Damascus Countdown is the third in Joel C. Rosenberg’s “Twelfth Imam Trilogy”, following previous entries The Twelfth Imam and The Tehran Initiative, though it’s not necessary to have read either to follow the tense and often frightening scenarios of a nuclear-armed Iran. It might help to have a strong familiarity or love of the Bible, however, as the book continues the author’s heavily religious themes, coming off as a blend between Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series and a hyper-realistic Tom Clancy military thriller.
Front and center is David Shirazi, codename Zephyr, and the CIA’s most valuable undercover operative. An American of Iranian descent, Shirazi is the best there is – a NON (non-official cover agent) – and his adventures here continue his mission to thwart a potentially apocalyptic nuclear showdown between Israel and Iran. When a series of missiles begins to rain down on his country, Israel Prime minister Asher Naphtali warns the American ambassador, “if any of those Iranian missiles are carrying nuclear, chemical, or biological warheads, you’ll have the honor of being my guest as I order the Israeli missile force to turn Iran into glass.”
A successful strike against Iran’s purported nuclear facilities grounds the country’s production to a halt, but there’s still three armed nuclear warheads under the control of the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, a crazed fundamentalist who many believe has been sent by God to eradicate the Zionist threat and wipe Israel off the map. What follows is a tense and nail-biting race to keep this from happening, despite competing eschatologies that might have already spelled certain doom a long time ago.
A word of caution to those unfamiliar with Rosenberg personally or his considerable writing; the latter typically reflects and mirrors the former’s devotion to a profound religious conversion that imbues his work with end-times scenarios through Biblical prophecy, particularly those related to Christian scripture and Israel. Being a former consultant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives him immediate credibility in certain circles, especially those convinced in the inevitability of a nuclear showdown in the region. He’s been honored with a Gold Medallion Book Award for his 2006 release The Ezekiel Option, and while he writes in an engaging and often thrilling style, his work often comes dangerously close to proselytizing at times.
Indeed, there’s a disturbing trend where only devout Muslim characters experience a religious conversion to Christianity, particularly through the character of Dr. Alireza Birjandi, a preeminent scholar of Shia Islamic eschatology in this fictional world. The assumption that if the Mahdi’s plan were to come to fruition, a returning Jesus would serve as his deputy.
“We believed a lie. In our ignorance, we did not even think for a moment – for a single second – that what we had been taught might be false, that it might have been fed to use to corrupt us, to beguile us, to lure us away from the truth parth. Yet God took pity on us. In his loving-kindness and mercy, God chose us, reached out to use, decided to open our eyes and enlighten us and reveal to use the truth – that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords and that the Mahdi is a thief and a liar…There is a great spiritual awakening underway right now. Millions of Muslims are renouncing Islam and choosing to follow the true King, Jesus Christ!”
“But while Islam’s eschatology , sadly, is built on the lies and the false teachings of men, make no mistake, gentlemen, the Bible is the truth – the very Word of God.”
That such a respected member of the Islamic community, especially one so deeply embedded inside the inner circle of the cartoonish Twelfth Imam himself, could harbor such a profoundly anti-Islamic view and be so open to sharing it with fellow underlings comes off as a ridiculously underdeveloped plot point, one designed to essentially reflect the author’s own views over any sense of realism.
David Shirazi, hunkered down and facing the reality that his mission to prevent war had failed, as well as the likelihood he would never see his loved ones again, years for Biblical study to help ease his troubled mind. “He desperately wanted to read more. He had a hunger for God’s Word that he’d never experienced before. It finally made sense to him, and he wanted to lock himself away and read through the entire New Testament, even if it took him all night. But he couldn’t. Not now. His team was waiting for him, and he had to do his job.”
Damascus Countdown may be the third chapter in Rosenberg’s Twelfth Imam Trilogy (an apt terms unless he decides to write more) but familiarity with the previous books isn’t required thanks to an easy style and a handy character glossary up front. Fans of tense military or Middle East conflict thrillers should find the saga of CIA operative David Shirazi and his race to avert the Apocalyptic showdown between Israel and Iran right up their alley, though the constant barrage of too-easy religious conversions and appeals to Biblical reflection may turn off those just looking for a secular good time. If you’re willing to accept or look past Rosenberg’s religiously-indebted style then you’ll probably enjoy this fairly entertaining, if somewhat extreme, end-times political thriller.