The locations of some of Iran’s military installations in Syria, including some within 30 miles of Israeli territory in the Golan Heights, may be motivated more by Tehran’s desire to provoke an Islamic end-of-the-world cataclysm than for strategic value, contends an expert on Shiite religious dogma.
Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project argues the bases near Israel don’t pose an imminent threat of a conventional military strike or even an asymmetrical attack. But he said the motivation is rather a desire to fulfill Shia prophecy of a showdown with the Jewish state that Iran’s religious leadership believes will prompt the coming of a messianic figure, or “Mahdi.”
Iran has frequently stated its desire to destroy Israel, claiming the Jewish state is the focus of its nuclear and long-range missile program. Iran has also funneled millions of dollars into proxy enemies of Israel.
There are now some 13 Iranian military installations in Syria – some manned by Hezbollah terrorists and others by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces.
“This isn’t normal competition between hostile powers; this isn’t even the normal Iranian sponsorship of terrorism or attempts to expand their military presence,” Mauro said in a recent television interview. “To the Iranian regime this is the fulfillment of prophecy.”
Mauro pointed out that new Iranian troops are called Ansar al-Mahdi, or “Supporters of the Messiah.” And Iran has also created a 313th brigade, into which it is recruiting young Syrian Shiites. According to tradition in Shiite Islam, 313 is the number of fighters that will arrive with the Mahdi, the Islamic Messiah, Mauro explained.
Shia tradition holds that the arrival of the Mahdi will coincide with the arrival of the Christian messiah, Jesus, who will be the Mahdi’s lieutenant in fighting the Masih ad-Dajjal, the false messiah, or anti-Christ.
Shia Islam believes the Mahdi will reappear with Jesus, who will declare himself a Muslim, and kill Christians who refuse to convert. “The end of days,” according to Shia belief, will be a bloody battle, killing off two-thirds of the world population and leaving the rest to convert to Islam.
The concept of the Mahdi figures in Iranian politics. In a speech in front of the U.N. General Assembly in 2008, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left the gathered politicians aghast as he begged Allah to hasten the return of the Mahdi.
“You are not dealing with fully rational actors,” Mauro said. “You can be irrational and strategic and pragmatic at the same time, which is what Iran is doing. If you understand these prophecies, you can understand Iran.”
Mauro explained that according to Shiite theology, Iranian leadership believes it will lead the battle against Sunni adversaries, invade Israel and take over Jerusalem. He added that the recent destabilization in Saudi Arabia is a direct result of Iran’s apocalyptic agenda.
Other observers have concluded an Iranian missile fired at Mecca’s airport earlier this month was more about religion than military strategy.
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