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KELLNER: A dread come true?

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He has been called a "modern-day Nostradamus" for his novels, which seem to be ripped from the headlines — next year's headlines.

In January 2001, Joel C. Rosenberg began writing "The Last Jihad," a fictional account of a war with Iraq that followed a terrorist jet hijacking attack on America.

His second novel, "The Last Days," began with the death of Yasser Arafat and was published 13 months before the Palestinian leader died.

Both were best-sellers, and there is talk of movie deals. That's not bad for a nice Jewish-Christian boy from Syracuse, N.Y., whose previous credits involved reporting for Rush Limbaugh's newsletter.

Now Mr. Rosenberg is back with a third novel, "The Ezekiel Option," which begins with a passenger jet hijacked by terrorists crashing into Lafayette Park dangerously close to its intended target, the White House. It continues into a plot focused on the potential for nuclear terrorism.

If the Fairfax resident's past novels have been prophetic, there might a reason: Mr. Rosenberg says his writing career was inspired by his interest in Bible prophecy.

The basic plot for "The Ezekiel Option," he says, is a 2,500-year-old prophecy derived from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. It involves the emergence of an alliance of Russia and Iran against Israel.

Over lunch at the Hay-Adams Hotel, near the spot where the hijacked Aeroflot jetliner is downed in his new novel, Mr. Rosenberg prophesies a long struggle between the West and radical Islamists.

"Tragically, the war on terror is the father of many sequels," says Mr. Rosenberg, 38. "The war on radical Islam is far from over. Could an Aeroflot jet be hijacked and aimed at Washington? Absolutely. Are we better prepared? Yes."

He added, "Terror, by definition, strikes when you least expect it; otherwise, it's an insert on page A18" of the daily paper.

"Fortunately, we haven't had to shoot a jet out of the sky, but we were within 18 seconds of shooting down that Cessna," Mr. Rosenberg said, referring to the May 11 incident in which an errant private plane triggered an emergency evacuation of the Capitol and the White House.

Melding current affairs with Bible prophecy, Mr. Rosenberg's novels stick to an evangelical Christian perspective as opposed to the fanciful speculations of Dan Brown's megahit, "The Da Vinci Code."

But just as "Da Vinci" proved there is a good market for theologically themed fiction with solid action, Mr. Rosenberg's books have carved their own niche, racking up a total of 17 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Married and the father of four sons, Mr. Rosenberg previously worked with publisher and Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes, and has advised Natan Sharansky, a former deputy prime minister of Israel, as well as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some commentators have described terrorists as "disenfranchised and voiceless," but Mr. Rosenberg doesn't buy that explanation.

"They are evil, they have a voice, and we understand them — they seek our annihilation," he says. "And yet there are too many in Washington and London with a modern, secularist mind-set, that don't believe in the existence of evil, and they risk being blindsided by them.

"I'm an evangelical Christian from an Orthodox Jewish background. My grandparents escaped the pogroms in Russia," he added. "Because of my personal faith and family background, I know there is evil in the world. And I believe a new evil is rising in Iran right now."

A willingness to ignore the reality of evil has historic roots, Mr. Rosenberg says.

"It's a very American tradition to hope that a murderous ideology will not affect us," he says. "We didn't grasp this with Hitler or Stalin early on, and we ignored radical Islam for most of the 1990s, even as they were escalating attacks on us."

Although he writes in the genre of fiction, the nuclear threat from Iran and Islamist terrorists "is not just fiction; this is all too real," Mr. Rosenberg says.

Unlike some other thrillers, Mr. Rosenberg's books don't have any sex scenes or foul language. "The Ezekiel Option" is marketed by Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher.

He sees the books as serving an educational function for many Americans who, he says, are "anxious about the future of the Middle East" and want to learn more, but aren't interested in slogging through "900-page history books" to do so.

Mr. Rosenberg describes his novel-writing success as an opportunity.

"Conservatives have a chance to connect with the culture through fiction," he said, noting that others on the right, including William F. Buckley Jr. and Oliver North have written novels, while evangelical authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins scored a megahit with their "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic fiction. Other conservatives, including World magazine editor Marvin Olasky, are working on political thrillers of their own, Mr. Rosenberg added.

His three novels have sold a combined 1 million copies, but Mr. Rosenberg says his writing has received relatively little press attention.

"What's interesting is how strong sales have been without much in the way of reviews or coverage in the 'mainstream media,'" he said. After all, he asks, "How many Jewish believers in Jesus are New York Times best-selling novelists?"

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