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Iran is trying to enrich uranium, a critical step in developing nuclear capability, the head of Military Intelligence's research department told the cabinet on Sunday.

"Iran is developing a command of uranium-enrichment technology and is galloping toward a nuclear bomb," said Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz.

He said there is an increasing gap between between Iran's progress in developing the bomb and the global pressure to halt that process, and added that Israel's assessment that the Islamic Republic is focusing on improving uranium enrichment is consistent with the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report on the matter.

4,000 centrifuges this year Iran is improving the centrifugal array in its enrichment facility in the desert city of Kashan, Baidatz said, adding that since the beginning of the year, Tehran has activated 4,000 centrifuges, generating 60 grams of UF-6 gas an hour - a product used to enrich uranium to a military level. Baidatz also noted that Iran already has about 480 kilograms of low-level enriched uranium - between one-third and one-half of the amount of fissionable material needed to create a single nuclear bomb.

"We believe that the time until the point of no return is getting increasingly shorter," said Baidatz. "The international front against Iran is weak and not consolidated, and isn't putting enough pressure on the regime so that it will stop enriching the uranium."

There is an increasing gap between the Russian and Chinese positions on Iran and that of the United States and the European Union, which reduces the chance of a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions being launched against Iran, Baidatz said. The Iranians' self-confidence is growing, he added, because they realize that the rest of the world is too weak to stop them.

Baidatz said Tehran is using diplomatic dialogue "to gain time - and in the meantime, the cracks in the West are getting ever larger."

"The sanctions have very little influence, and are far from bringing to bear a critical mass of pressure on Iran," he said.

Baidatz also discussed the Gaza Strip, noting that the current lull could be destabilized by small Palestinian groups attempting to either smuggle terrorists into Israel via Sinai, or to abduct Israelis from Sinai and bring them to Gaza.

"We had solid intelligence as a result of which we released travel advisories," said Baidatz.

He added that Hamas was not rushing into a deal for the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit: "There is obstinacy in Hamas regarding the Shalit matter, and they see him as an asset whose value just rises."