He challenges the largest superpower on earth, threatens a regional superpower with annihilation, and mocks international efforts to keep tabs on his nuclear program. Where does the unswerving confidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad come from?
To whom did Ahmadinejad refer to when he told the United Nations in September: "I emphatically declare that today's world, more than ever before, longs for… the perfect righteous human being and real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet. Almighty God… make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause. "
According to Shiite Islam, the twelfth Imam, named Mahdi, is the awaited messiah who will establish the rule of Islam around the world – following a massive war during which Islam's enemies are expected to be decimated. Iran's official state websites are filled with information about the Islamic Republic's messiah.
"Imam Mahdi was unseen from the eyes of common people and nobody could see him except special group of Shiites... After the martyrdom of his father he was appointed as the next Imam. Then he was hidden by God's command and he was just observable by the special deputies of his own," the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting website declares.
'One strike to end infidels'
Iran's state broadcasting website also contains a special hadith (tradition) prayer, to be recited on the birthday of the Mahdi: "Today is Friday, a day you are expected to come; the faithful will be free of cares and troubles when you shall arrive, and with one strike shall put an end to the intrigues of the infidels."
Speaking to Ynetnews, Professor Raymond Tanter, one of the authors of the forthcoming book 'What Makes Iran Tick,' which explores the Shiite Islamist ideology of Iran, said there was no questioning the belief of Iran's leaders in the coming of the Mahdi.
Tanter, President of the Iran Policy Committee, a Washington-based organization comprised of former officials from the White House, State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence services, said: "The Iranian leadership, particularly Ahmadinejad, welcome the apocalyptic vision of the return of the hidden Imam. And all the strains of Islam believe in the eventual return of the Mahdi, also known as the twelfth Imam, or the Shiite messiah. After a period of great destruction, once the forces of evil are defeated, the so-called twelfth Imam is supposed to reign over a period of great prosperity."
"When Ahmadinejad was mayor of Tehran, he set up an urban renewal program that would make it easier to facilitate the Mahdi's return. He created passageways and roadways that would allow the Mahdi to return triumphantly. He operationalized this concept," Tanter added. The Iranian president did not view himself as the Shiite messiah though, according to Tanter.
'Man of a thousand bullets'
"Ahmadinejad was called the man of a thousand bullets. Because he would give the last bullet for someone who has been tortured, and primarily executed by firing squad. Ahmadinejad's role was to put the last bullet in, in case the person was still squirming. After a thousand people had been killed, supposedly he said, he had it with that particular job," Tanter said.
Tanter noted Ahmadinejad's comments after a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2005, which he also concluded with a call for the Mahdi to return. After the speech, Ahmadinejad said that "the hand of God had held all of them" in a hypnotized-like state, and had "opened their eyes and ears."
"Before the return of the Mahdi, there must be a suitable representative to govern in the Mahdi's place," Tanter explained.
"They are ruling until the Mahdi comes. That is the justification for Khamenei to rule," he added.
Tanter said that "most of the ayatollahs in Iran don't buy this, that you can facilitate the return of the messiah," adding that Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah probably "doesn't take it that seriously."
"Ahmadinejad is taking steps well beyond the rest of Islam," he said.
Messianic nuclear weapons
"There is a link between Iran’s nuclear weapons program on one hand, and its ideology of trying to facilitate a cataclysmic event to hasten the return of the Mahdi. As a result, no conceivable positive or negative incentives will influence the leadership of the clerics and the revolutionary guards from acquiring nuclear weapons. They need nuclear weapons in order to facilitate the ideological precepts of the return of the Mahdi," said Tanter.
"The process of diplomacy as far as Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are concerned is to prevent sanctions that would constrain the nuclear weapons progress, and to that extent Iran has done well to drag out this process," he added.
Citing realist arguments that Iran needs nuclear weapons "to deter neighbors in a tough neighborhood," Tanter said such views were misguided. "These nuclear weapons are tied to the return of the Mahdi, and no one says this," he says.
An excerpt from 'What Makes Iran Tick' left no doubts over the authors view of Iran's intentions: "Just as it is in the nature of the scorpion to sting, so it is in the nature of the ayatollahs ruling Iran to establish an Islamic empire and destroy Israel."
It continued: "Toward these ends, the regime pursues nuclear weapons, subverts Iraq, and supplies money and arms to Islamist terrorist groups like Hizbullah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad… The deliberate initiation of war with Israel in July 2006 by Hizbullah, most probably at the direction of the Iranian regime, confirmed the worst fears about Ahmadinejad… a nuclear-armed Iran the single greatest security threat to the international community in general, and to the United States and Israel in particular."