"[Some] analysts," writes the historian and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, "claimed the president [Barack Obama] regarded Iran as an ascendant and logical power -- unlike the feckless, disunited Arabs and those troublemaking Israelis -- that could assist in resolving other regional conflicts. I first heard this theory at Georgetown back in 2008, in conversation with think tankers and former State Department officials. They also believed Iran's radical Islam was merely an expression of interests and fears that the United States could with sufficient goodwill, meet and allay. ... Iran, according to Obama was a pragmatic player with addressable interest. For Netanyahu, Iran was irrational, messianic, and genocidal – 'worse,' he said, 'than fifty North Koreas.'"
Since the signing of the deal at the UN, hot-tempered criticisms and defences have gone into overdrive in the political, journalistic, and diplomatic spheres. Acres have been written and are still being written about the deal, making it the hottest political potato of recent years. Expert analysts such as Omri Ceren and, more recently, Joel Rosenberg have cut through the deliberate obfuscation to show the extent of the dangers the deal presents to the Middle East, the United States, Israel, and the world.
The deal's supporters insist that it will bring peace and calm to the region, while a host of denigrators -- chief among them Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu -- have exposed the enormous risks it entails. Already, a vast majority of American citizens are opposed to the deal.
Within the U.S. Congress, bipartisan opposition to the deal is high and mounting. Yet, on September 2, President Obama succeeded in winning over a 34th senator, enough that ultimate passage of the deal is a foregone conclusion. That does not, however, mean that the debate will end. In all likelihood, it will grow fiercer as time passes and true consequences become clearer to the public and politicians alike.
Recent revelations that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees nuclear developments worldwide, has agreed that only Iranians will be allowed to inspect the most controversial of Iran's nuclear sites, have raised anxieties about proper monitoring of the deal. The military complex of Parchin, where Iran is suspected of work on nuclear weapons, will be closed to outside inspection, making it certain that, if Iran decides to cheat (something it has done before), it will be able to do so with impunity. Sanctions will not be re-imposed. And, as we shall see, cheating on the deal can be justified by the Iranians who could always refer to the practice of the prophet Muhammad with the Quraysh tribe in Mecca.
Obama, his Secretary of State John Kerry, and the entire US administration are not merely behind the deal, but almost fanatically so. Many argue that Obama is more interested in securing his "legacy" as the world's greatest peacemaker (or war-creator, as the case may well turn out to be), the statesman par excellence who alone could bring the theocratic regime of Iran in from the cold and shower the Middle East with true balance in its troubled affairs.
To bring this about, Obama has had to diminish, if not leave totally open to obliteration, American support for Israel, the single country in the world most clearly exposed to a possible genocide should the Iran's Islamic regime choose to exterminate it, as it has so often threatened to do.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's words mellal-e Eslami bayad Esra'il-ra qal' o qam' kard – "the Islamic nations must exterminate Israel" -- have been given renewed vigour now that it is highly likely that Iran, evading serious inspections by the IAEA, will soon possess the weapons to do just that.
Even if the treaty is a done deal, it is time to show yet another massive hole in the administration's strategy. Already, Obama, Kerry and the tightly knit administration have shown themselves remarkably obdurate in turning a blind eye to the many concerns that surround the deal. At the end of the "sunset period," if not sooner, Iran gets to have, legitimately, as many bombs as it likes. Other problems include breakout times; centrifuge production; centrifuge concealment; uranium enrichment by stealth; refusal to allow the IAEA to inspect military sites; the acquisition of intercontinental ballistic missiles -- presumably to be used intercontinentally at guess who. It is no secret that the hardliners in Iran still speak of America as "The Great Satan" and consider it their enemy. That does not even include the implications of lifting sanctions on, and paying billions of dollars to, the world's main sponsor of terrorism.
