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Israeli Defense Officials Debate Quality of Iran’s Missile Program

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The extent of Iran’s military threat has become a subject of intense debate in Israel — and is causing division among the country’s top defense officials.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai warned Sunday that Iranian efforts to develop missiles and non-conventional weapons pose a long-term threat to Israel.

“We are obliged to do everything possible to minimize the damage and the potential capabilities of Iran,” said Mordechai.

But Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak, the former Israel Defense Force chief of staff, said the Shahab-3 missile, which the Iranians tested two weeks ago, does not pose a serious threat as long as it is armed with a conventional warhead.

The debate comes as Israel’s Finance Ministry begins to prepare next year’s defense budget.

The current chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said the Iranian armament efforts necessitated special budget allocations to allow the IDF to deal with the challenge.

Meanwhile, Israeli television reported Sunday that the Moscow-based Tzagi aviation research institute was behind the development of the Shahab-3.

Israeli experts have said that the missile, which could strike Israel, could be operational within a year unless Russian firms are forced to stop supplying the Iranians with sophisticated parts.

During a visit to an arms exhibition in Tehran on Saturday, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Iran’s president said Israel constitutes the major danger to peace in the region. Khatami, who is considered a relative moderate, said his country was determined to continue to strengthen its armed forces, “regardless of any international concern.”

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