During the Cold War, both sides possessed weapons of mass destruction, but neither side used them, deterred by what was known as MAD, mutual assured destruction.
Would the same constraints, the same fear of mutual assured destruction, restrain a nuclear-armed Iran from using such weapons against the U.S. or against Israel?
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There is a radical difference between the Islamic Republic of Iran and other governments with nuclear weapons. This difference is expressed in what can only be described as the apocalyptic worldview of Iran's present rulers. This worldview and expectation, vividly expressed in speeches, articles and even schoolbooks, clearly shape the perception and therefore the policies of Ahmadinejad and his disciples.
Even in the past it was clear that terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam had no compunction in slaughtering large numbers of fellow Muslims.
The phrase "Allah will know his own" is usually used to explain such apparently callous unconcern; it means that while infidel, i.e., non-Muslim, victims will go to a well-deserved punishment in hell, Muslims will be sent straight to heaven. According to this view, the bombers are in fact doing their Muslim victims a favor by giving them a quick pass to heaven and its delights -- the rewards without the struggles of martyrdom.
[T]he threat of direct retaliation on Iran -- is, as noted, already weakened by the suicide or martyrdom complex that plagues parts of the Islamic world today, without parallel in other religions, or for that matter in the Islamic past. This complex has become even more important at the present day, because of this new apocalyptic vision.
In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time -- Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.
In this context, mutual assured destruction, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, would have no meaning. At the end of time, there will be general destruction anyway. What will matter will be the final destination of the dead -- hell for the infidels, and heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, MAD is not a constraint; it is an inducement.
August 22, Lewis explains, is an important date and potentially an auspicious date for the apocalyptic end of Israel. Probable? Perhaps not. Possible? Vigilance is required.
The vast majority of us in the West and I'd imagine a good majority of Muslims as well would be horrified at the prospect of the world ending in a huge conflagration. However if Ahmadinejad and the mullahs work with a completely different paradigm - one that we can barely imagine, the closest being the mindset of a suicide bomber - then Armageddon might be closer than we think.
We can hope that Lewis is wrong and that Ahmadinejad and the mullahs simply want to be the political and spiritual heads of a new caliphate. We can also hope that the Iranian military which may have some measure of control over launching these weapons don't share this worldview. As a proactive measure we would be remiss if we did not make it abundantly clear to Iran that any attempt to unleash WMD will ensure Armageddon on them. Perhaps that may give saner elements the courage to move or prepare to move against the mullahs.