As Michael Oren has shown, however, the American president presumably thinks he is doing a deal with a logical and pragmatic regime. Barack Obama, an intelligent, well-read man of Muslim origin, knows almost nothing about Islam; that is the greatest flaw in the Iran deal he has fought so hard to inflict on the human race. With access to platoons of experts, to some of the greatest libraries with holdings in Islamic doctrines and history, and with the Mullahs and Iran's public still daily promising to destroy America, Obama apparently still believes Islam is a religion of peace and that a theocratic, terror-supporting, medieval regime should have the power to make nuclear bombs. The obverse is that he might like, perhaps not wittingly, to see America, Israel and the West brought to their knees.
This author has previously exposed one aspect of Iran's serious lack of logic, rationality, or pragmatism -- namely the extent to which apocalyptic thinking, messianic prophecy, and dreams of Islamic transcendence through universal conflict pervade the clerical elite, a high percentage of the masses, and even the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. One might assume that this would be especially true when they are flush with cash and nuclear weapons, and the risk to their own survival is substantially lower.
On August 17, just over a month after the signing of the nuclear deal, Iran's Supreme Leader, 'Ali Khamene'i, addressed a religious conference, where he expressed his undying hatred for the United States. He said, for example:
We must combat the plans of the arrogance [i.e. the West, led by the U.S.] with jihad for the sake of Allah. ... jihad for the sake of God does not only mean military conflict, but also means cultural, economic, and political struggle. The clearest essence of jihad for the sake of God today is to identify the plots of the arrogance in the Islamic region, especially the sensitive and strategic West Asian region. The planning for the struggle against them should include both defense and offense.
The deal has done nothing whatever to stop military threats to Israel, an ally of the United States (though treated with disrespect by America's president). Speaking on 2 September, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp's top commander in Tehran province, Brigadier General Mohsen Kazemayni, stated that, "... they [the US and the Zionists] should know that the Islamic Revolution will continue enhancing its preparedness until it overthrows Israel and liberates Palestine."
There is a simple word for this: warmongering.
Why is the U.S. President insisting on a bad deal with a warmongering regime?
When a military force at its strongest fantasizes about the coming of a Messiah (the Twelfth Imam) to lead them to victory over all infidels, talk of logic, rationality and pragmatism seems acutely out of touch with reality.
Obama's assumption that there is something solid about the Iranian regime that makes it suitable as a recipient for such largesse and the chance to enrich uranium until kingdom come seems to be based on false consciousness. The regime has been in place for almost forty years, quite a respectable time for a dictatorship. In part, that has been because it has mastered the art of suppression, giving its people a degree of freedom that is missing in several other Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, or Afghanistan. These partial freedoms, especially for young people, lull the population into risk-averseness, possibly helped along by the memory in 2009 of pleas for more freedom, which the United States ignored and the mullahs savaged.
Obama, in his ongoing attempt to portray Islam as benign -- and a dictatorial regime as a sold basis for peace and understanding in the Middle East -- ignores the religious element of the theocracy, as well as the sadistic repression, and in doing so misses a lot.
First of all, Shi'ite Islam is different from its Sunni big brother. It is deeply imbued with features largely absent from Sunni Islam. The most important Shi'i denomination is that of the Twelvers (Ithna' 'Ashariyya), who, from the beginning of Islam, have believed themselves to be not only the true version of the faith, but the group destined by God to rule in its name. Beginning with 'Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet and the fourth Caliph of the Sunnis, the Shi'a began as his supporters. (Please see the Appendix that follows this article: it contains material that even Barack Obama and his advisors need to know; without it, they simply will not "get" what the ayatollahs are about. It comes to an important conclusion that has considerable bearing on today's events -- and not the one you may expect.)
Beneath the smiles and banter lie the unsmiling masks and the taqiyya-flavoured lies. Beneath the wheeling and dealing and the refusals to compromise lies a sense of destiny for the regime, a belief that it stands on the brink of the realization of the centuries-old Shi'ite dream: that God will finally set his people on the pinnacle of the world and usher in the never-ending reign of the Imam Mahdi, with all injustice gone, the martyrs in paradise, the ayatollahs and mujtahids and maraji' in glory, and all the infidels in hell.
