There is "credible evidence" that Iran is secretly engaged in "activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device" according to a report from the International Atomic Energy Authority, which goes its furthest yet in suggesting Tehran has a military intent.
The detailed IAEA report, which became available last night, will fuel calls for severely tightened sanctions on Iran against a background of international concern that the alternative could be for Israel's government to order an eventual military strike on Tehran's suspected nuclear facilities.
While Israel – like the US – refrained from comment, arguing it first needed to study the report in depth, the wealth of evidence detailed by the agency is likely to strengthen long standing demands by its government for decisive US-led action to halt Iran's nuclear programme if such a strike is to be avoided.
The report outlines information, which the inspectors are unable to discount, that Iran is covertly procuring equipment and design information that is needed to manufacture nuclear arms and that it is bent on high explosives testing and detonator development used to set off a nuclear charge.
Equally credible information reaching the agency suggests that Tehran is computer-modelling the core of a nuclear warhead, carrying out preparatory work for a nuclear weapons test and making moves to install nuclear warheads on a Shahab 3 medium-range ballistic missile that can reach Israel.
While some material in the report repeated earlier findings, some of it was also new, including evidence of a large metal chamber at a military site for nuclear-related explosives testing. Yukiya Amano, the head of the agency said the IAEA had "tried without success to engage Iran in discussions about the information". But he said that "Iran continued to conceal nuclear activities", including its effort to construct a secret enrichment facility near Qum.
Earlier, Israel's Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, had kept alive the military threat and played down the consequences of any Iranian counter-attack.
Mr Barak stressed that no decision had been taken to launch a military operation, insisting that "we don't want war" and ridiculed as "outlandish" the idea that he and Prime Minister Netanyahu would drag the country into a conflict with Iran without first securing the backing of a "large Cabinet forum".
Expressing scepticism that Russia and China would agree to sanctions sufficiently drastic to halt the Iranian programme, Mr Barak added: "As long as no such sanctions have been imposed and proven effective, we continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves, not to take any option off the table."
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