Iran will have enough highly enriched uranium to make one or more simple gun-type atomic bombs by the end of this year.

The world intelligence community constantly underestimates Iranian progress. When Isfahan reopened in August 2005, we estimated it would take four months to solve the technical problems. By December 2005, Iran was letting the world know that the process of going from uranium ore to yellowcake to uranium hexafluoride gas had been mastered.

When Iran re-opened Natanz, we estimated that it would take Iran four months to master the technical problems to master the process of going from uranium hexafluoride gas to highly enriched uranium-235. This Iran has accomplished.

We expect the IAEA inspectors – who were just at Natanz – will release shortly their report that Iran has accomplished the first 164-centrifuge cascade needed to separate out uranium-235 isotopes.

Just because President Ahmadinejad professes his belief in the Second Coming of the Mahdi – the Shiite Islam version of the Messiah – does not mean the Iranians are stupid. Quite the contrary is true.

There are over 1 million Iranian expatriates in the United States. By and large, Iranian expatriates are highly educated people who achieve professional and lucrative careers in the United States and raise well-educated children in strong family structures.

Besides, Iran has over $200 million a day in oil windfall profits. With the price of oil spiking to $74 a barrel or higher, that sum will increase.

Iran’s oil industry is nationalized and President Ahmadinejad has not fulfilled his campaign promise of sharing Iran’s petro-wealth with the people. So, a huge amount of cash is available to buy whatever nuclear talent Iran needs.

Right now, Russia, China and Pakistan are helping Iran solve the technical problems involved in the complex, multi-hundred cascades of centrifuges the Iranians will want to put in place.

If Iran needs a particular nuclear expert to fly into Tehran for a few days and the price tag for the mission runs into the millions, what’s the problem? Evidently President Ahmadinejad believes the return of the Mahdi depends on Iran developing nuclear weapons. The Lost Imam won’t come out of reclusion until there is an Apocalypse. Nuclear weapons are certainly what a person needs if their goal is to accomplish an Apocalypse. When the Mahdi comes back, Islam triumphs and the rightful Shiite caliphate gets established worldwide. So, what’s a million dollars spent here or there?

John Negroponte, the new U.S. intelligence czar, just weighed in and said that Iran is years away from having enough nuclear fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. That settled the issue.

U.S. intelligence got caught with their pants down when Russia developed the bomb, and then again when China developed the bomb. U.S. intelligence said Saddam Hussein had WMD. If John Negroponte says Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon, you can go to Las Vegas with the bet that Iran will be there by 2007.

Remember, Iran is not trying to accomplish any new breakthroughs in theoretical atomic physics. All Iran is trying to do is to get enough centrifuges working together, in the right sequence, to produce weapons-grade uranium-235.

This is a technical problem that many countries have already solved, many times over. Not every nuclear physicist knows how to make the centrifuge farms work, but there are thousands of nuclear technicians out there who have the expertise and are highly-qualified to help Iran.

The United States produced a simple gun-type atomic bomb in 1945. We dropped it on Hiroshima. Our scientists were so sure the weapon would work, no prototype was ever tested.

Probably, Iran can repeat that feat some 60 years later – relatively quickly. Iran could also use the weapon on Tel Aviv without testing it out first. Simple gun-type atomic weapons tend to work when competent nuclear scientists and engineers build them.

Ahmadinejad may be a religious zealot, but you can bet his nuclear experts are more than competent.

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