It is precisely because Barack Obama and his aides have never got down and dirty to take in hard information that they have remained utterly out of touch with the real springs and cogs of Iranian Shi'ite thinking.
Obama has, when all is said and done, let himself be deluded by the charm offensive of Hassan Rouhani and his henchman Javad Zarif. Obama may not believe in the mystical land of Hurqalya or the white steed on which the Twelfth Imam will ride to the world's last battle any more than you or I do. But the clerical elite of Iran, and those who follow them blindly -- men and women brought up from birth on these tales, and who travel in the thousands every day to send a message to the Imam at the Jamkaran Mosque near Qom -- believe these things with absolute devotion, and that is why this story matters, because it has political consequences.
Shi'i Muslim law enshrines jihad, holy war, as fully as does Sunni law. For Sunnis, jihad has always been possible under the authority of a Caliph, whether fought under his orders or led by kings and governors under his broad aegis.
The Shi'a, however, do not recognize the Caliphate and have often been the victims of Sunni jihads. They may feel impelled to fight a holy war, but under what authority could they do so?
The power of the clergy had waned under the anti-clerical reign of Iran's Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979), only to burst out more strongly than ever in the Islamic Revolution, which placed all authority in a new system of government: rule by a religious jurist, a faqih. Overnight, a jihad state was brought into existence; a jihad state with vast oil reserves, modern military equipment, and, at first, the support of almost the entire Iranian population. The clerical hierarchy under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did not just intend to prepare the way for the coming of the Mahdi. They were now his earthly deputies, in whose hands lay life and death for millions.
The new Shi'ism allowed the clergy to take on powers they had never imagined. More and more economic and legal power came to be concentrated in the hands of a narrow body of scholars, and sometimes a single man could be the source of religious and legal authority for the entire Shi'i world -- in Iran, Afghanistan, eastern Arabia, Bahrain, and so on. Thus were the foundations laid for the revolutionary rank of Supreme Leader, taken by the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamene'i.
Look for a moment at the preamble to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You will see quickly that this does not read like any other constitution you have seen. The preamble sets the tone. Here, in an account of the circumstances leading to the revolution we read of the clergy as the ruhaniyyat-e mobarez, "the militant or fighting clergy." These are not Anglican vicars at their prayers or rabbis studying Talmud. A mobarez is a warrior, a champion, a fighter. Not far down the preamble, one encounters a description of their struggle as "The Great Holy War," jihad-e bozorg. We are not in Obama's world of logical and pragmatic striving for political and diplomatic coherence. This is made even clearer in one of the constitution's earlier articles, "The Religious Army." Here, we read that the Iranian Army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps "have responsibility... for a religious mission, which is Holy War (Jihad) in the path of God, and the struggle to extend the supremacy of God's law in the world."
How do you reach a compromise and a pragmatic deal with a regime that thinks in this way? Are the U.S. administration and the P5+1 blind to something the Iranians have never even bothered to conceal? Do they really take everything in the talks at face value? Perhaps they think references to jihad and fighting clergy are nothing more than pious talk "for domestic consumption," as they tried to explain -- as real and everyday as the myths and legends of other faiths. If they do, then they have far less excuse for their blindness, for the Iranian regime is already at war and is already fighting its jihad.
In Iraq, for example, a country with a majority Twelver Shi'i population, Iranian-backed militias have been at war for many years, first against the Americans, then the Sunnis, and now the hordes of Islamic State. In June 2014, Grand Ayatollah al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling on Iraqis to fight against Islamic State, justifying their fight as jihad wajib kafa'i: a Jihad that is compulsory for those who choose it, but not for the entire population. The ruling calls for a struggle against ISIS's irhab – their "terrorism." Jihad is a religious and legal duty, and even though ISIS may call its fighting jihad, it is here condemned as terror.
