Iran’s main designated adversaries are the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The notion of the United States as an implacable enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based on Islamist Anti-Semitic conspiracy theory according to which the US is the center of the “Jewish conspiracy” to destroy Islam. The notion of Jews and Christians being a pair of enemies of Islam is deeply rooted in literalist interpretations of Islamic literature, including prominently the Quran. Iran’s international strategy is centered on the concept of preparing for and triggering the reappearance of the Hidden Imam who according to Jafari (Twelver) Shiism has been in occultation since the 9th century CE. Jerusalem plays a central role in Jafari apocalyptic narratives and the Hidden Imam is slated to first reappear in Mecca. Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus son of Mary) is in contrast supposed to reappear in Damascus. It is also the case that the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia are the main geopolitical obstacles to Iran attaining hegemony in Islamdom and becoming a global superpower after wresting control over the oil resources of the Gulf states. Of course this is more than just coincidence as Iran due to apocalyptic theopolitics for decades has positioned itself as a strategic adversary of those three nations.
Tehran believes that by fomenting global mass violence (i.e. mass terrorism with chemical weapons) can the regime trigger the reappearance of the Hidden Imam. It would not be sufficient to stage major suicide attacks in foreign capitals as WMD according to this view are absolutely necessary in order to trigger the reappearance of the Hidden Imam. It is important to understand that the Iranian heavy geostrategic focus on taking over the eastern Arab world is founded in the belief of the importance of Mecca, Jerusalem and Damascus in the eschatological process. Yet the apocalyptic violence intended to accompany the reappearance of the Hidden Imam is envisioned to be global, indeed universal.
Iran is keenly aware that Israel and America can indefinitely defer the Iranian nuclear weapons program through repeated aerial attacks. Tehran therefore believes that it must create deterrence against repeated attacks against Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The Iraniuan calculus is to make the price for attacking the Iranian nuclear weapons program so high that the attacks ostensibly will not be repeated. The Khomeinist regime is convinced that it will prevail both regionally and globally in defeating “the satans”, including the “Great Satan”, the United States and the “Small Satan”, the State of Israel. This is both due to its belief in divine patronage and its eschatological belief that it will prevail in the great upheaval that will precede the reappearance of the Hidden Imam.
Zohar Palti, the head of the Political-Military Bureau of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and former head of the Mossad Intelligence Directorate recently pointed out that the Iranian regime is no longer afraid of the United States and that there is no deterrent against continued development of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Of course, the regime is convinced that time is on its side considering the belief that the eschatological process was put in motion already with the 1979 Islamist revolution. The Khomeinist regime believes that it takes no real risk when lashing out globally against the perceived American-Jewish “octopus”, not only because Allah is on the side of the regime but because the eschatological clock is ticking inexorably and indivertibly towards the reappearance of the Hidden Imam. For these reasons the regime does not believe that the insurrections – with air support from the international coalition that will impose a no-fly zone – will work.
It is very difficult indeed to deter a regime that is convinced that Allah is on its side and that the apocalypse is approaching. The regime often repeats that the destruction of Israel is inevitable and this is rooted in Islamic expansionist determinism according to which Islamic conquests in the distant past ostensibly prove that future Islamic conquests are “inevitable”. But why is the regime convinced specifically of Israel’s imminent end? There is a deeply held view in Islamdom that history is just and that Israel is unjust and that Israel’s very existence therefore contradicts history itself. Since history according to this view is determinist and just and will culminate in the global rule of the Mahdi (identified in the Jafari tradition with the Hidden Imam) is Islamic geopolitical expansion a matter of inevitability. Therefore is the fall of the perceived “enemies of Islam” only a matter of time and will happen until Islamic world conquest is complete and Islamdom extends throughout the entire world.
The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Khamenei holds strong apocalyptic beliefs and such beliefs are widespread in the Iranian leadership hierarchy. To outsiders, Iran lashing out with chemical weapons against major cities worldwide is certainly perceived as suicidal for the regime since this will inevitably lead to a US-led invasion of Iran if the insurrection in the Persian areas with allied air support fail to succeed. However, to Ali Khamenei and the other messianists in charge does this not carry any risk whatsoever. Iran is convinced that its successful regional expansion in past decades is in large part due to divine patronage. Since the regime has so far been successful, Tehran is convinced that it will continue to be successful indeed.
There are three main figures in Jafari eschatology, these are the Hidden Imam, Isa (Jesus) and the Dajjal who is believed to be a false messiah whom the Jews will recognize as an incarnation of God. The expectation is that Jews will be killed in large numbers in the land of Israel and hence the theological basis for the Khomeinist plan for the “annihilation of Israel”. It is important to understand that Arabia and the Fertile Crescent constitute eschatological territory where the anticipated global apocalypse will be centered and hence the Iranian geostrategic focus on Arabia and the Fertile Crescent.
