Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | June 6, 2011

Apocalypse watch

If you were wondering how things are coming along for the Ahmadinejad faction and its expectations about the 12th imam, it appears that 5 June passed without prophetic incident.  But supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei seems to have taken the “5 June” prediction seriously, at least as a potential political crisis.

The import of the predicted 5 June event, according to the Ahmadinejad faction, was supposed to be that Khamenei would become dispensable to the ongoing immanentization of the Mahdist eschaton.  It would no longer be an act of heresy or rebellion against Allah to attack Khamenei and his regime, because the Mahdi was ready to be represented in his earthly emergence by the warlike “Shoeib,” military conqueror of Jerusalem, whom Ahmadinejad conceives himself to be.

What did occur on Sunday, according to IranBriefing, was a speech by Khamenei in which he emphasized the need for unity among political factions in Iran.  The speech, given on the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, is “being interpreted [in Iran] as an implicit show of support for embattled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”:

 In an implicit show of support for Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei insisted that attacks against “forces that are loyal to the foundations of the system and Islam” are a deviation from the path of the founder of the Islamic Republic.

If this interpretation is accurate, Khamenei’s address represents an attempt to prevent the divisions in the regime from provoking a crisis of government.  A key implication of the move, however, is that Khamenei didn’t have the latitude to deal more summarily with Ahmadinejad – or didn’t want to.  But Ahmadinejad’s enemies aren’t going away.  Neither case portends an amicable resolution of the internal strife in Iran.

The stakes are high for national unity. A recent report that Iran already has two nuclear warheads seems garbled or incorrect; it doesn’t fit with previously known details about Iran’s program, although it isn’t in conflict with them either.  But the statement of a RAND Corporation analyst that Iran could have enough high-enriched uranium (HEU) for a warhead test in two months is not unreasonable (h/t The Weekly Standard).

Two months would be a “worst-case” estimate; I would consider 6-9 months more likely, for completing the necessary enrichment.  If the Iranians are already enriching uranium higher than the 19.75% purity they achieve at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, they haven’t disclosed that to the IAEA.  They may be enriching uranium to 93%+ today, operating in an undisclosed and uninspected facility, but if we assume they haven’t started yet, the likelihood is high that it would take at least 6 months to do a 2-month job.

From the information available to the public, it continues to appear that Iran has not performed a warhead detonation test (which presumably will be done underground).  If Iran is to manufacture and deploy nuclear weapons of her own – as opposed to being given such weapons by others – this step is indispensable.  If Israeli or European agencies (or IAEA) detected it, it would be hard to keep that quiet.  The strongest likelihood is that it hasn’t happened yet.

So when the RAND analyst speaks of a “breakout capability” for Iran, he means the ability to perform a detonation test and then assemble whatever warheads can be made with the HEU on hand.  Early this year, it was estimated that Iran now has enough total enriched uranium to produce 6 warheads, once the low-enriched stock is turned into HEU.

Gregory Jones, the RAND analyst, asserts that the only option we have now to prevent Iran from completing a nuclear weapon is “occupation” by the US.  With that I disagree.  Iran’s revolutionary government is deeply divided.  There are signs that tensions within it are escalating and Ayatollah Khamenei may not be able to control them.  Meanwhile, there are viable reform groups in Iran, led by experienced politicians and commanding very broad support from the Iranian populace.  Inducing the radical revolutionary regime to fall, in favor of the reform movement, would be by far the best outcome.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.


  1. Bertrand de Jouvenel would have said that whatever group replaces the current power in Iran would be unlikely to be more easy-going than the psychopathic Revolutionary Guards.

  2. jeepers, opticon, glad to see that you’ve moved beyond bombing Iran and beyond thinking that support for overthrowing the putrid theocracy doesn’t hinge upon hitting republican Guard barracks.

    Iran’s economy isn’t good, the regime is increasingly unpopular, and the sanctions and containment policy (under the administration’s veneer of cordiality) is adding to the stress.

