WASHINGTON, June 3 (UPI) -- In October 2005, two months after he had become president, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- or as Jay Leno calls the tongue-twister "I'm-a-dinner-jacket" -- drew world attention when he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Denials were slow in coming. Various Iranian experts said he had been misquoted when he painted the broad brushstrokes of history when a purely Jewish state would cease to exist.
The banners in English where he spoke said, "The World Without Zionism." Below the poster was a slick graphic depicting an hourglass containing planet Earth at its top. Two small round orbs representing the United States and Israel were shown falling through the hourglass' narrow neck and crashing to the bottom.
Ahmadinejad's quote, the "Information Clearing House" informed us, was itself a quote from the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Revolution: "The Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time." The word "map" was nowhere to be found.
This week the diminutive Iranian president left no room for ambiguity. He predicted Muslims would uproot "satanic powers" and that Israel would soon disappear. The Mehr News Agency, affiliated with the Islamic Propagation Organization, quoted Ahmadinejad saying, "I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion, and betrayal, is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come, and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started."
Speaking to a group of foreign visitors ahead of the 19th anniversary of the death of founder Ruhollah Khomeini, Ahmadinejad was on another verbal roll when he added, "I tell you that with the unity and awareness of all the Islamic countries, all the satanic powers will soon be destroyed."
How is that to happen? Ahmadinejad's apocalyptic vision of the return to Earth of the Mehdi, the 12th imam of Shiite Islam (a 5-year-old boy who went into "occultation" 11 centuries ago), could be in the 52-year-old president's lifetime. But not before widespread global death and destruction. Then a bright new era for humanity would rise from the ashes, as the Mehdi returns, along with his companions, including Jesus Christ.
Ahmadinejad is a former member of Al Quds, the revolutionary guards special forces that have been smuggling mortars, rockets and components for EFPs -- explosively formed projectiles -- that fire a slug of molten metal that penetrates armored vehicles.
Alarming, too, was last week's deal that followed the Syrian defense minister's visit to Tehran. Syria's missile units are to be integrated under Al Quds' missile section.
Western diplomats who have dealt with him found comfort in the election of Ali Larijani as speaker of Iran's Parliament, who persuaded the president's candidate to step aside. An archrival of Ahmadinejad, the new speaker, in his inaugural address, praised Lebanon's Hezbollah and castigated the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Parliamentarians greeted his words with "God is great!" and "Death to America!" But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, his old negotiating partner over Iran's nuclear enrichment activities, was taken by his more restrained, Western-style negotiating stance. For neocons, this smacked of appeasement.
In any event, pragmatist Larijani was now in a position to challenge Ahmadinejad's bid for a second term. To what degree this would change Iran's still largely secret nuclear plans to become the world's ninth nuclear power is unknown. The IAEA has briefed its members on a new document in its possession -- Iran's blueprint of a nuclear warhead.
Iran's mullahs have been hard at work on their nuclear ambitions for the past two decades, assisted by Pakistan's Dr. A.Q. Khan, the godfather of his country's nuclear ambitions. Confined to house arrest by President Pervez Musharraf after he confessed to supplying nuclear know-how to America's enemies (North Korea, Pakistan and Libya), he was recently released by Pakistan's new civilian coalition government, which crashed before taking off.
Surveying the regional scene, some of Israel's staunchest American allies are visibly alarmed by what they see over the diplomatic parapet. Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, sees a Greek tragedy unfolding, which could trigger "staticide," or the destruction of the Jewish state, "with incalculably serious repercussions for the Free World in general and the U.S. in particular."
Gaffney sees nothing but the gradual regression of the Jewish state, beginning with the surrender of the Sinai to Egypt in 1974; the Oslo accords and the recognition of Palestine Liberation Organization "terrorist chief Yasser Arafat"; Palestinian control of the West Bank and Gaza; the withdrawal from South Lebanon in favor of Hezbollah; the removal of Israeli citizens from Gaza; and the abandonment of Gaza to "terrorist faction Hamas." This is no longer land for peace, laments Gaffney, but land for war.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's legal trouble over alleged corruption could lead to early elections, with a return of the right under former Prime Minister and superhawk Binyamin Netanyahu. He believes, along with a majority of Israelis, that Iran's nuclear ambitions confront Israel with an existential crisis.
The Israeli air force has fine-tuned aerial bombardments of Iran's key nuclear facilities. But these number at least 27 that are widely scattered, and built underground close to population centers. Iran would then assume that such an operation could not take place without a green light from the White House. And the mullahs' formidable retaliatory capabilities with asymmetric warfare would then target the United States and its Persian Gulf allies. Oil at $400 a barrel wouldn't take long.