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.