Hezbollah, created and backed by Iran, is by far the largest terrorist group in the region. Hezbollah is considered a state within a state, with forces and infrastructure inside Lebanon and Syria. It has used the name "Islamic Jihad Organization" to cover its attacks on Israeli forces in Lebanon. In its 1988 Open Letter (Risala maftuha), it describes its followers as "Combatants of the Holy War" and goes on -- in terms similar to those in the Hamas Covenant -- "our struggle will end only when this entity [Israel] is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated."
Hezbollah and its creator, the Iranian Islamic regime, have a curious link to the Palestinian terror movement, Hamas, despite Hamas being exclusively Sunni. By financing, arming, and defending Hamas, Iran is fighting a strange proxy jihad that serves its own purposes of defying the West, achieving regional hegemony, and winning praise from all Muslims in the world for its own war against Israel. It also furthers the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch) in the same struggle.
I have dragged you through the briars and mud because it is important here to see another culture through its own eyes. If we insist in pretending that Shi'i Muslims think like Sunni Muslims or, worse still, like Jews or Christians -- if we brush all that history and all those doctrines under the carpet of "any deal is better than no deal " -- we will go on making the same mistakes. We will believe that a purely political and diplomatic enterprise to bring Iran in from the cold and create a new trading alliance will transform an evil regime into a land of sweetness and light.
Members of the U.S. Congress must wake up and examine, in however cursory a fashion, these views that motivate the Iranian leadership, and must stop pretending that they are as logical and pragmatic as would be convenient for the wishes of the West.
Not that Obama and Kerry have ever sounded logical or pragmatic in how they have approached this debate and this deal-making process. In an act of supreme folly, the White House has dismissed Ayatollah Khamene'i's recent call for "Death to America;" they pretend it is just empty rhetoric for the Iranian people.
Left: Senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, speaking on July 17 in Tehran, behind a banner reading "We Will Trample Upon America" and "We defeat the United States." Right: Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, proclaims "Death to America" on March 2.
We are walking with a blindfold toward sure disaster. Forget the dreams of a Messiah if you will, but do not for one moment let yourself be lulled into thinking that only ISIS is serious about waging a jihad.
Despite their oft-expressed delusion that "Islam is a religion of peace," President Obama, Secretary John Kerry and other leaders are, like it or not, already engaged in a war against jihad. They have already fought it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. However much Obama wants to stand off from involvement in the jihad struggles of the Middle East, he cannot: Western states are fighting jihad, sometimes abroad, increasingly at home.
A Third World War is already taking place, a war the Islamists and Islamic states understand, but which many in the West still refuse to grasp. They are not even willing to respect the true motivations of the enemies against whom they fight. The Iran deal strengthens the hands of a regime that is the world's terrorist state, a state that furthers jihad in many places because its clerical hierarchy considers itself uniquely empowered to order and promote holy war.
Let us for the moment ignore the nuclear aspect of this deal and look instead on what it offers the world's leading jihad state. The removal of sanctions coupled with the business deals Europeans and others are rushing to secure, the delivery of perhaps $150 billion to Tehran, and the turning of many blind eyes to both Iran's internal repression and its jihad wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Gaza, and Lebanon leave the ayatollahs poised to dominate much of the Middle East.
And that is not all. Obama's belief in the stability of the Iranian regime seems to rest on its endurance since 1979. His trust in Khamene'i's presumed fatwa of 2013, forbidding nuclear weapons rests on the assumption that it even exists. It does not. No one has ever seen it. Even if the fatwa did exist, fatwas are not permanent. They are always regarded as temporary rulings with Twelver Shi'ism. This is a crucial technical point that the White House seems incapable of -- or ill-disposed to -- grasping.
Further, Obama's faith in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a reformer and moderate flies in the face of Rouhani's devotion to the hardline clerical leadership of which he is a part. Here are a few facts:
- 'Ali Khamene'i is 76 years old, but his health is poor and he may not live much longer. Already, factions within the hierarchy will be jostling for the Supreme Leadership.