  3. Now, fuster, you know perfectly well I’ve never done either thing. (And if you don’t, you need to work on your reading comprehension.)

    • Got Preemption? and the costs of inaction on Iran

      A Goldilocks Policy on Iran? and the suggestion that bombing Bushehr has to happen before it goes online and the West’s acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran will be essentially confirmed if Iran is allowed to bring the Bushehr reactor online.

      Hit ’em hard III – doesn’t demand that we be ready to use escalating threats of military action (and be ready and able to prove that they’re credible) to break Iran’s will to keep to their nuke weapons program?

      =====If we think only in terms of countering Iran’s methods of attack, we will be stymied and on the defensive in perpetuum. But it is also possible to think in terms of what would defeat Iran’s will to launch such attacks – to think preemptively and offensively, rather than reactively and defensively. And in this regard, Iran has a key vulnerability that does not pertain to guerrilla and terrorist forces per se: she is a nation-state.=====

      • Thank you for posting the titles, fuster. If people want to search for and read those posts, they will discover that you have mischaracterized my arguments and conclusions in them.

        • then again, they might find that I’m not too wide of the mark.

          “mischaracterized” covers an arc from a few degrees to one eighty.

    • Hi J.E. Paulite and Fuster probably live together. Okay, just kidding.
      If I remember correctly, years ago there was a little dust up off the coast of Iran featuring small Iranian boats with pop guns charging naval vessels. They grabbed some British boys for a while and made them cry.
      Before that incident ended, it was under reported that the US Navy sent a couple Tomcats to SLOWLY cruise over the only major gas refinery (on the coast) in Iran. They import most of their gas. They are very vulnerable to Direct pressure.
      Just a pointed reminder to Iran. There was no military response to the jets over flying Iranian territory.
      The very best to you. (Two a days in Norman only a few weeks away)

      • wreed — and I assume you remember why Tomcats were sent to cruise over the refinery. Anyone with an interest can look up Operation Praying Mantis, 1988.

        P.S. Two a days can’t come fast enough. They mean Realball is just around the corner.

  4. Fuster: Is it your view that Obama will not take, or give support to, any military action designed to prevent Iran from getting the bomb?

    And, if your hope for a coup does not come to fruition, what action, if any, do you see Israel taking? Or is the mutual Iran/Israel policy going to be one of mutually assured destruction?

    • DAN, it’s my view that the only military action that the US alone can take that will prevent Iran from developing nukes is pretty damn drastic, maybe a full-scale invasion.

      I don’t see that the Iranian regime actually threatens Israel with a couple of nukes as much as it would threaten the Saudis and the other GCC states.

      And do you think that Iran can pose anywhere near the level of threat that the USSR once posed on any time shorter than a several decades? Do you think that their regime will last, in present form, for even five more years?

      • So do you see the Saudis seeking nuclear weapons, in response to the Iranians?

        And do you think Turkey will also obtain such weapons?

        BTW, I think the predicted demise of the current Iranian regime is greatly overestimated. So yes I think they’ll be around for at least the next five years, and certainly long enough to make Iran a nuclear power — which itself will strengthen the regime’s popularity/staying power.

        • Yeah, the Saudis aren’t gonna let Iran have ’em without being sure that they match up.

          Last year, Clinton was talking about how that was gonna be the response and making noises about defraying it by offering to put the Saudis under our nuclear umbrella, but they aren’t gonna settle for that.

          You might be right that Iran might last out five years, but they’ll have to make some deal with us to reach that mark.

  5. “”Inducing the radical revolutionary regime to fall, in favor of the reform movement, would be by far the best outcome.””

    Interesting article, but surely a comprehensive series of airstrikes that destroyed Iran’s nuclear facilities and degraded its ability to destabalise Iraq and Afghanistan would hasten the regime’s breakdown. After all, even those regime elements opposed to either A’Bad or Khamenei (or both) are likely to stick with the status if they can turn Iran into a nuclear power and/or turn Iraq into an Iranain satellite.

