A top official in the Obama Administration has at last admitted what intelligence agents and Israeli government officials have been warning about for years: Iran intends to build a nuclear arsenal.
In media interviews with American television news networks scheduled to air Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said bluntly, "The Iranians have the intention of having nuclear weapons."
The statement was made just days after the discovery of a covert uranian enrichment site in Iran.
Even as the world expressed its outrage, however, Gates pointed out that there was little left to be done about it. "The reality is there is no military option that does anything more than buy time," he told CNN. "The estimates are three years or so."
In a separate interview with ABC News, he noted that Iran had engaged in "a pattern of deception and lies... from the very beginning," even as it claimed it was developing nuclear power for peaceful domestic energy purposes.
"If this were a peaceful nuclear program, why didn't they announce this site when they began to construct it?" Gates asked. "Why didn't they allow IAEA inspectors in from the very beginning?"
International leaders demanded the Islamic Republic immediately disclose all its nuclear efforts, including any programs involving weapons development, or face the consequences.
"The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions, or be held accountable to international standards and international law," said U.S. President Barack Obama following the discovery.
In a statement made at the G-20 meeting in Europe, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Obama ordered Iran to allow the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the newly revealed site.
"We will not let this matter rest," Brown said. Sarkozy noted that the G-6 had given Iran until December to comply or face additional, intensified economic sanctions.
While Iran is to meet with the U.S. and others next week to discuss its nuclear program, however, it is planning to conduct war games on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
The announcement of the drill, which will include firing missiles that can hit Israel, was made at the same time the covert uranium enrichment site was revealed.
"Allah willing, this plant will be put into operation soon and will blind the eyes of the enemies," boasted Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, the head of the office of the Supreme Leader.
The Revolutionary Guards website said over the weekend that military exercises, including the simultaneous firing of missiles at targets, will begin Sunday and last for several days.
Israeli officials do not necessarily agree that the military option would be ineffective.
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi last week politely warned the Islamic Republic that the Jewish State is prepared to defend itself against any nuclear or other attack it might launch.
"We all understand that the best way of coping [with the Iranian nuclear threat] is through international sanctions," Ashkenazi told an interviewer on IDF Army Radio. However, he added, "Israel has the right to defend itself, and all options are open. The IDF's working premise is that we have to be prepared for that possibility, and that is exactly what we are doing."