Iranian geostrategy operates according to a master plan based on divine geography. However, there is also a reasoned rationale. If Iran takes control over Arabia and the entire Fertile Crescent will Iran become a superpower that will be able to temporarily stop oil production in order to cause global trouble and ensure submission to Iranian dictates. It is essential to understand that Iran operates according to what it believes is a divine plan, yet this is fashioned as a modern, nominally rational geostrategy. Despite the tactical and strategic rationalism of the Iranian regime, it needs to be kept in mind that its goals are fundamentally apocalyptic. Islamism is synthesis of traditional political Islam and modern totalitarianism with particular influences from Nazism and Communism, yet Khomeinism is distinctive from Sunni Islamism in the apocalyptic zeal that characteristizes the Jafari Islamist leadership. It is profoundly dangerous to try to rationalize fanatical unreason as do US Iran envoy Rob Malley and other academics who mistakenly view Iran as yet another rational player in international relations.
Messianism is very dangerous and has historically always resulted in tragedy and disappointment instead of the promised redemption. In the Khomeinist Weltanschauung (comprehensive worldview) is messianism enabled by Anti-Jewish genocide and global carnage. What is distinctive about Khomeinism is that Jafari Islamist leaders believe that they can trigger the return of the Hidden Imam by means of WMD mass carnage and thus put in motion the apocalyptic process. Khomeinism is essentially a Jihadist terrorist cult and the Islamic Republic of Iran is one large Jihadist terrorist organization.
It is very difficult indeed to deter such an adversary yet the Trump administration was successful in deterring the Iranian regime. The Biden administration has by means of appeasement in the past year completely destroyed the previous US deterrent posture as built by the Trump administration and the American homeland is therefore in great danger. Issuing a few threats and insinuations here and there is entirely insufficient since the basis of building an effective US deterrence posture is shrewd policy making. Deterrence is built upon credibility and without credibility there is no deterrence.
The US policy of building Plan B together with Israel and the emerging international coalition to impose a no-fly zone over Iran is combined with a continuation of the appeasement policy of endless negotiations as led by archappeaser Rob Malley. This is not credible in the eyes of Iran which does not believe American threats which they consider mere empty rhetoric. Iranian leaders ask themselves what is the strategy of the current US administration? The Biden administration has failed to dispel the lingering suspicion that it plans to continue the Trump administration plan to disengage from the Middle East and Islamdom and subcontract its great power duties there to Israel. The belief that the US is tired of the Middle East and Islamdom is therefore foundational for current Iranian regime thinking. Iran believes that by attacking America, it can push the United States to completely retreat from Islamdom. Logically speaking is the US no longer dependent on Gulf oil and hence the perceived US interest to disengage from the region. Since the Iranian regime believes that the US intends to disengage from Islamdom do the Khomeinists not consider the US threat of an invasion of Iran to be credible.
Iran believes itself to be involved in a war of nerves where the US issues ostensibly empty threats to deter Iran. The current struggle is therefore as to who will deter and who will be deterred. Tehran believes that the side that successfully deters will prevail. For Iran is lashing out with chemical weapons against major cities worldwide – in countries perceived to be pivotal to the imaginary worldwide “Jewish conspiracy” to destroy Islam – part of reinforcing its deterrence posture. This reflects sophisticated policy making on the part of Tehran. Iran’s aggressive strategy is a coin with two sides as it constitutes both rational national geostrategy and irrational apocalyptic plan, all integrated into one whole.
Iran is well aware that US threats are designed to pressure and intimidate Iran into concluding a nuclear agreement with the United States, something which the Khomeinist regime does not consider to be consistent with the economic and nuclear interests of Iran. Why would Iran put limits on its nuclear weapons program when sanctions relief would only bring marginal benefits to the Iranian economy? When Iran says that it demands guarantees that an agreement with the US will not be abrogated by a future American president, it is absolutely serious. This is why the JCPOA is brain-dead and why Iran is uninterested in concluding a new nuclear agreement with the United States. The US is not credible as a treaty partner for Iran and no amount of appeasement by Rob Malley will help in this regard. The international markets are well aware that the next Republican administration will rescind any nuclear agreement with Iran and reimpose sanctions and so international companies will therefore neither trade with Iran nor invest in the country.
Ali Khamenei is intensely suspicious of American intentions as he believes that US strategy is fundamentally influenced by “the Jews” whom he as other Muslim Anti-Semites consider to be inherently treacherous and cowardly. These two terms encapsulates the Iranian view of the Biden administration in Iran believing that the perceived “weakness” of the Biden administration is a consequence of Jewish “treachery” and “cowardice” against Iran. The Biden administration needs to internalize that appeasement will not work, not only because of Iran’s irrational impulses but importantly because the US has nothing to offer Iran in economic terms since the US government cannot oblige future presidents.