- In the Usuli Twelver version of Shi'ism, once a Mujtahid dies, his fatwas are no longer valid. A new Mujtahid or, in this case, a new Supreme Leader, has to issue fatwas of his own. A new fatwa may confirm an old one or radically differ from it.
- A new Supreme Leader is an unpredictable personality.
- The Iranian nuclear program is already up and running.
- The breakout time for weapons grade materials may be as short as three months.
- Iran already has and is acquiring ballistic missiles with an intercontinental range.
- Jihad is hard-wired into the regime's philosophy.
- Iran is already conducting a series of jihad wars abroad.
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expressed a hope to return to the presidency in 2017. Ahmadinejad and his clique are bent on apocalyptic outcomes and actions to bring the Hidden Imam back to this world.
We only have to get this wrong once. Chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" are not narcotic iterations of slogans but sincerely felt expressions of intent.
Khamene'i last month praised the Iranian people for calling for the deaths of the USA and Israel, and said that he hoped God would answer their prayers because in at most ten years, the Iranian mullahs and their IRGC will possess the power to exterminate Israel, if they and their God so wish.
Why, then, is this deal going ahead at all?
Why are sanctions against the world's leading exporter of jihadi terrorism being lifted, not strengthened?
Why is one of the world's most tyrannical regimes being rewarded for its intransigence, and especially for repeatedly violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty?
Why has Israel's Prime Minister been vilified and sidelined simply for drawing attention to the weaknesses of a deal that could lead to the death of all of his people?
Why have the P5+1 never taken seriously the Shi'ite rule that it is permitted to lie to infidels and conceal one's own true intentions?
Why are secrets being kept -- such as the contents of the two side-deals?
Why is the U.S. Congress being asked to vote without the benefit of full disclosure?
Why is the IAEA banned from spontaneously inspecting only declared Iranian nuclear sites, and why are military sites completely off-limits?
The questions are so many and so critical that we remain in the dark about where this will lead mankind. No one who has ever done a financial or political deal would ever sign on the dotted line until they had answers to all their questions. Far more hangs on this deal than perhaps any deal in history. Yet those who want to make it enforceable under international law are uninformed about the most basic contents of the deal, as well as the beliefs and historical roots of their enemy.
Such folly is almost without precedence, except possibly in the process of appeasement that endeavoured to placate the Third Reich and treat Adolf Hitler as the best friend of democracy.
The Iranian regime not only despises democracy, it considers all Western law -- including international law -- invalid. This view has several deep roots. For both Sunni and Shi'i Muslims, only rule under God is valid, under a Caliph or a clerical theocracy under a Supreme Ruler. Human beings have no right to interfere. Democracy leads to the making of human laws that may contradict shari'a law, and such effrontery is considered arrogant and presumptuous. The democratic elements in Iran are tightly controlled, and supremacy rests in all areas beneath clerical authority. The same principle applies to international law, UN resolutions, treaties and so forth.
Iran has openly genocidal intent, as well as a devotion to holy war that goes to the very deepest level.
Before we leave the subject of jihad, there is one other factor that everyone has overlooked. It is the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the most important agreement in early Islamic history. In the year 628, Muhammad, now ruling in Medina, signed the ten-year Treaty of Hudaybiyyah with his long-time enemies, the tribal confederacy of Quraysh, who ruled Mecca. Twenty-two months later, under the pretext that a clan from a tribe allied with the Quraysh had squabbled with a tribe allied to the Muslims, Muhammad broke the treaty and attacked Mecca, conquering it.
What is important about this is that Muhammad had made the treaty while he was still relatively weak. But in the months after signing it, his alliances and growing conversions meant that he now possessed superior military strength -- and that was when he pounced.
In 1994, the treaty became crucial to the issue of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In September 1993, Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat signed the Oslo Accords along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the following year the two leaders were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
However, even as he awaited that prize, Arafat spoke at a mosque in Johannesburg alluded to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and referred to "a jihad to liberate Jerusalem": "I see this agreement," he said, "as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca."
