Similarly, reports in government media outlets in Tehran have quoted Ahmadinejad telling regime officials that the Hidden Imam will reappear in two years. This proved too much for one legislator, Akbar Alami, who publicly questioned Ahmadinejad's judgment, saying that even Islam's holiest figures have never made such claims.
While many Shia Muslims worship the 12th Imam, a formerly secret society of powerful clerics, now openly advising the new president, are transforming these messianic beliefs into government policies. Led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who frequently appears with the Ahmadinejad, the Hojatieh Society is considered by many Shia as the lunatic fringe. During the early years of the Islamic Revolution, even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini found their beliefs too extreme and sent them scurrying underground.
Since assuming office last August, Ahmadinejad has installed Hojatieh devotees in his cabinet and throughout the bureaucracy. The Ministry of Information and Security, largely sidelined by former president Mohammed Khatami, has re-emerged as a powerful repressive force, using plain-clothes agents, allied with paramilitary and non-government vigilantes, to crack down on potential opponents of the regime.
As the world prepares to confront an Iranian regime that continues to defy the International Atomic Energy Agency with its suspected nuclear weapons program, we must listen to what Iran's leaders say and watch what they do. A religious zealot with nuclear weapons provides a dangerous combination that the world cannot afford to tolerate.
Kenneth Timmerman is executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, www.iran.org, and author of Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.
Copyright: Project Syndicate