    Indeed, was only after NATO forced a Sebian withdrawal from Kosovo in 1999, that the army and intelligence services began to quietly disengage from the dictator culminating in the failed attempt to rig the 2000 Serbian elections and the subsequant collapse of Milosevic’s regime shortly afterwards.

    As Shakespeare put it in Anthony and Cleopatra “‘Tis better playing with a lion’s whelp / Than with an old one dying”.

  6. Matthew Partridge — you may be right, but there is an active and widespread political opposition in Iran. The main problem with using primarily non-military means to push the fall of the current regime is that Obama is president of the United States. He has no credibility with Iran or the wider region. The US needs a more consistent, credible posture than we have any hope of under Obama, in order to achieve regime change with non-military pressure.

    That said, my preference has always been to operate through warnings, and support to the reformist opposition. For those methods to be effective, the implied force option has to be a believable threat.

    If you want to see what I wrote about the options against Iran and her nuke program in 2009, there’s a collection on the “Iran Page”

  7. Interesting – just to clarify, when you talk about an “active and widespread political opposition” do you mean:

    a) Genuine pro-democracy dissidents
    b) Mousavi/Khatami/Karroubi
    c) “Pragmatic” regime elements Larijani/Rafsanjani
    d) External groups (e.g. MEK)

    I’m not being cynical, I’m just interested in what you mean since recent press reportsd seem to be implying that the “Green Revolution” is effectively dead as a serious political force and that the divison between A’bad/Khamenei is the main dynamic.

  8. Thanks J.E. It was a larger conflict than I remembered.
    Your link is great.
    The Vincennes Captain was in a horrible situation. The Fog of War, conflicting information, seconds to act,etc….. The tragedy did happen on his watch,but
    I would have given the same order in the same situation.

  9. “Inducing the radical revolutionary regime to fall, in favor of the reform movement, would be by far the best outcome.” opticon

    A theocracy of religious fanatics do not respond to reasoned persuasion, nor economic sanctions, in fact any ‘pressure’ to move away from extreme religious orthodoxy ‘induces’ a reaction of clinging more tightly to their dogma.

    The only inducement that shall result in the removal of the current regime is that which resides at the end of the barrel of a gun. Such fanatics only relinquish power when trying to continue to cling to power is seen as a certain route to death, then and only then do they choose survival over dogma. And even then, the most fanatical will choose death because their entire world view demands it. Islamic fanatics, raised to believe that martyrdom is a certain route to paradise are especially prone to resist changes at odds with dogma.

  10. GB — I agree with you that “inducement” on the Obama model — make a long list of minor, ineffective actions, have a trumpet fanfare playing as you check them off for the cameras — won’t work against the mullahs.

    But that’s not what I’m talking about when I say “induce the regime to fall.” Reagan-type encouragement of the internal dissident movement, combined with Reagan-type discouragement of the regime, is more what I have in mind.

    It may well be that things have gone too far for anything short of summary force to having the encouraging/discouraging effects needed. Iranian expats and foreign observers believe the Green movement still has plenty of motivated, engaged adherents, and I don’t think it would be a waste of time to encourage and materially support them — but the revolutionary regime has acted much more boldly abroad in the past year than ever before, and I fear it would take a bigger stick now than it would have two years ago to send them running with their tails between their legs. (Matthew Partridge, that is a partial answer to your questions. If you haven’t read the commentary of Michael Ledeen at Pajamas Media, I can recommend it for a broader perspective on how “dead” the reform movement is in Iran. I don’t accept everything Ledeen believes as gospel, but I think he’s right that the reformists are still motivated to coalesce around the right leader(s), if the opportunity can be made.)

    Obama isn’t the guy to impress the mullahs with his firmness or determination. But that doesn’t mean they (and their opposition) couldn’t be impressed by the right US leadership. The tragedy of this situation is not that there’s nothing to be done short of starting a war; it’s that there’s nothing OBAMA can do.

  11. […] J.E. Dyer carries on the Iranian apocalypse watch at The Optimistic Conservative, with her always timely and important analysis. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: