I agree with Dr. Swalis that our "experts" are failing us by not providing us with the needed intelligence that our Islamic enemies are operating under a belief that these are the End Times. We seem to be treating Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, the PLO, etc. as if they have merely geo-political disagreements with us.
Is there some way in which Twelver doctrine translates into war, with Israel in particular or infidels in general, that is distinct from current run-of-the-mill Islamic nuttiness?
It directly translates into Global War. The Mahdi is "predestined" to kill the Dajjal and his associates. The imams have been interpretting the Hadith that either 1) the Dajjal is a metaphor personifying Western Civilization and Western Culture and everyone who belongs to or identifies with the West -- or 2) that the West will be the base of power of the Dajjal, and everyone who contributes to the power of the US and her allies is de facto a collaborator with the Dajjal.
The Mahdi and his army will kill the Dajjal and his associates, and convert anyone left to Islam. Then he will govern a world-wide Islamic Utopia for an era untill Allah wraps it all up on Judgment Day.
When a Muslim says the word Mahdi, the inference is that everyone else on the planet will either convert or die.
Or, operationally if not theologically, is this guy pretty much indistinguishable from Bin Laden, etc.?
For Shi'ites, the Mahdi is the Twelfth Imam, returning after centuries of hiding. For Sunnis, the Mahdi will be the restorer of the Caliphate -- this time world-wide. Bin Laden has always been talking about the restoration of the Caliphate. He drops numerous other hints about the End Times. But OBL also often talks in terms of more "secular" geopolitics and economics.
I cannot say who particularly believes what, but I can say that for decades the Muslim world has deluged with discussion of this topic. Go do a google search on mahdi mehdi / dajjal dajjaal / qiyama qiyamah qiyamat and see what you find.
Before the appearance of the one who will rise, peace be upon him, the people will be reprimanded for their acts of disobedience by a fire that will appear in the sky and a redness that will cover the sky. It will swallow up Baghdad, and will swallow up Kufa. Their blood will be shed and houses destroyed. Death will occur amid their people and a fear will come over the people of Iraq from which they shall have no rest."Sounds like a prophecy that the Iranian Mullahs may intend to fulfill -- with some nukes