Non-Muslims may well have misunderstood this as a reference to some early Muslim peace-making. But Arafat made his meaning clear: "We now accept the peace agreement, but [only in order] to continue on the road to Jerusalem."
The nuclear deal that President Obama and his supporters have imposed will strengthen Iran considerably, removing sanctions and delivering perhaps $150 billion to the country. It is as certain as day follows night, that the Iranian regime will find a pretext to break the deal. Already, on September 3, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene'i made it clear that he would back out of the deal if sanctions were not completely removed at once.
Whatever happens in the days ahead, the U.S. Congress, backed by a majority of the American public, needs to strike this madcap deal down before it wreaks a storm of tribulations on everyone.
Denis MacEoin has a PhD (Cambridge 1979) in Persian Studies and has written widely on Iran and its religious beliefs.
'Ali became the first in a line of twelve imams, all deemed the true leaders of Islam, but all denied their right to rule and all but one assassinated (or so it is claimed) by the Sunni Caliphs. From this comes the Shi'i sense of suffering, injustice, oppression by despots, neglect and rights -- all of which played an important part in the 1979 revolution and continue to play out across society.
The Shi'a are the underdogs who are willing to sacrifice all to establish the rights of their imams and their successors. That was what the 1979 evolution was all about, and it is what present the regime still insists on as the justification for its opposition to Western intrusion, democracy, women's rights and all the rest, which are deemed by Iran's leadership as part of a plot to undermine and control the expansion of the Shi'i faith on the global stage.
The twelfth imam, according to Shi'ite legend, was a young boy, Muhammad al-Mahdi, the son of the murdered eleventh imam. Born in 869 in the Iraqi city of Samarra during the reign of the Sunni Abbasid Caliphate, his father, Hasan al-'Askari, died when Muhammad was born.
It is said that young Muhammad, in order to avoid his enemies, went into something called Occultation (ghayba). Even if this originally was physical, he was never seen alive again and is supposed to have entered the celestial realm of Hurqalya, from which he will one day return as the promised Saviour, the Qa'im bi'l-Sayf, the One Who will Arise with the Sword to do battle with injustice and infidelity.
This belief is what waters modern Shi'i apocalypticism, something promoted intensely by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This expectation has considerable significance for Iran's drive to nuclear power. But that is not why I raise the issue here. There is another, more mundane, aspect to the Imam's disappearance and continued Occultation, and it may be even more relevant to the matters at hand.
The answer to what authority they could fight under was that only the Imam in each generation could order or lead jihad. But when the twelfth Imam vanished from human sight, was jihad to remain in abeyance until his return or could it be fought under another authority? The answer was not at first simple, but one thing started to happen: the Shi'a began to consider their religious scholars to be the intermediaries with the Imam, and this laid the basis for the possibility that they might have the right to order jihad. For some time, this was just conjectural, for the Shi'a had little worldly power.
In 1501, a new dynasty, the Safavids, came to power in Iran, forced most of the population to convert to Shi'ism, and created a line of kings under whom the clerical class became more and more powerful. The Shah could still lead jihad, but the clergy were needed to give permission. The Safavid dynasty lasted till 1722, and an interregnum was followed by the emergence of a new line of Shahs, the Qajars, who ruled from 1796 to 1925.
Under the Qajars, the Shi'i clerical hierarchy underwent deep and lasting changes, producing today's version of Twelver Islam, the Usulis.
The newly powerful 'ulama of the 19th century took on the mantle of deputies for the Hidden Imam and ordered jihads in 1809 and 1826 (against Russia), 1836, 1843, and 1856-7 (against the British). In 1914, when the British occupied Iraq at the start of World War I, the Shi'i clergy in the shrine centres there declared jihad to reinforce the call for Holy War by the Ottoman empire.
 As in Khomeini's theory and book, Velayat-e Faqih, the Custodianship of the Jurisprudent.
 For a detailed discussion of the treaty and its implications for making peace with Muslims, see Daniel Pipes, "Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad's Diplomacy," The Middle East Quarterly, September 1999, pp. 65-72.