The Night Journey

Back some months ago, before there was a war in Lebanon, one of the key concerns in the Middle East outside of Iraq was Iran’s nuclear program. European nations offered a juicy incentive package to Iran in exchange for a promise not to enrich uranium for military purposes. After much filibustering on the part of Iran, that nation responded to the West’s demand for an answer by June 29. They responded by setting their own deadline, August 22. Having no choice but to wait an additional couple of months for the results of Iran’s prolonged pontification, the world did so. In the meantime, focus shifted away from that story and to an escalating conflict in Lebanon. Iran then was only mentioned in the context of being the backer of Hizballah, the protagonist in the Lebanese conflict. The nuclear issue was temporarily forgotten.

Now a very tenuous cease-fire has been implemented in Lebanon. The relative calm that has ensued has afforded us a chance to look at other possible newsworthy items. And just as we emerge from our month-long fixation on the war in Lebanon, it seems that Iran’s self-imposed August 22 deadline for a response to the European nuke deal is suddenly here. And there is much reason for concern.

The Assosciated Press reports that on Monday Iranian officials turned away UN inspectors who sought to observe a subterranean nuclear facility. This consitutes a breach of the Nonproliferation Treaty according to the UN. The officials called the refusal by Iran “unprecedented,” and warned that this “could seriously hamper international efforts to ensure that Tehran is not trying to make nuclear weapons.” It seems we have seen this song and dance elsewhere before in a neighboring country once run by a man named Saddam Hussein.

And to provide further concern for the implications of Iran’s announcement Tuesday is its curious concidence with a certain date on the Muslim calendar. This from

Farid Ghadry, the president of the Reform Party of Syria, has offered a provocative explanation for this delay. He asserts that the Supreme National Security Council of Iran chose the August 22 date “for a very precise reason. August 21, 2006 (Rajab 27, 1427) is known in the Islamic calendar as the Night of the Sira’a and Miira’aj, the night Prophet Mohammed (saas) ascended to heaven from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on a Bourak (Half animal, half man), while a great light lit-up the night sky, and visited Heaven and Hell also Beit al-Saada and Beit al-Shaqaa (House of Happiness and House of Misery) and then descended back to Mecca.…”

Iran has promised to provide a “multi-faceted” response to the calls for a halt to nuclear proliferation. Realistically, this is probably a highly detailed response on paper, full of minutiae that will afford Iran the luxury of quibbling with the West over every word while nuclear enrichment goes on also. However,, ever the more alarmist type, has offered a much more ominous possible scenario:

…according to Ghadry, Ahmadinejad is planning an illumination of the night sky over Jerusalem to rival the one that greeted the Prophet of Islam on his journey. What the Iranian President, he says, is “promising the world by August 22 is the light in the sky over the Aqsa Mosque that took place the night before. That is his answer to the package of incentives the international community offered Iran on June 6.”

Whatever the answer is, we shall know on Tuesday. What we know now is this–regardless of what Iran says or does Tuesday, it will continue to be a proverbial thorn in our side for some time to come.