regularly.
Why has he not yet reappeared? According to many Twelvers, he is waiting for the Muslim world to attack Israel.
When Ahmadinejad was first elected president of Iran, he immediately declared the Mahdi’s birthday, September 9, a national holiday. At his first cabinet meeting, he required every government minister to sign a loyalty pledge to the Mahdi. And he began telling Iranian leaders that the way to hasten the Mahdi’s arrival was to annihilate Israel and the United States.
Why is Israel the object of such hatred? Muslims believe that Abraham offered not Isaac but Ishmael to the Lord, making Ishmael’s descendants the true people of God. In this view, the creation of the Jewish state on May 14, 1948, was a theft of land from its rightful Palestinian owners. Since the Qur’an requires Muslims to defend Islam – “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you” (2:190) – many Muslims believe they are required to attack Israel. Since America supports Israel, we are complicit in this perceived aggression against Islam and targets for reprisal.
Now Ahmadinejad is leading the initiative against the Jewish state. When he was elected president of Iran, he claimed that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” The next year he predicted that “the Zionist regime is headed toward annihilation.” Is he now taking steps to fulfill that prediction? I travel in Israel every year and have personal contacts in the Israeli government. According to them, many Israeli leaders believe that Iran’s president would launch a nuclear attack against their nation if he could.
What does God’s word say about this existential threat?
The reason for this conflict is clear: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). This statement is especially relevant to Islam’s rejection of Jesus’ divinity. In this spiritual conflict, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). This is a battle we must win on our knees.
And so we should pray for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make Christ his Lord. I know this seems a naïve suggestion, but more Muslims are becoming Christians than ever before in history, many after seeing visions and dreams of Christ. Muslims have a high view of Jesus – the Qur’an teaches that he was born of a virgin (3:47), lived a sinless life (3:46), performed miracles (3:49), ascended to heaven (3:55), and will return at the end of history. Now he is appearing to thousands of Muslims in dreams and visions, and many are turning to him as their Lord.
If Jesus could bring Saul of Tarsus to himself, can he not reach Iran’s president? Should we not pray for this miracle? Imagine the global significance of such a conversion and its significance for the growth of God’s Kingdom.
We are instructed to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). Such intercession was never more critical for America as well.