The administration's change of course finds expression in six areas:
1. Panetta has tossed aside the various intelligence estimates of a three-to-four year timeline for Iran to have a nuclear bomb. He now accepts that Tehran may be only months away from this target.
2. His reference to "a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel" reflects the growing conviction among Western and Middle East intelligence experts that Iran has fast-tracked its high-grade uranium enrichment in underground facilities.
3. He is no longer warning Israel against attacking Iran and appears to be taking the opposite tack: We must stop Iran crossing the shared red line to an "unacceptable" nuclear weapon. "If we have to do it we will deal with it," he said, referring to the military option.
4. It is the last moment for the US to avert the Middle East's plunge into a nuclear race. Dec. 5, the former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal said that after failing to persuade Israel and Iran to give up their nuclear weapons, Riyadh had no option but to develop its own; and Turkish leader have been saying to the Obama administration that if Iran has a nuclear weapon, so too will Turkey.
The administration is now facing the bleak realization that a disastrous nuclear race in this volatile region can be deflected only by military action to cut down and destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program.
5. Iran's capture of the American RQ-170 stealth drone on Dec. 4 brought home to US military and intelligence planners that a military showdown between the US and Iran is no longer avoidable and if America does not take the initiative, Iran will keep on driving it into corners until there is no other option but to hit back.
6. The sudden death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong II and the period of uncertainty facing his successor Kim Jong-un could potentially lead to Pyongyang - or factions fighting for power – stepping up its involvement in Iran's nuclear weapon and missile development programs.