Gates: Iran Nukes in One to Three Years, But No Delivery System

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Iran would have a nuclear bomb in 1-3 years, but lacks a delivery system.

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Eli Stutz, | updated: 10:54

Iranian missiles
Iranian missiles
Israel news photo: file

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates estimated that Iran will have a nuclear bomb within one to three years. At the same time, said Gates, Iran won't have the ability to deliver such a bomb to a target.

Gates was meeting with NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Friday. He said that the consensus in the intelligence community is that Iran lacks the know-how for a competent delivery system. That doesn't mean the concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions has dropped off. Gates admitted that "getting to the threshold of [building] a weapon is what concerns everybody."

Even without Iran's ability to deliver a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, Israel has expressed fears that it could provide a bomb for terrorist groups like Hizbullah, which could attempt to deliver a weapon via other means, such as through a "dirty bomb."

"If Iran were to attain nuclear weapons, Iran's own security would diminish, since it would touch off a regional arms race," Gates added. "(Iranian) security will actually be worse . . . because of proliferation in the region and the potential for military action, whether it's from Israel, or someplace else."

Gates's comments came just hours after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad called the United Nations Security Council a "tool" of the U.S., saying that the latest round of penalties against it were "the final shot."

Russia of late, seems to be positioning itself closer to Western allies vis-a-vis Iran. Gate's statement came as Russia said that it would delay it's delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, even though the system is not on the list of weapons banned under the new sanctions, according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko. However, Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying that "S-300 supplies to Iran fall under UN sanctions."

The S-300 missiles are part of Iran's hope to deter or defend itself against an Israeli or U.S. air attack on its nuclear facilities. Russia is also trying to prevent Iran from attaining full membership in a Central Asian security bloc.

The recent round of sanctions against Iran includes a plan to search Iranian ships for materials that violate the sanctions. Iran responded that if its ships were inspected, it would do the same to other countries' ships that travel though the Strait of Hormuz, also known as the Persian Gulf. Iranian parliamentarian Hossein Ibrahimi said, "In the event even one (Iranian) ship . . . is subjected to inspection, we will seek retaliation and will inspect several of their ships,'' reported the Iranian Mehr News Agency.

Ahmadinejad, who visited China recently, charged that the U.S. dominates the Security Council. China, one of the Council's five permanent members, supported the new sanctions against Iran, but Ahmadinejad, though criticizing Russia and China's move,  made light of its importance by saying that he "hopes for building a better world." Speaking at Iran Day at the World Expo in Shanghai, he added, "The two great nations of Iran and China, who are the owners of the most ancient civilizations of the world, can stay together to make this dream come true.''