The mounting tensions with Iran over its nuclear program are already bad enough if one had only real-world security issues and the eternal competitions between nations in mind. The Iranians have very real reasons for wanting the bomb, top among them the fact that it seems to offer the only effective protection against America’s otherwise unstoppable power. This is the lesson they no doubt have learned from the contrasting cases of North Korea and Iraq/Libya where a lesser power has been able to deter American arms through the possession of nuclear weapons, whereas, the regimes of Iraq and Libya, having abandoned their nuclear programs were overthrown by the US and its allies.
The strategic reasons for the Israelis not wanting Iran to have the bomb are equally obvious. A nuclear armed Iran would indeed be the biggest strategic threat Israel has faced, and therefore, they reasonably will do everything possible to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons. The Arab regimes similarly fear a nuclear armed Iran, and the US which ostensibly is committed to the defense of these regimes and Israel, fears the instability a nuclear Iran would bring to an already unstable region.
All sides in this dispute are therefore acting within the reasoned limits of national interest, though deeply conflicted interest they are, and it is already difficult to imagine the situation not being “resolved” by war, which, sadly, is far too often the final form of “negotiations” between states.
But to all this is also added a religious element, on both sides, that feeds belligerence and a distortion in the ability of states to make rational decisions as to the question of whether or not to go to war.
An influential minority in the Iranian government, appear to be applying an apocalyptic logic to current events, and see in the threat of war which would devastate the country, instead the promise of the return of the promised 12th Imam, the Mahdi, of the Shia branch of Islam, who will return after a period of tribulation to rule- alongside Jesus- and fill the world with justice.
Although Judaism , too, has a version of the end times, it is probably not the main root of the apocalyptic logic also driving Israeli policy. For what lies behind Jewish end of the world anxieties is the very real historical experience of near extinction in the Holocaust. This fear of being totally destroyed as a people, this idea that any threat faced with courage and unyielding strength, is akin to a victory against evil itself, makes the Jewish polity find the normal condition of strategic competition between states unacceptable, and blinds it to the possibility of finding a permanent modus vivendi with countries in the region that are destined to not merely to be the equals of Israel, but the true, natural great powers of the Middle East.
On the American side, although only really so far as the Republicans are concerned, the influence of Christian fundamentalist, has turned Israel into a kind of sainted kingdom whose interests are of equal weight, indeed over-ride, the national interest of the United States. For Christian fundamentalist, the existence of Israel is the key component in their own ideas regarding the end of days. Israel will be the scene of world war and the emergence of world government under the Anti-Christ until the triumphant return of Christ. Judaism itself will, thereafter, be no more, with all of the “good” Jews converted to Christianity.
Some Christian fundamentalist (even a guy who has worked for the CIA) see the Shia Madhi as a “mini” Anti-Christ who will bring the conditions for his more powerful successor to come. The countdown has begun.
All of this is, of course, crazy. And that’s the point. The strategic questions facing Iran, Israel and the United States are almost too complex and difficult to begin with, and added to all of it is the crazed logic of apocalypse.