Defense Minister Ehud Barak sounded an alarming note in a weekend interview with the Washington Post, and made it clear he did not agree with the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, according to which Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program.

Asked about the NIE, Barak said: "Our interpretation is that clearly the Iranians are aiming at nuclear capability. It's probably true that . . .  they may have slowed down the weapons group in 2003, because it was the height of American militarism. . .   We think that they are quite advanced, much beyond the level of the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project was the effort to develop the first nuclear weapon during World War II by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The project succeeded in developing and testing the world's first atomic bomb, and detonated two nuclear weapons in August 1945: an enriched uranium bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, and a plutonium bomb that detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. Barak's statement regarding "American militarism" in 2003 was a reference to the invasion of Iraq.

The dots lead to a nuclear program

Barak said Israel suspects the Iranians "are probably already working on warheads for ground-to-ground missiles

The Iranians "are probably already working on warheads for ground-to-ground missiles."

. . . [and] that probably they have another clandestine enrichment operation beyond the one in Natanz."

Asked to elaborate on this last statement, Barak answered: "The dots that we see . . . cannot be easily connected in a way that does not lead to a nuclear program. . .  The leading intelligence communities should concentrate on finding whether there is . . . a clandestine enrichment operation and a weapons group working on the weapons technology.

Barak told the Post that it was clear that the NIE had "reduced the enthusiasm" for military action against Iran, and even for tougher sanctions. "Basically, in strategic terms," he explained, "we face a triad of challenges: one, radical Muslim terror; two, nuclear proliferation; and [three] rogue states. To deal with such threats . . . we need a much deeper and more intimate cooperation between the United States, the E.U., Russia and China. And this needs a paradigm shift in the way we approach China and Russia."

Asked if Israel has the ability to conduct a military raid on Iran by itself, Barak said; "I am not going to talk about this."

Iranian: Israel threatens us

Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki gave a rare, if short, interview, to Voice of

"Iran is not threatening Israel and does not want nuclear weapons."

Israel national radio, in the course of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. "Iran is not threatening Israel and does not want nuclear weapons."

Mottaki said that it was Israel that possessed nuclear weapons and "it is threatening Teheran." He added that there were two countries Iran did not recognize: apartheid-era South Africa and Israel. "In the case of South Africa, the problem was solved with the end of apartheid and if the situation also changes in the other case [Israel], there is no reason why relations with that country cannot change too," he added.