In 30 years of studying Mahdism, I have always understood the Twelver Shi`i variety (unlike its Sunni cousin) as primarily passive. That is, since Twelvers believe that the 12th Imam slipped into ghaybah (“occultation”) in the ninth century AD, there are many things that will not happen until he returns. Like legitimate offensive jihad. In particular, I have interpreted the Twelver doctrines and politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran as aspiring to the destruction of the state of Israel–but only after Imam al-Mahdi returns to lead the holy war against the Jewish state. My thinking is summed up in a 2019 piece I wrote entitled “Do Iran’s Leaders Want to Hotwire the Apocalypse?” “Hotwire” here means to undertake violent action intended to induce Allah to send that End Times religious and political leader. My answer to this question has been “no.”
Well, turns out I was at least partially wrong. While I still think that such hotwiring is a minority view among ayatollahs, there are clearly some who support the concept. Just over a week ago, the cleric and Majlis member Ahmad Hossein Falahi advocated it. After trumpeting the alleged global nature of the 1979 Islamic takeover there, Falahi warned that “one of the main goals of the Islamic revolution has always been the annihilation and elimination of the Zionist regime. In fact, no one can talk about Mahdism and the arrival of the Mahdi without thinking about the issue [of the annihilation of Israel], because [as far as the revolution is concerned] the annihilation of the Zionist regime is one of the preconditions for the arrival of the Mahdi.”
My theory is that the Mahdist gloves are now off because the new President, Ebrahim Raisi, is the most callous and fanatical head of government Iran has had in 43 years. In fact, as I wrote last year, he is the front-runner to succeed Ayatollah Khamenei as the Islamic Republic’s next Supreme Leader. Raisi is not the sort to wait for the Mahdi to show up and do his dirty work. He’s prefer to do it himself and accept the 12th Imam’s congratulations when the latter finally appears. Now, more than ever, it’s essential that we find a way to prevent the pro-apocalypse-hotwiring leadership of Iran from developing nuclear weapons.