The Iranian regime openly states that its overarching geostrategic goal is to prompt the reappearance of the Hidden Imam. Yet academic experts and intelligence analysts do tend to not pay attention to the religious dimension of Iranian decision making. Khomeinism is unique in the sense as being the only form of Islamism that is apocalyptic and believes furthermore in an engineered apocalypse. Iranian foreign and military policy is all about creating conditions conducive to the reappearance of the Hidden Imam. While sharia is subordinate to Iranian national interests, those interests are primarily conceptualized as to what is deemed conducive to the reappearance of the Hidden Imam, a.k.a. Mahdi.
One might be led to think that Iran is overly concerned with the wellbeing of Shias as seen with Iranian involvement with Twelvers in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, with Zaydis in Yemen and with the Pseudo-Shia Crypto-Jewish Alawites in Syria. However, Iran takes the side of Christian Armenia against Shia Azerbaijan and has shown no extreme eagerness to take over Azerbaijan. One might be led to assume that Armenia should be a natural Israeli ally and Azerbaijan a natural Iranian ally but not so. Armenia is the most Anti-Semitic Christian country in the world and Azerbaijan is one of the least Anti-Semitic Muslim countries in the world.
Taking over Shia Azerbaijan does not nearly top Iran’s priority list for the simple reason that Azerbaijan is not part of the Khomeinist eschatological region. One would think that the return of Shia Azeri refugees to Nagorno-Karabakh would be far more important than flooding Israel with Sunni descendants of Palestinian ex-refugees but not so.
There are three eschatological figures in Islam who are expected to appear in three different cities, all in the core Middle East: namely Mahdi in Mecca, Jesus in Damascus and the Dajjal (Deceitful Messiah) in Jerusalem. The enemy are the Jewish and other prospective followers of the Dajjal namely the perceived Jewish-American global conspiracy to destroy Islam. Traditional non-Khomeinist Twelver Shias assume that the Hidden Imam will arrive simply when Allah decides so but Khomeinists believe that they can hasten the process by creating geostrategic conditions conducive to his reappearance to the point that they actually believe that they can even engineer the coming of the Hidden Imam. Due to the locations of Mecca, Damascus and Jerusalem is the core Middle East a region of obsessive focus for the Iranian regime. Taking over this region is deemed absolutely pivotal to the Khomeinist eschatological agenda.
Muslim populations in the core Middle East whether Shia or Sunni are however merely chess pieces on the Khomeinist chess board, all for the cause of the Khomeinist apocalypse. The Iranian plan is to attain a nuclear deterrence capability that will allow Iran to attack other countries with chemical and biological weapons with full nuclear impunity. If the Iranian nuclear weapons program is destroyed will this however be seen as a sign from Allah that they should lash out anyway with chemical and biological weapons against the countries deemed central to the perceived global Jewish-American conspiracy to destroy Islam, i.e. the presumed future followers of the Dajjal. The Khomeinists believe that unleashing such a global calamity would almost certainly prompt the Hidden Imam to reappear. However, the Khomeinists are rather confident that America and Israel will not dare to destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons program.